How can we hold governments more accountable for stewardship of the natural environment?

Murray Petrie
TINZ Life Member

Many factors contribute to global environmental degradation, but one that has received relatively little attention is the lack of government transparency and accountability for environmental stewardship compared to other policy domains – such as fiscal and monetary policy - and the systematically weak integration of environmental stewardship into overall government strategy and target setting.

In a book launched this week at Victoria University - Environmental Governance and Greening Fiscal Policy - Government Accountability for Environmental Stewardship - I address the urgent question: how can governments be made more accountable for their environmental stewardship?

My interest in this field was first sparked by mounting alarm at the state of fresh water in NZ. Then during the 2013 National Integrity System Assessment, Ralph Chapman and colleagues wrote a supplementary paper on environmental governance in NZ, and I became aware of the instrument of a National State of the Environment Report and the fact that NZ had neither a regular practice of publishing such a report nor a legislative requirement to do so. 

Coincidentally or not, the government subsequently enacted the Environmental Reporting Act 2014, which was at least a start towards more effective transparency of key environmental indicators and threats to sustainability in this country although the Act needs considerable strengthening and is the subject of a current public consultation by the Ministry for the Environment.

In the book I propose three interrelated areas for action globally:

  1. strengthening the international framework for and the practice of national State of the Environment reporting;
  2. expanded environmental target setting (beyond climate change mitigation), integration in dashboards of key national indicators, and regular reporting of progress;
  3. using a government’s most powerful strategy and policy integration instrument – fiscal policy and the annual budget cycle - to mainstream environmental goals, and progressively ‘green’ fiscal policy through using a range of practical entry points to ensure that environmental considerations are brought to bear at all stages in tax and expenditure policies. This includes the more effective use of green taxes and congestion charging to address environmental externalities.

As some governments around the world have started in the last decade to incorporate environmental considerations in budgeting there is, in effect, a lot of ‘greenwashing’. Almost without exception governments point to their spending that is intended to be favourable for the environment while hiding the many billions of dollars spent on environmentally harmful subsidies e.g. subsidies for fossil fuels, deforestation, and polluting activities.

Amongst the initiatives I put forward in the book is a Green Guide to the Budget, produced by NGOs in each country, to throw more light on the negative environmental impacts of fiscal policies and generate pressure for better stewardship for future generations.

For more information and to purchase see Environmental Governance and Greening Fiscal Policy - Government Accountability for Environmental Stewardship at

Blog Post written by:
No items found.