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Al Sadooni, Zainab --- "Achieving sustainable development: how New Zealand can learn from the European Union, the United Kingdom and the rest of the world" [2014] NZJlEnvLaw 4; (2014) 18 NZJEL 69

Last Updated: 21 January 2023


Achieving Sustainable Development: How New Zealand can Learn from the European Union, the United Kingdom and the Rest of the World

Zainab Al Sadooni*

This article focuses on the implementation of sustainable development into policy documents and legislation in the European Union, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. It will argue that while both the European Union and the United Kingdom are taking positive steps to incorporate sustainable development in soft and hard law, this progress is hindered by weak duties, a lack of clear definition, and overall inconsistency due to a lack of horizontal integration. It will also explore the history of sustainable development in New Zealand and will show that while New Zealand has made some progress towards sustainable development, little progress has been made recently. It will recommend that New Zealand should first develop a national sustainable development strategy and will identify the key elements that are necessary to create the ideal strategy by learning from the European Union and the United Kingdom. The article will propose that in order to achieve effective progress towards sustainable development, New Zealand should develop a Sustainable Development Act. It will analyse the sustainable development legislation from Canada, Manitoba, Quebec, Belgium, Luxembourg, Zanzibar and Malta to identify the essential structure and characteristics that the proposed legislation ought to have.

*Zainab Al Sadooni, BA/LLB (Hons) (Auckland). This article is based on an Honours dis­ sertation submitted for the degree of Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at The University of Auckland. The author would like to thank Dr Klaus Bosselmann for his support and guidance. She is currently pursuing an LLM at University College, London. Email contact: zenalsadooni@yahoo. com.


In 2012, Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) to mark the passing of 20 years since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio Summit).1 However, even 25 years after its popularisation in Our Common Future (the Brundtland Report), no clear consensus can be found as to its meaning.2 Nevertheless, an extraordinary number of states have affirmed their commitment to sustainable development by developing national sustainable development strategies and incorporating the concept into their legislation. Over the years, the European Union and the United Kingdom have emerged as key leaders in this movement towards sustainable development. On the other hand, New Zealand’s progress towards implementing sustainable development has been unsteady and inconsistent, with New Zealand still lacking a national sustainable development strategy. The aim of this article is to provide an examination of the implementation of sustainable development in the European Union and United Kingdom, and then an examination of the Sustainable Development Acts from various states to assist New Zealand in developing its own sustainable development strategy and Sustainable Development Act.

The article will begin by first briefly outlining the origins of sustainable development and the various interpretations of the elusive concept. In part 3, the article will examine the implementation of sustainable development in the European Union by first analysing its dual approach to policy through the Sustainable Development Strategy and the Lisbon Strategy, and will then scrutinise the European Union’s progress towards incorporating sustainable development into its treaties. In part 4, the article will discuss the implementation of sustainable development in the United Kingdom by examining the National Sustainable Development Strategies and will look at how sustainable development has been incorporated into domestic legislation. In part 5, the article will turn to explore the history of New Zealand’s efforts to adopt sustainable development into its various policy documents by analysing New Zealand’s splintered approach to implementing sustainable development into its legislation which can be classified into three separate groups as: “Sustainable Management”, “Sustainable Development” and “Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability”. The article will argue that while the adoption of sustainable development­related policy documents and legislation exponentially increased in 2000 to 2006, the government soon thereafter made a sudden “U­turn” in its commitment to sustainable development, and little

  1. United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development “About the Rio+20 Conference”


  1. World Commission on Environment and Development Our Common Future [The Brundtland Report] (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987).
progress has been made since.3 However, all is not lost. Part 6 will propose that New Zealand can still effectively contribute to the global effort to achieve sustainable development by first developing a national sustainable development strategy based on the processes used by the European Union and the United Kingdom. The article will then propose that New Zealand should thereafter develop and enact a specific Sustainable Development Act and will evaluate the existing sustainable development legislation from Canada, Quebec, Manitoba, Belgium, Luxembourg, Zanzibar and Malta to identify the similarities and common elements that are to be included.


2.1 Origins of an Elusive Concept

While it did not refer to the concept of sustainable development, the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 brought together representatives from over 100 countries to discuss the leading issues relating to human development and environmental protection.4 The conference produced the Stockholm Declaration which housed 26 principles that integrated environmental and social development issues to ensure that the needs of future generations were safeguarded.5 While the Declaration did not use the term “sustainable development”, it did convey the essence of the concept, and established the foundations of the modern summits on sustainable development.6 The earliest usage of the term is likely to have occurred in 1980 when it appeared in the World Conservation Strategy.7 In that document, sustainable development was defined as “the integration of conservation and development to ensure that modifications to the planet do indeed serve the survival and wellbeing of all people”.8 However, the term “sustainable

  1. Wendy McGuinness and Ella Lawton A National Sustainable Development Strategy: How New Zealand measures up against international commitments (Sustainable Future Limited, Wellington, 2007) at 21.
  2. Alhaji BM Marong “From Rio to Johannesburg: Reflections on the Role of International Legal Norms in Sustainable Development” (2003–2004) 16 Geo Int’l Envtl L Rev 21 at 25.
  3. Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment [Stockholm Declaration] A/Conf 48/14 (1972).
  4. Marong, above n 4, at 25.
  5. Daniel B Magraw and Lisa Hawke “Sustainable Development” in Daniel Bodansky, Jutta Brunnée and Ellen Hey (eds) The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007) at 615.
  6. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development (IUCN, Switzerland, 1980) at [12].
development” came into international prominence through the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development.9

The Brundtland Report was followed by the Rio Summit which resulted in the adoption of three non­binding outcome documents: the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,10 Agenda 21,11 and the Statement of Forest Principles.12 The Declaration was criticised for its weak non­binding nature and for its strong anthropocentric perspective which heavily focused on human welfare and development.13 Agenda 21 was another fundamental outcome document as it established the comprehensive blueprints for the action required to implement sustainable development including the promotion, training and education of the public,14 the use of environmentally sound technology,15 and strengthening the scientific research and understanding of sustainable development.16

The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg, South Africa marked the passing of 10 years since the Rio Summit. The WSSD resulted in two important non­binding documents: the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, which reaffirmed the member states’ commitment to sustainable development,17 and the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which highlighted poverty eradication, unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, and managing natural resource use for economic and social development as “overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development”.18 In comparison to the preceding Rio Summit, however, the WSSD produced a rather disappointing result as the non­binding

  1. The Brundtland Report, above n 2.
  2. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development [Rio Declaration] A/Conf 151/26/Rev 1 (1992).
    1. Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development [Agenda 21] A/ Conf 151/26/Rev 1 (1992).
  3. Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests [Statement of Forest Principles] A/Conf 151/26/Rev 1 (1992).
  4. Klaus Bosselmann “The Concept of Sustainable Development” in K Bosselmann and D Grinlinton (eds) Environmental Law for a Sustainable Society (New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law, Auckland, 2002) 81 at 85.
  5. Agenda 21, above n 11, at ch 36.
  6. At ch 34.
  7. At ch 35.
  8. Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development A/Conf 199/20 (2002).
  9. Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development A/Conf 199/20 (2002) at [1.2].
outcome documents contained little in the way of specific targets, timeframes and actions that needed to be taken to achieve sustainable development.19

To mark the passing of 20 years since the 1992 Rio Summit, the UNCSD was held in 2012 and focused on two central themes of “Green Economy in the context of Sustainable Development” and “Poverty Eradication and Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development”.20 The conclusion of the Summit produced a lacklustre non­binding document ambitiously entitled The Future We Want which disappointingly used weak and vague language throughout and failed to include specific implementation commitments or targets,21 which led media and civil society groups to label the Rio+20 Summit as a “washout”,22 “a missed opportunity”23 and “a failure of epic proportions”.24 Indeed, a quick search reveals that the outcome document is littered with references to “voluntary” commitments but barely any reference is made to binding commitments. The failure of the Summit can be mainly attributed to absence of political leadership, with both the United States of America and the United Kingdom leaders noticeably missing.25

2.2 Defining Sustainable Development

The daunting search for a definition of the elusive concept of sustainable development frequently begins with the Brundtland Report published in 1987 which defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.26 However, due to the multifaceted and vague nature of this definition, a number of critical flaws are immediately visible.

  1. Philippe Sands, Jacqueline Peel, Adriana Fabra and Ruth Mackenzie Principles of International Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2012) at 48. See also WWF “WSD: World Summit of Shameful Deals” (press release, 3 September 2002) <>.
  2. United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, above n 1.
  3. Umberto Pisano, Andreas Endl and Gerald Berger “The Rio+20 Conference 2012: Objectives, Processes and Outcomes” European Sustainable Development Network (June 2012) <­> 47.
  4. Geoffrey Lean “Rio+20 Earth Summit is a washout” The Telegraph (22 June 2012) <www.>.
  5. Camilla Toulmin “Comment: Rio+20 is a missed opportunity” Politics (22 June 2012)


  1. Greenpeace “Greenpeace Press Statement: Rio+20 Earth Summit — a failure of epic proportions” (22 June 2012) <>.
  2. Pisano and others, above n 21, at 45.
  3. The Brundtland Report, above n 2, at 43.
The first is that the definition has become vulnerable to misuse by states who have continued to pursue unsustainable economic growth under the façade of sustainable development.27 The second is that this definition does not detail specific information on how a balance can be achieved between maintaining economic growth and protecting the environment.28 The various interpretations derived from the Brundtland Report over the years have generally shared two key elements.29 The first are the principles of intragenerational equity and intergenerational equity, which focuses on equity between the developed and developing, and between the present and future generations.30 The second element is the popularised “three­pillar” approach which integrates economic, environmental, and social aspects together.31

A great deal of ink has been spilt in an attempt to define sustainable development; as a result, two major schools of thought have emerged that can be labelled as “weak” and “strong” sustainable development. The proponents of weak sustainable development view the concept from an economic anthropocentric perspective which does not differentiate between natural and human capital and seems to operate on the basis that the earth’s resources are infinite, or that future technology will be able to substitute natural resources.32 On the other hand, the supporters of strong sustainable development have an ecological non­anthropocentric interpretation that does differentiate between natural and human capital, and requires that natural capital resources be maintained at a stable and steady level.33

Even 25 years after the Brundtland Report, the concept of sustainable development still remains contested — partly due to its inherently vague and complex nature, and partly due to the multiple varying definitions in international documents.34 In order to achieve a clear and meaningful definition of sustainable development that can be realistically applied in legislation and

  1. Andrea Ross Sustainable Development Law in the UK: From Rhetoric to Reality?

(Earthscan, Oxon, 2012) at 15.

28 At 15.

29 Bosselmann, above n 13, at 87.

30 At 87.

31 At 87.

  1. Andrea Ross “Modern Interpretations of Sustainable Development” (2009) 36(1) Journal of Law and Society 32 at 35.
  2. Werner Hediger “Reconciling ‘Weak’ and ‘Strong’ Sustainability” (1999) 26(7/8/9) International Journal of Social Economics 1120 at 1123.
  3. Hari Osofsky “Defining Sustainable Development after Earth Summit 2002” (2003–2004) 26 Loy LA Int’l & Comp L Rev 111 at 112–113.
policy, the root “sustainability” should be clarified.35 The term sustainability refers not to economic sustainability or social sustainability, but rather to ecological sustainability.36 While the economic and social aspects of the definition are not inferior to the environmental, they do not form an integral part of the concept of sustainability.37 It would not be possible to combine economic, social and environmental sustainability “without giving up its core meaning”.38 By defining sustainability as ecological sustainability, the ambiguity inherent in the concept is resolved. Bosselmann defines ecological sustainability as “a duty to protect and restore the integrity of the earth’s ecological systems” which is achieved by pursuing economic and social growth within the limits of the earth.39 While weak sustainable development requires trade­offs between equally weighed and conflicting concerns, ecological sustainable development attempts to seek a consistent development in both economy and society within environmental limits.40


Sustainable Development

Figure 1: Diagram of weak sustainable development.41

  1. Klaus Bosselmann The Principle of Sustainability: Transforming Law and Governance

(Ashgate, Hampshire, 2008), at 53.

36 At 53.

37 At 53.

38 At 53.

39 At 53.

40 At 53.

41 Bosselmann, above n 13, at 91.



Figure 2: Diagram of ecological sustainable development.42


3.1 Sustainable Development Strategies

Sustainable development in the European Union is pursued by two overarching and complementary strategies: the Sustainable Development Strategy, which focuses equally on the three pillars of sustainable development, and the Lisbon Strategy, which focuses on competitive economic growth and employment.

The first Lisbon Strategy was adopted in March 2000 by the European Council in response to globalisation and a “new knowledge­driven economy”.43 The strategy referred to sustainable development only once in the entire document regarding the European Council’s appeal to the corporate sense of social responsibility to consider sustainable development among four other equally important objectives.44 Reference is, however, made to “sustainable economic growth”45 and “sustainable jobs” in the text.46 It is clearly evident that, at its

  1. Based on Bosselmann, above n 13, at 91.
  2. Presidency Conclusions, Lisbon European Council, 23–24 March 2000, at [1].

44 At [39].

45 At [5].

46 At [20].

core, the Lisbon Strategy aimed at high economic growth and consequently any references to environmental concerns were made in passing.

The European Council initiated a mid­term review of the Lisbon Strategy in March 2004. This review was undertaken by a group consisting of 13 members headed by Wim Kok, the former Dutch Prime Minister.47 Kok reported that there was a “disappointing delivery due to an overloaded agenda, poor coordination and conflicting priorities”.48 This report led to the relaunched Lisbon Strategy entitled Partnership for Growth which was adopted by the European Council in March 2005.49 However, the relaunched strategy was plagued with the same key problems that affected its predecessor as it maintained a heavy focus on the economic and social aspects with only superficial references to the environmental concerns as opposed to a more integrated and balanced approach that focused on the three pillars of sustainable development.50 Lastly, the open method of coordination used in the Lisbon Strategy relies on member states to set their own guidelines and this makes a consistent approach to economic and social development extremely difficult.51

The new Lisbon Strategy entitled Europe 2020 which was published in March 2010 by the European Commission, and adopted by the European Council in June 2010,52 promises “a strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth”53 which is to be achieved through seven flagship initiatives.54 The concept of sustainable development is mentioned only once in the entire document in relation to “An Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Area” flagship initiative as opposed to the more appropriate “Resource Efficient Europe” initiative.55 Additionally, key words such as “earth”, “limits” and “intra­/inter­ generational equity” do not appear even once in the entirety of the strategy, which indicates that while sustainable development is mentioned,

  1. Gerald Berger and Wilhelm Zwirner “The Interfaces between the EU SDS and the Lisbon Strategy: Objectives, Governance Provisions, Coordination and Future Developments” European Sustainable Development Network (December 2008) <­> at 4.
  2. Report from the High Level Group chaired by Wim Kok Facing the Challenge: The Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Employment (Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2004) at 6.
  3. Presidency Conclusions, Brussels European Council, 22–23 March 2005.
  4. Berger and Zwirner, above n 47, at 9.
  5. At 9.
  6. Umberto Pisano, Gerald Berger, Andreas Endl and Michal Sedlacko “Sustainable Development Governance & Policies in the light of major EU Policy Strategies and International Developments” European Sustainable Development Network (September 2011) < ­> at 10.
  7. European Commission EUROPE 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth COM(2010) 2020 final, 3 March 2010.
  8. At 5.

55 At 16.

the crucial components are missing. A review of the strategy also reveals that the term “sustainable growth” has been used at least three times in relation to the economy and to employment. However, it does not appear that any form of limitation has been placed on this growth and no details have been given as to what the term “sustainable” entails. This seems to imply that the EU may have abandoned the use of the term “sustainable development” in official strategies in favour of the more popular and economics friendly term “sustainable growth”. The hesitancy displayed in the Lisbon Strategy to refer to the concept of sustainable development harks back to the early 1990s when the European Union was still not prepared to incorporate sustainable development into legislation, and instead used the term “sustainable growth”.

The European Council agreed on Europe’s first sustainable development strategy at the Gothenburg meeting in June 2001 in preparation for the WSSD in 2002.56 The Sustainable Development Strategy consisted of 14 short paragraphs which paled in comparison to the Lisbon Strategy adopted a year earlier. Therefore, from its creation, it was subordinate to the more politically important Lisbon Strategy.57 The briefness of the Sustainable Development Strategy resulted in a lack of elaboration on crucial details. For example, the Sustainable Development Strategy simply adopts the Brundtland definition without further explanation or modification for the European situation58 and does not provide detailed implementation guidelines or long­term targets.59 Additionally, while the Sustainable Development Strategy establishes a weak link to the Lisbon Strategy, it fails to detail the specific way in which the strategies are to operate and exist together.60

The European Commission reviewed progress towards the Sustainable Development Strategy and acknowledged that “not enough progress has been achieved; unsustainable trends have yet to start to reverse”,61 which led the European Council to adopt the renewed strategy in June 2006. From the first

  1. Presidency Conclusions, Gothenburg European Council, 15–16 June 2001, SN 200/1/01 Rev 1.
  2. Reinhard Steurer and Gerald Berger “The EU’s Double­Track Pursuit of Sustainable Development in the 2000s: How Lisbon and Sustainable Development Strategies ran past each other” (2011) 18(2) Int J Sust Dev World 99.
  3. Ursula Prall “The Sustainability Strategy of the European Union: Focusing on Objectives and Measures in the Area of Energy Policy and Climate Protection” (2006) 3 JEEPL 325 at 327.
  4. Berger and Zwirner, above n 47, at 9.
  5. Presidency Conclusions, above n 56, at [20].
  6. European Commission The 2005 Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy: Initial Stocktaking and Future Orientations COM(2005) 37 final, 9 February 2005, at 4.
instance, the renewed Sustainable Development Strategy appeared to surpass its predecessor both in length and in content. Unlike the 2001 Strategy that adopted a weak definition of sustainable development, the renewed Sustainable Development Strategy makes a specific reference to “respect[ing] the limits of the planet’s natural resources” which denotes a clear movement away from weak sustainability and towards ecological sustainability.62 The renewed Sustainable Development Strategy also contains comprehensive targets and implementation provisions which were noticeably missing in its precursor.63 More importantly, the renewed Sustainable Development Strategy elaborated on the relationship between the Lisbon Strategy and the Sustainable Development Strategy and explained that the strategies were to “complement each other”.64 However, the renewed Sustainable Development Strategy does not provide details as to how individual member states were to integrate the two strategies or what efforts were made to strengthen the horizontal links between the two strategies at both European Union and member state level.

3.2 The Evolution of Sustainable Development in European Union Treaties

The Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community did not originally contain any reference to the environment or to sustainability; rather, art 2 assigned the objectives to include promoting “a harmonious development of economic activities, a continuous and balanced expansion”.65 In 1993 the Maastricht Treaty incrementally moved towards environmental protection. The Treaty amended art 2 to “promote throughout the Community a harmonious and balanced development of economic activities, sustainable and non-inflationary growth respecting the environment”.66 The impact of this statement was twofold. Reference to “sustainable” was only made in the context of economic growth, as opposed to environmental protection.67 This indicated that the addition of the term was merely “cosmetic” as opposed to “substantive”.68 It also illustrated that the term “sustainable” to the drafters did not contain any environmental elements; otherwise the statement “respecting the environment” would have been “superfluous”.69

  1. European Council Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy: Renewed Strategy

[Renewed Strategy] (European Council, Brussels, 2006) at [6].

  1. Berger and Zwirner, above n 47, at 11.
  2. Renewed Strategy, above n 62, at [7]–[9].
  3. Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community 1957.
  4. Maastricht Treaty amending the Treaty Establishing the European Community, art 2.
  5. Ludwig Krämer “Sustainable Development in EC Law” in Hans Bugge and Christina Voigt (eds) Sustainable Development in International and National Law (Europa Law Publishing, Groningen, 2008) at 377.

68 At 377.

69 At 378.

The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty had an impact on the incremental incorporation of sustainable development in both the Treaty Establishing the European Community (TEEC) and the Treaty of the European Union (TEU). The Treaty amended art 2 of the TEEC to include “a harmonious, balanced and sustainable development of economic activities”, removed the reference to “respecting the environment” and added the phrase “high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment” in the context of social and economic objectives.70 With regard to the TEU, the Treaty added art 6 which focused on the integration of the environment into policies “with a view to promoting sustainable development”.71

While the Lisbon Treaty did not have a “green agenda”, it did amend art 2 and consequently has had an impact on sustainable development in the European Union.72 The amendment broke the link that had been previously established between economic growth and sustainable development as the article now encompasses and acknowledges the three pillars of sustainable development.73 While this is a positive step it is insufficient in the long term to achieve sustainability. The article appears to have been left intentionally vague as it fails to specify how the different and frequently conflicting objectives such as a competitive economy and protection of the environment will be pursued simultaneously and fails to provide a clear and certain definition of sustainable development.

3.3 Europe and Rio+20

The EU took the lead at the Rio+20 Summit with its robust and proactive determination to push for a strong outcome document centred on pursuing the “Green Economy” concept.74 Europe’s intention to become one of the key players at Rio+20 can be seen in a communication by the European Commission in June 2011 where it stated that it was “determined to help make Rio+20 a success”.75 While still in the spirit of the Rio Summit, the Council of the European Union reaffirmed its resolve to implement and achieve the

70 Amsterdam Treaty amending the Treaty Establishing the European Community, art 2. 71 Krämer, above n 67, at 378.

  1. Maria Lee “The Environmental Implications of the Lisbon Treaty” (2008) 10(2) Environmental Law Review 131.
  2. Lisbon Treaty amending Treaty on European Union, art 3(3).
  3. Murray Griffin “Rio+20: On the Same Planet, But Not the Same Page” Bloomberg (27 June 2012) <>
  4. European Commission Rio+20: towards the green economy and better governance

COM(2011) 363 final, 20 June 2011, at 2.

goals and commitments that were agreed upon earlier that year.76 It intended to do so primarily through the European Union Sustainable Development Strategy but also through the Lisbon Strategy. However, the shift in focus from sustainable development to sustainable growth and the favouritism shown by the European Union towards the Lisbon Strategy can be seen in the recent communication entitled A Decent Life for All.77 In this document, the European Commission expressed its intention to pursue sustainable development and the implementation of its Rio+20 commitments mainly through the Europe 2020 strategy as opposed to a combined approach of incorporating elements from both the Lisbon Strategy and the Sustainable Development Strategy.78 The problem with the approach taken by the European Commission is that since its creation the Lisbon Strategy has been heavily focused on the economic pillar as opposed to a more integrated method. Consequently, it is unlikely that the European Union can move towards sustainable development successfully and in turn meet its Rio+20 commitments if it relies solely on the new Lisbon Strategy as it does not effectively convey the elements of sustainable development. There appears to be conflicting views between the European Council and the Commission as to which strategy should take the lead in the implementation of the Rio+20 commitments which can result in an inconsistent and incoherent approach. Given that the current European Union Sustainable Development Strategy is politically weak and focuses mainly on the environmental and social pillars, and the Lisbon Strategy centres heavily on the economic pillar, the most satisfactory option would be for the European Union to pursue the Rio+20 commitments through both strategies simultaneously. In order to do this the European Union would need to strengthen the horizontal integration between the two strategies so that they are equally important and are consistent with one another. In order to do this, the European Union should seize the opportunity with the upcoming European Union sustainable development strategy review to establish and elaborate the horizontal integration between the two strategies, specifically in light of the Rio+20 commitments.

  1. Council of the European Union Rio+20: Outcome and Follow-up to the UNCSD 2012 Summit — Council Conclusions 15477/12 ENV 809, 25 October 2012, at 2.
  2. European Commission A Decent Life for All: Ending poverty and giving the world a sustainable future COM(2013) 92 final, 27 February 2013.
  3. At 6. See also Umberto Pisano, Andreas Endl and Gerald Berger “The Future of the EU SDS in Light of the Rio+20 Outcomes” European Sustainable Development Network (April 2013) < ­> at 34.


4.1 Sustainable Development Strategy

The United Kingdom published the White Paper entitled This Common Inheritance: Britain’s Environmental Strategy in 1990 which articulated that the achievement of sustainable development “requires the full integration of environmental considerations into economic policy decisions”.79 While the United Kingdom was one of the first countries to show initiative by publishing a document recognising sustainable development, the strategy had a number of problems which hindered its progress. First, high economic growth and development were continually emphasised throughout the document; secondly, it contained little in the way of targets and deadlines or any other firm commitment;80 and thirdly, the majority of the planned targets were restatements from established obligations under European Union and international law, as opposed to any new ideas.81

The first United Kingdom sustainable development strategy entitled Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy published in 1994 reflected the “bilateral” approach adopted in the White Paper four years prior.82 This is clearly communicated at the outset:83

Most societies aspire to achieve economic development to secure rising standards of living both for themselves and for future generations. They also seek to protect and enhance their environment now and for their children. Reconciling these two aspirations is at the heart of sustainable development.

In 1999 a new sustainable development strategy entitled A Better Quality Of Life was published.84 According to the strategy, sustainable development will be achieved by meeting four key objectives:85

  1. Department of the Environment [DOE] This Common Inheritance: Britain’s Environmental Strategy (HMSO, London, 1990) at [4.5].
  2. Heather Voisey and Tim O’Riordan “Sustainable Development: The UK National Approach” in Heather Voisey and Tim O’Riordan (eds) The Transition to Sustainability: The Politics of Agenda 21 in Europe (Earthscan Publications Ltd, London, 1998) 156 at 158.

81 At 158.

  1. Ross, above n 27, at 23.
  2. UK Government Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy (HMSO, London, 1994) cited in Ross, above n 27, at 23.
  3. Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [DEFRA] A Better Quality of Life: A Strategy for Sustainable Development for the United Kingdom (DEFRA, London, 1999).

85 At [1.2].

It is implied that in order to achieve sustainable development all four objectives would need to be pursued “at the same time”.86 However, the strategy does not take into account situations where a conflict may arise between the different objectives and does not discuss the ways in which such a conflict would be resolved. Like the White Paper before it, the United Kingdom appears hesitant to move away from an emphasis on high economic growth and development which permeated through the whole strategy. Specifically, no limitation is placed on the amount of economic growth and development that can be pursued, and the general underlying theme of the document is that any limitation placed on economic growth would be unfavourable as it may result in a poorer quality of life. For example, the key objective “prudent use of natural resources” does not amount to “denying ourselves the use of non­renewable resources”,87 but rather alternatives to replace them should be developed. Disappointingly, no effort has been made to mention or define the particular alternatives in mind.88 The new strategy published in 2005 takes a fresh approach to achieving sustainable development.89 At the outset, it is admitted that the “current model of development is unsustainable”.90 However, the greatest change comes in the form of five objectives that the United Kingdom will pursue in achieving sustainable development. The first objective is “living within environmental limits”,91 while another objective is “achieving a sustainable economy”.92 This new sustainable development strategy does not focus on maintaining a high economic growth, but rather key words such as “stable” and “sustainable” indicate an incremental shift from weak sustainable development found in the 1999 strategy to ecological sustainable development. The overall focus of the strategy is on understanding the limits of the environment and living within

those limits.

86 At [1.2].

87 At [1.2], sustainable development objectives.

88 At [1.2].

89 DEFRA The UK Strategy for Sustainable Development: Securing the Future (DEFRA, London, 2005).

90 At 12.

91 At 16.

92 At 16.

4.2 Sustainable Development in Domestic Legislation93

While the new sustainable development strategy provides a modern and progressive view of sustainable development, the incorporation and implementation of sustainable development in legislation is also crucial in assessing whether or not the United Kingdom is actually moving towards sustainable development. As it currently stands, there is no legislation which creates an overriding duty to promote sustainable development that extends to all public bodies; rather, a number of individual duties co­exist together.94 Two important themes emerge from the United Kingdom’s method of incorporating sustainable development into legislation. First, the duties placed on public bodies in relation to sustainable development vary considerably in strength, as some statutes require the authority to actually contribute to sustainable development while others require no more than for the authority to consider it.95 More importantly, recently enacted statutes contain much stronger duties towards sustainable development than those in the 1990s.96 This indicates that sustainable development has become an accepted concept, and that the legislature feels comfortable enough to include it in legislation.

Despite this incremental movement towards stronger duties, the provisions are unlikely to be legally enforceable due to the weakness of the duty and the wide discretion given to public bodies.97 It is unlikely that sustainable development will be achieved through such a fragmented approach where separate public bodies are given duties towards sustainable development which vary significantly from one another. In order to achieve sustainable development, consistency is key. All public bodies should be aiming for the same objective and all should have the same duty towards sustainable development. It is no use to have one public body responsible for achieving sustainable development, while other public bodies make unsustainable decisions.

While, as Ross argues, the symbolic status of sustainable development might still be useful in order to educate individuals and prevent criticism from the media and environmental groups,98 this is insufficient to make sustainable development a reality that is being pursued. What is required is a transformation of sustainable development in the United Kingdom from a weak

  1. This article will be limited to legislation in England, as opposed to the inclusion of devolved states.
  2. Andrea Ross “Why Legislate for Sustainable Development? An Examination of Sustainable Development Provisions in UK and Scottish Statutes” (2008) 20(1) JEL 35 at 37.

95 At 49.

96 At 50.

97 At 60.

98 At 64.

policy objective to a legal duty, one which the public can hold public bodies accountable for. Continuance of this symbolic practice will continue to promote “business as usual” behaviour where environmental concerns are ignored in favour of economic or social value in the decision­making calculation.

4.3 Rio+20 and the Future

Actions spoke louder than words when the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, failed to attend the Rio+20 Summit. This notable absence undermined all of the progress that the UK had made towards sustainable development as it expressly demonstrated that the government was not strongly committed to the achievement of sustainable development and did not consider it as a worthwhile priority.99 In order to reaffirm its international commitments to sustainable development and to reverse any damage that may have been caused by the lack of leadership and interest in the Rio+20 Summit, the United Kingdom should focus on renewing its sustainable development strategy to reflect the new obligations and to review the progress thus far towards achieving sustainable development.100


5.1 Sustainable Development Strategy

Action taken towards sustainable development in New Zealand after the Rio Summit in 1992 has been largely inconsistent, with barely any progress being made to develop a sustainable development strategy or adopt sustainable development into legislation.101 The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) stated that:102

Throughout the 1990s successive governments largely ignored the Agenda 21 commitments made in 1992, and did not provide the leadership necessary to support and guide sustainable development in New Zealand.

99 Environmental Audit Committee Outcomes of the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit (14 June 2013) at 12.

100 At 26.

  1. Klaus Bosselmann “Why New Zealand Needs a National Sustainable Development Strategy” in Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Sustainability Review: New Zealand’s Progress Toward Sustainable Development, Background Paper (2007) <www.> at 16.
  2. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment [PCE] Creating Our Future: Sustainable Development for New Zealand (2002) at 122.
At the turn of the new millennium, and during the build­up to the WSSD, the New Zealand government began to take steps towards recognising sustainable development.103 In 2000, Cabinet published a paper which accepted the Brundtland definition of sustainable development and indicated a willingness to approach “government policy that integrates social, environmental and economic issues”.104 Soon thereafter, on 9 July 2001, Cabinet agreed that:105

(3) [...] the Government adopt an approach to sustainable development which includes both:

(3.1) a number of practical steps which will improve current practice and provide national leadership, and which will also contribute to:

(3.2) the development of a New Zealand Sustainable Development Strategy.

This important decision taken by Cabinet was based on a paper to the Cabinet Policy Committee entitled Proposal — New Zealand’s Sustain- able Development Strategy which recommended certain initiatives for the government to take which included the development of a sustainable development strategy.106 In February 2002 the government published Growing an Innovative New Zealand which set out a framework where New Zealand would be able to achieve its social and economic goals.107 The strategy had eight key objectives; three were economic, three were social, and only one was environmental.108 The term “sustainable development” is mentioned twice in the document:

Implicit in the quality of the growth we are seeking will be integration of the economic, environmental and social pillars of sustainable development.109

Using sustainable development as a filter for policy means that economic policy is not approached in isolation but as part of a bigger picture. While we must actively pursue economic growth, that must be done in ways which are both socially and environmentally sustainable.110

  1. Bosselmann, above n 101, at 16.
  2. NZ Government Cabinet Paper: Sustainable Development CAB (00) Min 17/1 D cited in McGuinness and Lawton, above n 3, at 80.
  3. Paper to the Cabinet Policy Committee Proposal — New Zealand’s Sustainable Development Strategy (2001) cited in McGuinness and Lawton, above n 3, at 80.

106 At 80.

107 The Office of the Prime Minister Growing an Innovative New Zealand (2002). 108 At 6 and 27. The remaining objective is in relation to innovation and research. 109 At 12.

110 At 23.

The language used is rather vague; there is no mention of how this integration would be achieved. Furthermore, the pillars of environment, social and economic appear to be given the same weight and it is therefore a paradigm of weak sustainability.

In August 2002 the New Zealand government published the Government’s Approach to Sustainable Development in preparation to the WSSD.111 The hasty nature of the publication was acknowledged by the statement “as it stands the report is incomplete”.112 While in the aftermath of the WSSD, the guiding document entitled Key Government Goals to Guide the Public Sector in Achieving Sustainable Development was published.113 This brief publication outlined a further six objectives that should be pursued in order to achieve sustainable development. These goals consist of four social, one economic and one environmental. The brief outline of each objective does not specify any specific goals, targets, previous accomplishments, deadlines or any other indications that there is a real intention to move in the direction of sustainable development. After the WSSD, the Sustainable Development Programme of Action (SDPOA) was published in January 2003.114 At the outset, the Brundtland definition is cited.115 It then continues by stating that achieving sustainable development requires:116

This indicates that the environmental pillar is just another factor taken into consideration, along with economic, social and cultural issues, when making a decision, as opposed to being the dominant consideration. Yet it is a step forward from the other documents because it specifically refers to respecting environmental limits and protecting the ecosystem as one of its principles.117

  1. Minister of the Environment The Government’s Approach to Sustainable Development

(2002) <>.

  1. Marian Hobbs “The Government’s Approach to Sustainable Development” Beehive (28 August 2002) <>.
  2. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Key Government Goals to Guide the Public Sector in Achieving Sustainable Development (Wellington, 2002) annexed to Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Sustainable Development for New Zealand: Programme of Action [SDPOA] (2003) at 30.
  3. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, SDPOA (2003), above n 113. 115 At 6.

116 At 6.

117 At 10.

While the SDPOA has a brief section entitled “Relationship with Other Guiding Documents” where it explicitly refers to Growing an Innovative New Zealand and the Key Government Goals to Guide the Public Sector in Achieving Sustainable Development, the section contains nothing more than a general summary of their content and seems to simply assume that the guiding documents are all consistent and complementary to one another without actually addressing the way in which they are to be holistically integrated and pursued together by the government.118 The SDPOA also sets out 10 key objectives and principles for policy and decision­making across the government. Out of the 10, one is economic, two are social and two are environmental.119

Thus, in less than a year, New Zealand published four guiding documents, all of which have key objectives unrelated and inconsistent with one another. Out of the 24 key objectives, only four are environmental­specific. No indication of priority is given, and therefore it must be assumed that they were all equally important and must be pursued all at once. It is not clear whether the SDPOA goals trump the other objectives, or whether they are meant to be pursued together. Overall, it presents an inconsistent approach, and indicates an inability to agree on which priority areas should be pursued and what sustainable development entails.

The SDPOA, however, was not intended to be a sustainable development strategy, but rather functioned as a first step in that direction. This fact was acknowledged by David Benson­Pope, the then Minister for the Environment, in a letter addressed to the Sustainable Future Institute (now the McGuinness Institute) which stated that:120

[The SDPOA] is a stepping stone along the path of achieving sustainable development. Further down the path we may look to prepare a National Sustainable Development Strategy ...

Alas, the New Zealand government never went further down the path. After the publication of the SDPOA, the government made a U­turn on its progress with no further announcements or publications regarding sustainable development.121 Even after the expiry of the SDPOA in July 2006, no intention was apparent that the New Zealand government was developing a replacement SDPOA or a sustainable development strategy.122 As a result, the country is still lacking the

118 At 10.

119 At 10.

120 McGuinness and Lawton, above n 3, at 21. See also < Projects/NSDS_national_strategy/Correspondence.aspx>.

121 At 21.

122 At 21–22.

leadership and structure that is inherent in a strategy, and is falling behind in its international commitments.

5.2 New Zealand Legislation on Sustainable Development

The legislation incorporating sustainability elements in New Zealand splinters into three different strands. The first strand is the “sustainable management” path popularised by the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).123 The second strand is “sustainable development” adopted in the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA).124 However, it is the third strand that proves to be one of the most popular choices for the legislature. Out of 16 sustainability­related Acts, seven incorporate the components of sustainable development — environmental sustainability, economic development, and social welfare — without ever mentioning sustainable development.

In the early 1990s, New Zealand made a “flying start” towards sustainability with the passing of the RMA.125 The RMA was focused on the concept of “sustainable management” which was defined by the Act as:126

managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well­being, and for their health and safety while—

(a) sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and

(b) safeguarding the life­supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems; and

(c) avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment.

Incidentally, it was the passing of this legislation which resulted in New Zealand’s slow approach to incorporating sustainable development in legislation.127

  1. Resource Management Act 1991.
  2. Local Government Act 2002.
  3. PCE, above n 102, at 3.
  4. Resource Management Act 1991, s 5(2).
  5. PCE, above n 102, at 3.
After the passing of the RMA, the government’s progress towards sustain­ able development was patchy and superficial, with no sustainable development strategy being published and barely any legislation enacted which incorporated the sustainability principles.128 This implied that the government passed the RMA and believed that it had done more than enough to promote and achieve sustainable development for the foreseeable future.129 While the New Zealand government proudly displayed the RMA on its sustainability shelf, other countries worked hard to develop sustainable development strategies and eventually surpassed New Zealand.130 The problem with the RMA was that it was insufficient to achieve sustainable development as it had sustainable management as its core aim, as opposed to sustainable development.131 The concept of sustainable management is not the equivalent of sustainable development; rather, it is a much narrower concept that focuses only on environmental management, as opposed to an integrated approach.132 The RMA has also affected the way that New Zealand perceives sustainable development as an environmental concern which “appears to have slowed the adoption of sustainability principles into economic and social policies”.133 Consequently, this affected the horizontal integration of public bodies, and resulted in decisions being made which were unsustainable in the long term.

The ray of hope that New Zealand might have been inching towards sustainable development came in the form of the LGA which incorporated sustainable development into legislation; however, it also failed to make any substantial difference to the way in which the local authority operates. Section 14 of the Act is key as it lists nine principles that a local authority must adhere to.134 The last principle states that “in taking a sustainable development approach, a local authority should take into account”:135

(i) the social, economic, and cultural interests of people and communities; and

  1. Bosselmann, above n 101, at 16.
  2. Claire Freeman “Sustainable Development from Rhetoric to Practice? A New Zealand Perspective” (2004) 9(4) International Planning Studies 307 at 312.

130 At 312.

131 Stephanie Curran “Sustainable Development v Sustainable Management: The Interface Between the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act” (2004) 8 NZJEL 267 at 276–277.

132 At 277.

  1. PCE, above n 102, at 4.
  2. Local Government Act 2002, s 14(1).
  3. Section 14(1)(h) (as amended 2012).

(ii) the need to maintain and enhance the quality of the environment; and

(iii) the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations.

All three elements are given equal weighting and are all required to be pursued at the same time, and this is likely to result in trade­offs between the different elements. The sustainable development elements are also weighed equally with the other eight principles that the local authority is to consider when taking action.

The only assistance that the Act gives for settling the inevitable conflict that arises is under s 14(2) which states that the conflicts should be resolved in an open and transparent manner. Therefore, a decision which is environmentally unsustainable in the long term may succeed if it is done in an “open” manner.136 The number of principles that the local authority is to consider and the wide discretion of power has diluted the duty to promote and achieve sustainable development and has rendered it superficial and meaningless as it is unlikely to result in any substantive changes in the local government decision­making.

The prevailing method for communicating sustainable development in New Zealand legislation appears to be the inclusion of economic, social and environmental factors that compose sustainable development without referencing the original term itself. It is obvious that this approach is lacking the depth and scope that comes through the use of the sustainable development concept as it implicitly excludes the history and background of the concept. It is possible that the legislature was hesitant to incorporate a concept into legislation which the government had ignored for most of the 1990s and instead decided to wait for the executive to cement its intention to pursue sustainable development through a sustainable development strategy before including sustainable development in legislation. However, this intention never materialised, no sustainable development strategy was published and the Acts were never changed to pursue sustainable development. Furthermore, the legislature may have also wanted to use sustainability elements instead of sustainable development in order to avoid the dilemma of defining sustainable development in legislation when no clear definition had been articulated in a strategy.

The public body duties associated with sustainability elements are just as weak as those duties in sustainable management and sustainable development legislation. All of the sustainability elements are given equal weighting and are all required to be achieved at the same time through the use of the word “and”;

136 Section 14(1)(a)(i).

this would in turn lead to trade­offs between social, economic and environment pillars in the balancing exercise. Public bodies are also usually required to consider a multitude of other facts besides sustainability. For example, in the Maritime Transport Act 1994 and the Civil Aviation Act 1990, sustainability requirements are one of nine factors that a public body has to consider when making a decision. As a result, it is unlikely that any public bodies or ministers can be held accountable for unsustainable decisions by the court or judicial review.

It is possible to divide the legislative history of New Zealand towards sustain­ ability not only by sustainable development, sustainable management and sustainability principles, but also by three distinct time periods: 1991–1999, 2000–2006 and 2007–2014. The table below lists all New Zealand Acts that have been enacted which impose a duty on public bodies to consider some form of sustainability:

Table 1: New Zealand sustainability­related legislation.

Resource Management Act 1991
Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act 2000
Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010
Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996
Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000
Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012
Fisheries Act 1996
Local Government Act 2002
2012 amendment to the Biosecurity Act 1993

Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002

2004 amendment to the Land Transport Act 1998

2004 amendment to the Civil Aviation Act 1990

2004 amendment to the Maritime Transport Act 1994


Fiordland (Te Moana o Atawhenua) Marine Management Act 2005

Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Act 2006

Enactment of sustainability­related legislation increased exponentially between 2000 and 2006. One event which may have had a tremendous impact on New Zealand’s approach to sustainable development during that time period may have been the WSSD. It is possible that in 2000 to 2002, New Zealand had begun to make preparations for the conference and in doing so enacted the LGA, in order to show that it was in the process of implementing sustainable development into legislation. The period of 2003 to 2006 saw the enactment or amendment of seven sustainability­related Acts. It is likely that during this time, New Zealand was still in the spirit of the WSSD, and in the renewed spirit with the publication of the SDPOA, to include sustainable development in legislation. It may also be the case that the New Zealand government was quickly passing legislation which contained sustainability elements as it was embarrassed by its lack of positive action since the Rio Summit in 1992.

Inexplicably, three statutes — the Land Transport Act 1998, the Civil Aviation Act 1990 and the Maritime Transport Act 1994 — were all amended to include sustainable development principles on 1 December 2004. The added sections were identical to one another, and required a public body to consider whether a decision:137

(i) assists economic development:

(ii) improves access and mobility:

(iii) protects and promotes public health:

(iv) ensures environmental sustainability:

It appears that the sustainability elements were grafted into the Acts without any real consideration for their application. In particular, the affected Acts were all transportation focused — either by air, sea or road — which seems to indicate that a possible attempt had been made to promote sustainable transport. However, it is unlikely that the hastily added sustainability components would have made much of a substantive difference in the decision­making process of public bodies.

  1. Civil Aviation act 1990, s 33(2)(f ).

Graph 1: Inclusion of duties towards sustainable development in legislation.

Sustainable Development in New Zealand Legislation


The above graph further confirms the findings made above. Between 1991 and 1999, New Zealand made little progress towards sustainable development; this was followed by a giant leap in the direction of sustainability with 10 Acts enacted or amended in the space of six years. The New Zealand government then abruptly made a U­turn not only on its plans to develop a sustainable development strategy, but also on its plans to embed sustainable development into legislation, with only three Acts passed that refer to sustainability principles in the space of eight years. This is further complicated by the fact that New Zealand seems to have forgotten its international commitments towards sustainable development, with none of the three Acts enacted in the past year referring to sustainable development. However, the WSSD and other international agreements that New Zealand has committed itself to were for the purpose of achieving sustainable development as opposed to achieving something that resembles this concept. Not only is New Zealand moving in the wrong direction, but it is not moving at all. No legislation which includes sustainable development has been enacted since the Building Act 2004, and no new legislation which incorporates any sustainability element has been enacted since 2012.


6.1 Developing a National Sustainable Development Strategy

The European Union and the United Kingdom provide excellent examples of how a sustainable development strategy should be developed. Both processes also displayed certain similarities that can and should be used by New Zealand when developing its own sustainable development strategy. In both cases, once initiated, the process begins by first reviewing the success and failure of the previous sustainable development strategy.138 While New Zealand does not have a previous sustainable development strategy, it may be possible to review the SDPOA. There are three successful elements that appear in both the European Union and the United Kingdom which led to well­developed strategies.

(i) Stakeholder engagement

While developing a national sustainable development strategy, the process should be centred on “encouraging participation and discussion on sustainable development”.140 Hence, both the European Union and the United Kingdom have extensive consultations with both stakeholders and the general public. In the United Kingdom, the Sustainable Development Unit took the following action to gain stakeholder engagement:141

(1) A web­based process, addressing both an invited panel of 1,800 key stakeholders and members of the public and other organizations. Participants were given limited space to respond to 40 questions and everyone could see the other responses. [...]

(2) Regional panels set up by government offices involving key actors from each region, to discuss the questions and produce a regional report;

(3) Training provided for community and voluntary workers to facilitate local discussions on SD, with information packs — they were invited to feed the results back; and

(4) Partial funding for NGOs to hold workshops on topics of their own choosing related to the review themes. Summary reports of workshop outcomes were requested to feed into the review process.

  1. Klaus Bosselmann Sustainability for New Zealand: National Strategies in an International Comparative Perspective (NZCEL Monograph, Auckland) (forthcoming).
  2. Headings based on Bosselmann, above n 138.
  3. Bronwen Jones “Trying Harder: Developing a New Sustainable Strategy for the UK” (2006) 30 Natural Resource Forum 124 at 127.

141 At 127.

Similarly, the European Union had extensive public consultations in 2004 when reviewing its Sustainable Development Strategy. The consultation was open for three months and generated 1,100 responses.142 The approach taken was also web­based, and consisted of two options:143

A short online questionnaire addressing mainly the general public was issued at “Your voice in Europe”. A long questionnaire, also open to [the] public but mainly directed to the main stakeholders and experts, was available at the SD website of the Secretary­General. It contained detailed background information on each topic of the strategy and 65 questions, many of them open free­text questions.

Both processes used web­based applications in order to encourage and facilitate stakeholder engagement. In this day and age, the internet and other similar technology has made communication and dissemination of information much easier. Therefore, more people are likely to respond if doing so is convenient. New Zealand, too, should harness new technology and use web­based applications in order to gauge the public’s opinion on sustainable development. Both processes also encouraged the general public to submit their opinions, as opposed to limiting the process to experts in the field. In order to achieve sustainability, the strategy should be one that the nation agrees with; it should contain the beliefs of not just government departments, but also businesses and the general public. This would make it far more effective.

(ii) Shared ownership of the process by all departments

In order to be successful, a sustainable development strategy needs to “involve all those who will be required to deliver it”.144 Frequently, the burden of developing and implementing a strategy falls on the shoulders of the environment department, and its achievement rests with them.145 However, in both the European Union and the United Kingdom, effort was made to gauge the opinion of all relevant departments in different fields. In the United Kingdom, many ministers were involved in the development stage including the Ministers of Education, of International Affairs, and of Housing and Planning.146 In the European Union, 10 Council formations were organised between March and June 2006, which reported on the proposed targets and objectives.147

  1. Ursula Kopp “The EU SDS process” European Sustainable Development Network (May 2006) <­> at 2.
  2. At 2.
  3. Jones, above n 140, at 131.

145 At 131.

146 At 131.

147 Kopp, above n 142, at 3.

The Councils that were involved included Environment, Transport, External Relations, Education, Employment and Energy.148 Since the passing of the RMA, New Zealand has incorrectly assumed that sustainability matters were the responsibility of the environment department, and no one else.149 However, sustainable development requires the integration of a number of different sectors in order to be achieved. Therefore, New Zealand should follow in the footsteps of the European Union and the United Kingdom, and include ministers from different departments in the strategy process and allow them to express their views on sustainable development. This will enhance horizontal integration between different departments.

(iii) Opening the process to constructive criticism

An important factor in the development of a sustainable development strategy is to open the process to constructive criticism from organisations. In the United Kingdom, this criticism was delivered by the Sustainable Development Commission which provided assistance from the consultation phase to the delivery of the strategy.150 In the European Union, the process was opened to criticism from an array of organisations including the EEAC Working Group on Sustainable Development, the German Council for Sustainable Development, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the G­10.151 Criticism from expert groups is extremely helpful in developing a future strategy as it points out possible problems that may not have been addressed otherwise. The New Zealand sustainable development strategy process should consider criticism either from an independent body, or non­governmental organisations specialising in sustainable development.

Once the development phase of the sustainable development strategy is complete, the next step is to expand upon the ideas and write the strategy. While sustainable development strategies are country-specific, the Sustainable Future Institute analysed three sustainable development strategies from Europe and found seven common elements and their respective strategic questions:152

  1. At 3.
  2. PCE, above n 102, at 4.
  3. Jones, above n 140, at 132.
  4. Kopp, above n 142, at 3–4.
  5. Wendy McGuinness, Nick Preval and Ella Lawton The Common Elements of a National Sustainable Development Strategy: Learning from International Experience (Sustainable Future Limited, Wellington, 2008) at 27.

Table 2: Seven common elements of a sustainable development strategy.

Seven Strategic Questions
Seven Common Elements
1. Where have we been and where are we now?
1. Background (to the strategy)
2. Where have we want to be in the long term?
2. Vision (including desired outcomes)
3. What do we believe in?
3. Principles (and values)
4. What do we need to focus on?
4. Priorities
5. What do we decide to do and decide not to do?
5. Method of implementation
6. Who is going to do what?
6. Governance
7. How well are we going?
7. Monitoring progress

The background and vision to the strategy are basic elements that appear in the SDPOA, and should introduce what has been accomplished so far and what the government hopes to achieve in the future. The heart of the national sustainable development strategy will contain specific priority areas that New Zealand aims to focus on and dedicate a chapter to each heading. With respect to these priority areas, New Zealand should research areas that cover economic, social and environmental concerns, as opposed to concentrating only on environmental issues.

One possible way to implement the sustainable development strategy once it is published is to enact legislation which cements the principles and responsibilities developed. This route is closely examined below. Other methods of implementation include:153

153 At 16.

The sustainable development strategy should use a combination of these methods in order to gain the maximum cooperation from departments, busi­ nesses and the public to achieve sustainable development. The New Zealand government, however, has to first establish or assign machinery that will overlook the implementation of the national sustainable development strategy. Like the United Kingdom, the strategy should also require individual departments to produce a sustainable development action plan on how it intends to promote and achieve sustainable development.154 This will help spread the responsibility of achieving sustainable development to all departments in order to achieve consistency in decision­making.

6.2 Developing Sustainable Development Legislation

With neither the European Union nor the United Kingdom having in place legislation on sustainable development, one must turn to other countries which have progressed further into their commitment to sustainable development. In order to identify the aspects and content which create effective sustainable development legislation, one must first compare the key features in sustainable development legislation from other countries and assess their success and weaknesses:

  1. DEFRA, above n 89, at 153.


New Zealand Journal of Environmental Law

Table 3: Comparison of Sustainable Development Acts.

Title of Act
Federal Sustainable Development Act, SC 2008
Sustainable Development Act 2006
The Sustainable Development Act 1997
la coordination de la politique nationale de développement durable (The Coordination of the National Sustainable Development Policy 2004)
Legislation enacted
26 June 2008
19 April 2006
28 June 1997
25 June 2004
Provides a definition?
Y — the Brundtland
Y — the Brundtland
Y — the Brundtland
Y — the Brundtland

definition: s 2
definition and
definition: s 1
definition and reference


to the three pillars

development is based

of economic, social

on a long­term approach

and environmental

which takes into account

protection: art 2

the inextricable nature

of the environmental,

social and economic

dimensions of

development activities”:

ch 1, s 2

Establishes a council
Y — Sustainable
Y — Minister
Y — the Manitoba
Y — Conseil Supérieur
or committee which
Development Advisory
of Sustainable
Round Table: s 4(1)
pour le Développement
promotes sustainable
Council: s 8

Durable (Superior

Environment and Parks

Council for Sustainable

fulfils the functions of a

Development): ch 2

committee: s 13

Achieving Sustainable Development


Establishes/assigns a commission responsible for the implementation of sustainable development?
Y — Sustainable Development Office within the Department of the Environment: s 7
Y — Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks: s 8
Y — Department of Conservation and Water Stewardship: s 5
Y — Commission interdépartementale pour le développement durable (Interdepartmental Commission
for Sustainable Development): ch 3,
art 7
Includes duties to prepare a national sustainable development strategy?
Y — ss 9 and 10
Y — s 5
Y — s 7(1) and (2)
Y — ch IV
Includes duties to review a national sustainable development strategy?
Y — reviewed every three years: s 9(1)
Y — reviewed every five years: s 9
Y — reviewed at regular intervals no more than five years: s 6(3)(b)
Y — every four years: ch IV, art 10
Requirement to produce a national report?
Y — every three years: s 7(2)
Y — periodic reports on the status of SD are required at least every five years: s 13(3)
Y — national report based on sustainability indicators required within four years from the creation of the Manitoba Round Table and one year after the national census data
is released thereafter: s 10(1)
Y — every two years: ch V, art 14


New Zealand Journal of Environmental Law

Establishes an independent body?
Mainstreaming sustainable development to public sector/ departments to achieve horizontal integration?
Y — ministers of specified departments are required to prepare a sustainable development strategy: s 11
Y — all government departments are required to prepare a document on how they intend to pursue and implement the objectives in the strategy: s 15
Y — the Cabinet will develop a sustainable development code which will be adhered to by the departments in their decision­making: s 11(1)(a)
Y — Interdepartmental Commission
for Sustainable Development has the duty to follow up the implementation of the National Plan in
different public sectors: ch 3, art 8

Title of Act
la coordination de la politique fédérale de développement durable
(The Coordination of Federal Policy on Sustainable Development)
Sustainable Development Act
The Environmental Management for Sustainable Development Act 1996
Legislation enacted
5 May 1997 — amended 30
July 2010
10 July 2012
18 July 1996
Provides a definition?
Y — the Brundtland definition and information on resource use and technological development: s 1
Y — the Brundtland definition: s 3(1)
Y — the Brundtland definition: s 2

Achieving Sustainable Development


Establishes a council or committee which promotes sustainable development?
Y — conseil fédéral du développement durable (Federal Council for Sustainable Development): ch IV, art 10
Y —
(1) The competent authority has the function to promote activities that exemplify sustainable development:
s 6(1)(b)
(2) The Guardians of Future Generations are to promote sustainable development advocacy across national policy­making and legislation: s 8(4)(a)
(3) The Sustainable Development Network also has the aim to promote sustainable development in Malta: s 9(1)
Y — the institution responsible for the environment (Department of Commission of the Government): s 17(1)
Establishes/assigns a commission responsible for the implementation of sustainable development?
Y — la Commission interdépartementale du développement durable (Interdepartmental Commission for Sustainable Development: ch V, art 16
Y — while there is no separate commission, the competent authority has the function to ensure the implementation
of Malta’s sustainable development strategy: s 5(a)
Y — while there is no separate commission, the institution responsible for the environment has the function to monitor implementation of environmental policies:
s 19(1)(d)
Includes duties to prepare a national sustainable development strategy?
Y — ch II
Y — general duty regarding the development of a NSDS: s 5(a)
N — while there is a duty to prepare a National Environmental Action Plan, no reference is made to
developing a specific national sustainable development strategy: s 32(1)


New Zealand Journal of Environmental Law

Includes duties to review a national sustainable development strategy?
Y — ch II, art 3
Y — duty to revise the strategy in line with the EU and international developments, but no specific timeframe is given for reviews: s 5(b)
Requirement to produce a national report?
Y — every two years: ch III, art 7
Establishes an independent body?
Mainstreaming sustainable development to public sector/ departments to achieve horizontal integration?
Y — members of the Interdepartmental Commission for Sustainable Development are required to prepare a report on sustainable development and how the Federal Plan for Sustainable Development would be implemented in
their respective governmental departments: ch V, art 16
Y —
(1) The competent authority is to review government policies, plans and projects to ensure that they are consistent with the NSDS: s 5(f )
(2) Every Ministry will include a Sustainable Development Coordinator and every depart­ ment of government shall have a Sustainable Development Focal Point: s 7(2)(a), (3)(a)
(3) Every department of gov­ ernment is required to include a section in their annual report on how they have contributed to sustainable development and the implementation of the strategy: s 7(5)
Y — government institutions may establish a Technical Environmental Unit to incorporate environmental issues into that “institution’s respective policies, plans, programmes, projects and activities”: s 27(1)
If no Technical Environmental Unit is established then the Department of Environment shall act as that institution’s Technical Environmental Unit: s 27(3)
The proposed legislation should first provide a clear and strong definition of sustainable development to lay the foundations for a solid and effective legislative framework. From the above, all Acts used the Brundtland definition of sustainable development, and only three Acts ventured further to expand upon the definition to include the three pillars of economic, social and environmental. However, as stated above, the vagueness of the Brundtland definition creates a number of critical flaws which would undermine the overall effectiveness of the Act. Therefore, in order to effectively make progress towards sustainable development the proposed Act must contain a strong definition based on ecological sustainable development: living within the earth’s capacity, and acknowledging that the social and economic aspects can exist within the environmental.155 If New Zealand was to take this step and move away from the Brundtland definition and into ecological sustainable development then it would encourage other countries to follow suit. If, however, New Zealand was to opt for the weaker definition of sustainable development, then the success of the Act would be adversely affected.

It is also imperative that the proposed legislation establishes or assigns a Sustainable Development Council (the Council). The Council would be responsible for the promotion of sustainable development in government, stakeholders,156 local councils,157 private and public organisations158 and mainstreaming it to raise awareness and participation within the general public.159 Mainstreaming sustainable development to the general public would include such functions as organising, promoting and sponsoring workshops, seminars and conferences on sustainable development.160 The Council would also have the duty to encourage discussion and debate on sustainable development161 and to promote relevant scientific research that will assist in achieving sustainable development.162 Once a national sustainable development strategy is prepared, the Council would also have the responsibility to review the draft strategy and provide recommendations and comments.163 Due to its importance, the proposed Act should also explicitly detail the composition of the Council. The Council should first have no less than four cabinet ministers

  1. Bosselmann, above n 35, at 53.
  2. Sustainable Development Act 2012 (Malta), s 5(k). 157 Section 5(k).
    1. La coordination de la politique fédérale de développement durable 1997 (Belgium), art 11(1).
  3. The Sustainable Development Act 1997 (Manitoba), s 4(2)(a). 160 Section 4(3)(d).
    1. La coordination de la politique nationale de développement durable 2004 (Luxembourg), art 4(a).
    2. Sustainable Development Act 2012 (Malta), s 8(4)(b).
    3. The Sustainable Development Act 1997 (Manitoba), s 4(2)(d).
that will provide the Council with political power and importance. Secondly, there should be three representatives from the following:164

(1) Environmental: individuals from non­governmental organisations for the protection of the environment.

(2) Social: individuals who represent the labour and social concerns.

(3) Economic: individuals from organisations that represent the commercial and economic concerns.

(4) Scientific: individuals with expertise and knowledge in sustainable development who can provide input on the various new developments.165

(5) Cultural: individuals that represent the Māori sustainable development interests.166

The environmental, social and economic representatives would correspond to the three pillars of sustainable development and would ensure the pillars were equal to one another in voice, power and size. This specific composition of the Council would also establish the horizontal coordination and integration between the environmental, economic and social that is missing in both the European Union and the United Kingdom. In relation to the “cultural” representatives, it has become evident from New Zealand’s policy documents on sustainable development that “culture” has become a New Zealand-specific quasi­pillar that is referred to in the same breath as the three traditional pillars. Therefore, cultural concerns would be raised and represented by leading individuals from the Māori community. The Council would also need to include leading scientists who are able to follow emerging developments in the scientific community that will have an impact on sustainable development. Lastly, the proposed Act should also set a minimum amount of times for the Council to convene in a year.167

The proposed Act would further need to establish a Sustainable Develop­ ment Committee whose principal duty is to monitor progress towards the implementation of the sustainable development strategy within the government departments and nationwide.168 The Committee would also be required to develop and draft the sustainable development strategy and draft any revised or renewed strategies;169 develop, monitor and review a set of sustainable

  1. Three representatives based from Federal Sustainable Development Act 2008 (Canada), s 8(1).
  2. Based on la coordination de la politique fédérale de développement durable 1997 (Belgium), art 12.
  3. Based on Federal Sustainable Development Act 2008 (Canada), s 8(1)(a). 167 The Sustainable Development Act 1997 (Manitoba), s 4(9).
  4. Sustainable Development Act 2012 (Malta), s 5(a).
  5. The Sustainable Development Act 1997 (Manitoba), s 5(c)(i).
development indicators;170 and draft and prepare a national report to the government that would outline the progress thus far towards implementing the sustainable development strategy.171 Due to its nature, selecting the right members to form the Committee is critical. It is suggested172 that the Committee should comprise the Sustainable Development Officers (discussed in detail below) as their main responsibility is to actively monitor the implementation of sustainable development and be aware of the current international sustainable development trends that would assist them in developing indicators in their respective government departments. The Committee would also provide the Officers with a forum to discuss key policy developments and decisions and an opportunity to collectively review departmental progress to ensure that positive trends are maintained. Establishing a Committee in Cabinet would give the body the political backing of the Prime Minister.173 Linking the Committee with the Cabinet would increase its ranking and power to oversee the implementation of sustainable development. One of the main reasons why sustainable development stands in the shadows in the United Kingdom is because its representative, DEFRA, which oversees the implementation of sustainable development, is a low­ranking department that is consistently ignored or trampled upon by the government.174 Similarly to the Council, the proposed Act should specifically legislate the minimum number of times that the Committee is to convene per annum.

Independent scrutiny of the government’s actions and policy decisions is also critical to ensure public accountability; this can be achieved through the establishment of an Independent Sustainable Development Commission (ISDC). If an independent body is to be created, then it is imperative that it is created through legislation. The ISDC is to act as the official watchdog of the government whose main duties include “scrutinising progress on implementing its sustainable development strategy: monitoring targets on the sustainable management of the Government estate and procurement”.175 The New Zealand government should not follow in the mistaken footsteps of the United Kingdom and think that an ISDC is an unnecessary requirement which can be terminated at will. Rather, an independent commission is important as it tracks the government’s progress towards sustainable development, provides public

  1. Section 5(c)(iii).
  2. Section 5(c)(iv).
  3. Based on a combination of Belgium’s Interdepartmental Commission and Malta’s Sustainable Development Coordinators/Focal Point.
  4. Bosselmann, above n 138.
  5. Duncan Russel “The United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Strategies: Leading the Way or Flattering to Deceive?” (2007) 17(3) Euro Env 189 at 197.
  6. Sustainable Development Commission “Our Role” Sustainable Development Commission


accountability and an incentive for the government to contribute to sustainable development, and provides an independent public voice for any negative actions that the government is taking in the opposite direction of sustainability.

The next step would be to ensure that the proposed Sustainable Develop­ ment Act legislated for the development of a national sustainable development strategy. These procedural requirements are important as they require departments and government bodies to take certain steps by a clear and stated deadline. If the deadline is not met then enforceability through the courts is much easier to execute due to the certainty of the legislation. By including the requirement to produce a sustainable development strategy, the government binds itself in the future to develop and continue developing a national sustainable development strategy. This will likely stop the New Zealand government from making a U­turn on sustainable development policy, and will help the government become more consistent towards sustainable development. The Act should also outline the content of the sustainable development strategy, and should include goals and targets that need to be reached. Once the development of the sustainable development strategy is set out, a prospective Act should also set out the review period for the sustainable development strategy. The states studied above range from three to five years. Since it takes great expense and time to develop a new sustainable development strategy, but at the same time, a new sustainable development strategy is required to take into account new sustainable development commitments and developments, reviewing the sustainable development strategy every four years is a reasonable commitment.

In order to achieve successful and consistent progress, sustainable develop­ ment has to be seen as the concern of all government departments, as opposed to just the Ministry for the Environment. As such, the proposed Act will need to mainstream sustainable development into all government departments by establishing strong and uniform duties to achieve and contribute towards sustainable development. New Zealand could follow Quebec’s approach of requiring all government departments to draft a document which outlines how they intend to contribute to sustainable development,176 or Malta’s approach of requiring all government departments to include a special section in their annual reports on how their department has contributed to sustainable development and the implementation of the sustainable development strategy.177 Additionally, New Zealand should further strengthen these duties by legislating that all government departments are to elect a Sustainable Development Officer whose duties would include assisting the government in the promoting and implementation of the sustainable development strategy internally within its

  1. Sustainable Development Act 2006 (Quebec), s 15.
  2. Sustainable Development Act 2012 (Malta), s 7(5).
respective departments.178 To ensure that the elected Officers are not weak individuals with little to no power, the Sustainable Development Officer should be a minister who is responsible for all policy developments in their respective departments.179 The creation of this position is vital for ensuring that all government departments are working together to achieve sustainable development in a consistent manner. Allocating specific individuals to be responsible for sustainable development will also guarantee that sustainable development is a key priority area that is considered in all policy, projects and plans.

The Act should establish the relationship and hierarchy between the Sustainable Development Act, the Local Government Act 2002, and the Resource Management Act 1991. The government may wish to keep previous legislation for fear of cost and time of changing structures, but it should also note in the Sustainable Development Act that this Act trumps any other legislation if there is a conflict between it and another Act. The government may also wish to consider amending the RMA use of the term “sustainable management”, and change it to “sustainable development”.


Since the Rio Summit, the concept of sustainable development has been enthusiastically adopted by the European Union and the United Kingdom in both strategies and hard law. However, upon closer examination, it can be seen that the implementation of sustainable development has not been as successful. This is due to two factors. The first is the lack of commitment to a strong, clear and coherent definition based on ecological sustainable development. The current weak approach based on balancing the three pillars is not working and unsustainable trends have continued because the approach does not take into consideration the limits of the earth. While both the European Union and the United Kingdom have incorporated sustainable development into their hard law, there has been a visible unwillingness to include a definition. Therefore, the reference to sustainable development could refer to either ecological sustainability or to business­as­usual action, which results in little if any sustainability.

The second factor that is impinging on the European Union’s and United Kingdom’s ability to achieve sustainable development is the lack of horizontal integration. This inability to integrate the three pillars together in the form of a cross­cutting institutional body is apparent at both the United Kingdom

178 Section 7(2), (3).

179 Section 7(2)(c), (3)(c).

and European Union level, which have decided to create separate bodies and separate processes for the economic and social on one hand, and the environmental on the other. This results in the environmental pillar often being ignored or trumped by the more politically important economic and social pillars. In both cases, in order to move towards sustainability, strong political commitment to sustainable development is required in the form of a clear definition and stronger horizontal links.

While the approach taken by the European Union and the United Kingdom is not perfect, it provides a good template for New Zealand to follow and improve on. New Zealand’s approach to sustainable development has been inconsistent since the Rio Summit and while there was a brief period where it appeared to be moving in the right direction during the WSSD, New Zealand has fallen back into its old ways and has not progressed any further towards achieving sustainable development. Therefore, it is essential that New Zealand rectifies this situation and begins to make progress towards sustainable development.

With respect to policy, New Zealand should develop a sustainable develop­ ment strategy that will provide a definition based on ecological sustainable development, and will outline the key principles and priority areas. In order to implement sustainable development, New Zealand should then in turn develop and enact a Sustainable Development Act based on the established Acts from Canada, Quebec, Manitoba, Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta and Zanzibar. Once New Zealand has these mechanisms in place, it will begin to effectively contribute to the global effort of achieving sustainable development.

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