The 2021 annual report outlines our mahi over the past year and our aspirations for the future.
Despite the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, progress on major initiatives has continued and we have reached some significant milestones.
From modernising chemical management in Aotearoa New Zealand, using mātauranga in our day-to-day decision-making, getting new powers under the Resource Management Act, implementing significant changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme, to having a role in the Government’s COVID-19 response, our work has touched the everyday lives of all New Zealanders.
Modernising chemical management
Our multi-year foundation programme to align New Zealand’s chemical regime with the rest of the world successfully concluded this year.
We reached a major milestone, with the implementation of a new classification system for hazardous substances, the seventh edition of the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS 7).
We updated 208 group standards to apply the GHS 7 classifications.
We updated more than 3,500 individual approvals to convert their HSNO hazard classifications to GHS 7 classifications.
We revoked more than 5,300 individual approvals as they are covered by one or more group standards, making their individual approval now redundant.
Moving towards a low-emissions future
We run New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). In 2021, we were involved in implementing significant changes, including the introduction of new penalties and the auctioning of New Zealand Units.
We now have a wider range of compliance tools to manage and maintain the integrity of the ETS. This has:
- made it more accessible
- improved its administration
- improved certainty for businesses.
These changes will help New Zealand reach its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, moving the country towards a more sustainable and low-emissions economy.
Our role in New Zealand's COVID-19 response
We supported the Government’s COVID-19 response by providing expert advice on the use of genomic sequencing; completing a fast-turnaround assessment of the Pfizer vaccine; and supporting the expert consenting panels making decisions on fast-track project applications.
Genomics, testing, and science advice
Chief Scientist Professor Mike Bunce was seconded to Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 team for six months and provided his expertise on the use of genomic sequencing, virology and testing.
" The ability of genetics and genomics to deliver key information to our pandemic decision-makers has permanently changed how we will conduct disease surveillance into the future."
— Professor Mike Bunce
As New Zealand’s national regulator of new organisms, we had an important role in determining whether the Pfizer vaccine was considered a new organism or not. We did a fast-turnaround assessment of the vaccine, and concluded it did not meet the definition of a new organism.
Once it was determined safe for use by MedSafe, it was quickly cleared for importation into the country by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
The fast-track consenting legislation created an entirely new role for the EPA. We provide advice and administrative support to the convenor of the expert panels making decisions on the fast-track projects, and the independent panels they appoint.
We also work closely with the Ministry for the Environment to ensure project applications are referred and processed efficiently.
Using mātauranga in our decision-making
We strive to place te ao Māori, the Māori world view, at the heart of our mahi.
After spending the past year transitioning the Mātauranga Framework into the day-to-day mahi of the EPA, we’re now fully implementing it into our wider work programme.
We provide cultural capability training to our decision-makers that opens them up to te ao Māori. Our mātauranga programme helps them value both mātauranga evidence and scientific evidence to create a uniquely New Zealand way of addressing environmental issues.
Strengthening compliance, monitoring and enforcement
Over the past three years, we have made a shift to place more emphasis on compliance, monitoring, and enforcement. This is to ensure we are positioning ourselves to provide more balanced and integrated end-to-end regulation, and taking a proactive approach to address problems before they become significant issues.
Our new Compliance, Monitoring, and Enforcement Group structure came into effect in October 2020 to support this shift. The intelligence and reporting team within that group has developed a framework to improve compliance and end-to-end regulation across the legislation we administer. The team identifies and analyses trends, insights, and feedback, and uses available data to support our compliance monitoring and enforcement activities.
The team used this framework to check the availability of paraquat-containing substances in New Zealand. The herbicide paraquat was reassessed in 2019, resulting in stricter controls around its use, and a ban on some paraquat-containing substances.
Connecting with New Zealanders
Science and community connections
We are working harder than ever to connect with a wide range of New Zealanders and providing opportunities to people to engage with us in meaningful environmental conversations.
Our Wai Tuwhera o te Taiao – Open Waters Aotearoa community science programme connects communities to science; people and the environment; our work and the public; science and mātauranga Māori. Participants use environmental DNA (eDNA) testing to explore and monitor their waterways. We support more than 200 stream care groups around New Zealand.
Standing out at Fieldays
We exhibited for the very first time at National Fieldays in June 2021. With more than 130,000 visitors, it was a great "on the ground" opportunity to hear from farmers and the wider agriculture community about some of the challenges they face in protecting the environment, and some of the innovative ideas being tested.
Our Sharing Shed themed stand offered “Cutz and Kōrero” - bespoke haircuts in exchange for conversations about the environment.
Protecting our offshore environment
New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is one of the largest in the world. The EPA regulates how some marine activities affect those offshore waters. We ensure people comply with the law when carrying out activities in the ocean.
We also support other government agencies in preserving the health our offshore waters. A recent example of this is the closing of the Tui oil field. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment assumed the responsibility of decommissioning of the oil field, and we were responsible in ensuring all the activities related to decommissioning complied with the law.
Reducing our carbon footprint
We belong to the internationally recognised Toitū carbonreduce programme. Since joining the programme in 2017/18, we have reduced:
- our electricity use by nearly one-third
- the waste we send to landfill by over a half
- staff travel by nearly two-thirds (a large component of which is related to COVID-19 restrictions).
We encourage sustainability in our office through use of motion sensor lighting in all work areas, minimising our printing and paper use, and by providing recycling and composting bins in our kitchens.
Setting a course for the future
On 1 July 2021 we marked 10 years since the EPA came into being. We reflected on progress made over the past decade, and are now looking forward and thinking about the changes we can make today to safeguard the environment for future generations.