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NES to strengthen environmental data reporting in proposed bill

Wednesday 22 May 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Environment, National


NES to strengthen environmental data reporting in proposed bill
National Environment Service (NES) partnership manager Hayley Weeks, director Halatoa Fua and policy and planning manager Tekura Moeka’a. 24052119

National Environment Service (NES) is proposing a new Environment Bill to improve data reporting, strengthen its role as a permitting authority and update regulations for a changing environment.

One of the provisions in the National Environment Service’s (NES) new Environment Bill is to ensure they are held accountable for the scientific data reporting they are required to produce

And NES director Halatoa Fua says that one of the issues they face is data and research.

“One of the current issues we have right now is on data and research. So one of the provisions in the new bill is to look at transparency and reporting, ensuring that the National Environment Service is held accountable to some of the reporting of scientific data that we need to produce,” Fua said.

With the first draft completed, the new bill that will repeal the current 2003 Environment Act will begin its consultation by late next month

Fua said: “There’s significant investment in the organisation in upskilling the team in terms of technical expertise and attaching to international and local expertise that we can engage on some of the technical areas that we’re dealing with, as per the National Environment Policy around land, marine, biodiversity… waste … that we see is quite critical for the development of the Cook Islands.”

He said the current Act, initiated in 2003 to protect, conserve and manage the environment, was due for an update. The team has been working extensively in recent years, conducting consultations through the National Environment Policy 2022-2032, which was endorsed by Cabinet in 2022 or 2023.

Fua said that from that policy, they identified some of the gaps which they would be able to strengthen such as their role as a permitting authority, officer’s roles and the process that’s required, such as issuing an environment impact assessment report. 

“So part of the role of this bill is to strengthen those gaps. The second part is that we are expanding the bill to include other areas such as biodiversity, invasive species that we can strengthen in terms of legislation.”

Fua explained that consultations on the bill will begin with key stakeholders such as government agencies. This will be followed by public consultations, which will be held in each of the vakas in Rarotonga and the Pa Enua.

He said they are working closely with the Crown Law Office in terms of strengthening the quality of the bill before it is presented to Cabinet and Parliament for reading and passing.

Fua added that NES looks forward to hearing input from the public and key stakeholders on how to fine-tune some provisions. This will ensure the bill is fit for purpose in the current Cook Islands landscape, he said.

NES policy and planning manager, Tekura Moeka’a said a part of the bill is to strengthen their compliance processes.

Moeka’a said that currently they don’t have regulations under their compliance team that detail the processes they need to take in order to apply for certain approvals, consents or permits.

She said the bill aims to strengthen administration, governance, and improve the capabilities of island environment authorities.