The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, is to be congratulated on a thoughtful, reflective report that covers the long-term challenges facing environmental research in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The report, A review of the funding and prioritisation of environmental research in New Zealand, warrants serious consideration by Government and policymakers, says Distinguished Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Director of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland.
Sir Peter, the former Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister and President-elect of the International Science Council says: “High quality, long-term research that supports the environment is key to New Zealand’s future. The comprehensive nature of this report by the Parliamentary Commissioner offers an opportunity for ongoing in-depth analysis and discussion about how to optimally use funds for environmental research and therefore the public good.”
He says the report complements Koi Tū reports produced this year – The Environment is Now and The Future of Food and the Primary Sector – a journey to sustainability – which argue the environment must be central to all future decision making.
Environmental research funding is administered by a number of sources. The report says there is a need for a widely accepted national environmental research strategy central to an effective funding allocation system.
Sir Peter says the long-term nature of environmental research is not suited to the current competitive funding models, which tend to focus on relatively short-term excellent and high impact research.
One report recommendation is to implement and fund an environment research strategy through an expert-led Environmental Research Council. The complexity and often long-term nature of environmental research has strong parallels with medical research which, for many years, has been well supported by the Health Research Council.
The review also emphasises the importance of databases and collections which rapidly lose value if funding is discontinued or interrupted.
“It is through meticulous and continuous work that real and perennially applicable discoveries are made. For environmental research, this work can overturn long held assumptions and very often spawn new ideas and directions,” says Sir Peter.
He says the Parliamentary Commissioner’s report identifies many arguments for a fundamental rethink of our science system, both within the University and Crown Research Institute system and in its relationship to public good and economic outcomes.
The recent Koi Tū report The Future is Now: Exploring the post-pandemic direction for Aotearoa calls for a collective of stakeholders – Government, scientists and end users – to work together to develop a fit for purpose science system for Aotearoa-New Zealand.