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Institutional Change for Sustainable Development

Robin Connor and Stephen Dovers

Institutional Change for Sustainable Development presents a flexible, accessible, yet robust conceptual framework for comprehending institutional dimensions of sustainability, emphasising the complexity of institutional systems, and highlighting the interdependence between policy learning and institutional change. This framework is applied and developed through the analysis of five significant arenas of institutional and policy change: environmental policy in the EU; New Zealand’s landmark Resource Management Act; strategic environmental assessment; emerging National Councils for Sustainable Development; and transformative property rights instruments. From these explorations, key principles for institutional change are identified, including the institutional accommodation of a sustainability discourse, the interdependence of normative and institutional change; reiteration and learning; integration in policy and practice; subsidiarity; and legal change.
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Chapter 4: Sustainable Management of Natural and Physical Resources: The New Zealand Resource Management Act 1991

Robin Connor and Stephen Dovers


INTRODUCTION This chapter examines New Zealand’s Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) as an early and substantive example of a major statutory reform in response to sustainability. The purpose here is not to propose the RMA as a model to adopt but to attempt to understand what the New Zealand experience has been both in the policy development process and in over a decade of implementation. From this we hope to learn about sustainable development policy and the institutional structure and process necessary to bring such policy to bear on the real world. The RMA experience directly addresses the two key types of policy learning – social and government – and all three objects of learning defined in Part I of the book: substantial policy processes, organization of government and problem reframing. The Resource Management Act was passed into law by the New Zealand Parliament in July 1991 and came into force on 1 October of that year, following four years of intense development work. The RMA remains an important example of a comprehensive and integrated approach to resource management law reform based on sustainability principles. The legislation enjoyed bipartisan support in the Parliament, having been conceived and developed by the Labour Government but passed into law by the conservative National Party that gained power in 1990. The RMA replaced some twenty major statutes and fifty other laws related to the environment, some dating back as far as 1889. It provides a mechanism for managing the quality of land, air and water under...

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