Ecological Economics Research New Zealand (EERNZ)

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Ecological Economics (EE) is an applied, trans-disciplinary field of inquiry established in the 1980's. Its foundation lies in assessment of (1) the ecological scale and carrying capacity of natural systems, using Natural Sciences; (2) social fairness and distribution, drawing on Social Sciences; and (3) designing systems and institutions for efficient allocation bringing together Economics, Political Science, Planning, and other disciplines. EE investigates at multiple scales (local, regional, global) the complementary use of Natural, Built, Social, and Human Capital as the building blocks and production factors required for sustainable societies. Collaboration and participation are essential to EE as is integration based on sound design and action research principles. This field differs markedly from Environmental/Resource Economics in that these disciplines apply Economics theory to Environmental issues, whereas EE aims to re-design and provide alternative pathways.

EERNZ aims to produce research results that are of practical use to stakeholders both directly and in the sense of promoting new ways of thinking about both economic and environmental policy. Our core areas of current research expertise include: biophysical analysis of economic processes; sustainability indicators and modelling; environmental valuation; industrial and urban ecology; the economics of sustainability options; spatial analysis in ecological economics; ecosystems services; environmental accounting of the macro-economy; participatory processes, system dynamics and mediated modelling.

Our research goal is to explore the ways the quality of the New Zealand environment can be maintained and enhanced while still allowing the economy and people of New Zealand to prosper.

An example of the EERNZ approach is the Vision for Ecosystem Service (ES) Paradigm for New Zealand presented by Associate Professor Marjan van den Belt, Director of EERNZ, at the Valuing Ecosystem Services Conference on 9-10 July, 2013 at Wellington.

EERNZ Research Projects

Sustainable Pathways: 2 (SP2)

The Sustainable Pathways 2 project focuses on developing processes and tools to support integrated, dynamic, spatially explicit, strategic decision-making. The research component of the Sustainable Pathways 2 project has three linked objectives:

  1. ‘Mediated Modelling’ allows a wide range of stakeholders from the public, private, and non-government sectors to have their input into the model building process. Stakeholders come together with a facilitator to determine both the key variables for inclusion in a systems dynamic model and the important links between them. Based on stakeholders’ perceptions, the model designed is ‘bottom-up’, which provides a way to reduce the implementation gap between model builders and end-users.
  2. ‘Spatial Dynamic Modelling’ integrates existing socio-economic, environmental, and transport models into a spatially explicit platform. It makes efficient use of previous Council models and puts these in an innovative dynamic setting incorporating the feedbacks and time lags that characterise complex urban systems. The modelling environment enables users to run simulations interactively, engage with the system, and directly observe the results of their inputs into the model. Results are presented visually (as shown) and can be saved for further analysis or presentation purposes.
  3. ‘Embedding into Council Processes’ seeks to reduce the gap between model-building capacity and use of models by the planning community. The Sustainable Pathways 2 project does not just focus on solving technical modelling problems but also works towards improving the social process of developing planning tools and fostering knowledge exchange with stakeholders and users. A component of the research is how best to embed scenario modelling into local government processes. This area of research is being directed by Sustainable Pathways 2 team members who are also council staff.

We collaborate directly with Market Economics, Auckland Council, Waikato Regional Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council; and the Research Institute for Knowledge Systems in the Netherlands. 

Integrated Freshwater Solutions: (IFS)

Integrated Freshwater Solutions (IFS) is a 3-year project (2010-2013) to develop effective tools to address the freshwater management needs of regional councils, iwi/hapū and local authorities nationwide. The IFS project output is tools and knowledge to advance collaborative and adaptive management of freshwater resources by end-users (regional councils) Iwi/hapū, and stakeholders (business/industry, territorial local authorities, non-governmental organizations).The three objectives for the project are:

  1. To test the usefulness of two modelling approaches during a stakeholder collaborative process.
  2. To provide scope for Iwi/hapū  to add to their Mātauranga and contribute knowledge to achieve restoration of freshwater ecosystems.
  3. To increase adaptive management capacity to solve contentious environmental issues in New Zealand. 

The novelty of the IFS approach to collaborative governance was to develop and test the support provided by two modelling approaches during a stakeholder process. The first modelling tool, Mediated Modelling (MM) used model building as a mediation tool; modelling with stakeholders, rather than building models for stakeholders. This process facilitated collaborative learning about the socio-economic, ecological and cultural qualities associated with the Manawatu River, and how these integrate. The second modelling tool, a Bayesian Belief Network (BBN) model was intended to link spatially explicit GIS maps of climatic, geological, hydrological and landuse/landcover to biological functions in the river and present scientific data in an accessible way to stakeholders. As empirical data was proven to not be statistically robust enough to be validated in a BBN, research was redirected towards providing a dynamic, spatially explicit model of the Manawatu, using the Multi-scale Integrated Model for Ecosystem Services (MIMES) modelling framework.

With the IFS project Iwi/hapū  contributed to a collaborative stakeholder process as well as carrying out independent research. Iwi/hapū  projects are: (i) Monitoring the Oroua River water quality (Ngati Kauwhata led by Taiao Raukawa Trust) (ii) Co-management of the Manawatu River (Rangitaane o Manawatu) (iii) Impacts of siltation and water quality flowing from the Manawatu River on coastal ecosystems (Muaupoko Tribal Authority).

132.705 Applied Ecological Economics

A post-graduate applied ecological economics paper has been run in association with the IFS project for three years. In this paper students learn Ecological Economics tools and concepts and get the opportunity to work alongside faculty and stakeholders to develop skills in synthesizing innovative solutions for the Manawatu River Catchment.

Mediated Modelling: Tauranga Case Study

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