There is a mismatch between what New Zealand’s government identified as the most pressing environmental issues and the investments in environmental research it actually makes

An article by Troy Baisden, professor of Environmental Sciences at University of Waikato, Stuff Environment 10/12/2020;

Report shows New Zealand’s ‘fragmented’ environmental research funding doesn’t match most urgent needs |

New Zealand spends about $500m on environmental research each year, but the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) struggles to find what gets funded and the links to policy priorities.

Public funding of environmental research is fragmented making it difficult to respond to problems such as climate change, freshwater quality and biodiversity loss.

“A major failing of the current funding system is the lack of systemic investment in collections and monitoring programmes to track the changing environment”

How can a government develop policy to manage freshwater if they are not actively measuring the indefensible decline in freshwater quality and quantity so concerning to all New Zealanders?

Instead policy is developed from the intense and effective lobbying of those whose profits are tied to polluting the freshwater environment – Fonterra, DAIRYNZ, and the dairy section of Federated Farmers.

Investors in Environmental Research

About $71 million is funded by universities each year.

Rate payers contribute nearly as much through regional councils. In Canterbury ratepayers appear to be getting very little return on their contribution as more and more damming evidence, (much of it dated and incomplete), appears on the LAWA website. Despite this, the region’s aquifers, lowland and braided rivers continue to be trashed by industrial dairying while Ecan appears incapable of taking effective action as required by S. 30 of the RMA 1991.

There appears to be a blinkered and unrealistic desire to seek simple win-win solutions to exploit aquatic ecosystems beyond sustainable limits while “creating value from the land”. Neo-liberal/Post-modernist thinking removed from the real world. Catchments and aquatic ecosystems are complex and must be understood at a holistic level.

The Endeavour Fund

“New Zealand’s main source of contestable funding is the Endeavour Fund which invested $187 million in 17 research programmes this year, but turned down 128 (87%).”

The Endeavour Funds are allocated by The Science Board of the MBIE.

The Board comprises a nuclear physicist (chair), a biotech cancer researcher, a meteorologist, a pharmacist, a pastoral ecologist from AgResearch, a Maori science strategist, and a commercial director of the University of Canterbury.

(A freshwater biologist/ecologist might have his/her work cut out here).

Return to a stable simplified public-good funding model

“A return to a simplified public-good model should be considered together with the recommendation for a dedicated funding agency. Simon Upton was the cabinet minister who reformed New Zealand’s research institutions and funding systems back in 1992, and has lamented subsequent decisions that destabilise funding and institutions.”

“New Zealand voters want progress on water quality and climate change but ministers and councils appear unwilling to use taxes and rates to support solutions.

Ideally, a future research funding system will support all New Zealanders, especially farmers to implement changes to look after our environment”.

The professor is too polite to mention “short-termism” and cynical decision making by our politicians, (a consequence of our imperfect indirect democracy), but his message is timely;

We urgently need stable, long-term and independent research funding in order to make informed decisions as to how best to manage our degrading freshwater environments.

Peter Trolove


New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers


A response by the Dairy Industry;

Dairy industry backs call to rethink environmental research funding (

, There is a mismatch between what New Zealand’s government identified as the most pressing environmental issues and the investments in environmental research it actually makes


Dairy inputs and externalities
Economic inputs to farmsEnvironmental externalities
SoilSoil compaction
WaterSoil loss
PastureSediment in rivers
Supplementary feed (palm kernel expeller PKE)Biodiversity decline
Fertilizer (urea)Nutrient overload in rivers
Veterinary inputsCow welfare
Short and long term financeLower water availability
EnergyLake eutrophication
Owners and managersE. Coli in catchments & coastal waters
Clean-up costs
Wetland loss
Tropical rainforest depletion
Share Milkers
Labour (incl. migrant workers)
Dairy education
Consultant advice
The New Biological Economy, Eric Pawson et al. (2018)
NZ$ 100s m irrigation subsidiesNZ$ >100s m in public mitigation

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1 Response to There is a mismatch between what New Zealand’s government identified as the most pressing environmental issues and the investments in environmental research it actually makes

  1. Grant Henderson says:

    I guess in the government’s eyes, all environmental issues are equal, but some are more equal than others.

    The government is very big on fighting child poverty. If the legacy to the next generation is to be a nation with rivers that have become polluted ditches, that is just another form of impoverishment, for our children will have been robbed of their environmental heritage.

    How much action will we see on that front?

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