Where Nelson is at right now

Research carried out by the Cawthron Institute has highlighted 14 action areas that we  need to address in order to plan and work towards a sustainable, flourishing and bright future for coming generations in Nelson.

Air Quality

Since regulations placed restrictions on open fires in homes in 2007 and older enclosed burners in 2010, air quality statistics have shown significant improvements. However, Nelson still has a poor level of air quality compared to the rest of New Zealand.


Climate change is likely to result in altered weather patterns causing more intense storms and longer droughts; increased numbers and a wider range of introduced pests; and sea level rise. These projected impacts could greatly affect Nelson’s economy, society and environment.

In terms of ozone, the hole above the Antarctic is clearly a global issue; however this challenge is an example of where acting locally can contribute globally. For example, Port Nelson’s capture and storage of methyl bromide is contributing to the gradual repair of the ozone hole.


The decline of indigenous biodiversity (plants, birds and animals) has been identified as New Zealand’s most serious environmental issue. Lots of work is being done, both nationally and locally, to stop the decline but challenges remain to ensure that biodiversity is maintained into the future.


The quality of streams in Nelson varies greatly and while some are showing a trend of improvement, a larger number are experiencing a decline in water quality. The challenge is to ensure both the quantity and quality of freshwater is maintained and improved.

Land cover and land use

Land cover and land use are intertwined challenges and relate to the way we manage our limited land area. The main impacts of relevance to Nelson are:

  • urban and rural run-off polluting waterways, coasts and estuaries.
  • urban expansion leading to the loss of plant and animal habitats.


Reducing waste to landfill remains a challenge for Nelson although the amount of waste added to landfill has been reducing annually since 2005.


There are many interlinked ecosystems that make up the coastal environment, which can be greatly impacted by human activity. Human activity affects both the shallow coastal habitats and Nelson’s marine environment.

Our impact on the rest of NZ and the world

This challenge is about our reliance on importing goods and services from outside our region to maintain our lifestyles, and the impact this has on other parts of New Zealand and the world. For example increased electricity demand in Nelson requires new generation somewhere, resulting in habitat destruction from damming wild rivers. At the international level this can include things like pollution from the transport of exported products from, or imported products to, Nelson, or the habitat destruction caused by mining for products used in Nelson.


Nelson consumes more than twice as much as it produces from its land area. However, the wider region of Tasman Bay and the South Island is not in deficit, and is a surplus provider of goods. The point remains that Nelson’s reliance on other areas to produce the food and other goods it relies on places it at risk from future global changes.

Energy security

A significant natural disaster, such as an earthquake, could disrupt Nelson’s electricity supply. The Nelson economy also relies heavily on imported petroleum, with all major economic sectors in Nelson and Tasman using oil as a fundamental part of their operations. A disruption to supplies, or future rises in oil price is therefore a threat to the region’s prosperity.


Although Nelson’s population is increasing, the biggest challenge for Nelson relates to the changing make up of our population, with increasing numbers expected in the over 65 age range. Such changes can have a range of impacts on a community. One example is home ownership. As Nelson’s population ages and our children leave home, houses once fully inhabited become mostly empty. Inefficient use of housing stock can result in increased house prices, a housing shortage and a pressure to build new homes.

Food security

The issue with food security is not just having a sufficient food supply, but also being able to afford the available food. Research in New Zealand has found that between 20% and 25% of families sometimes or often find the variety of food they have access to is limited because they can’t afford it. Food prices in Nelson follow global prices, which look set to continue increasing.

Social impacts

Nelson has a widening gap between rich and poor. Data shows that the average decile rating (this rating is based on nine measures including income, employment, qualification and living space) of Nelson communities has steadily declined since 1990, and since 2007 it has been below the New Zealand average.


Traffic volumes have decreased in recent years, and are expected to continue to do so. The two challenges for transport are:

  • reducing the negative impacts of driving motor vehicles (such as air pollution, noise, pollution of waterways and greenhouse gas emissions).
  • working towards a future in which people don’t need to drive as much to meet their needs

Want to know more?

You can download a copy of the full 60 page report here. (2.1MB PDF)