Part 1: Background

Sustainable development: Implementing the Programme of Action.

In this Part, we describe the Sustainable Development for New Zealand: Programme of Action (the Programme of Action) and explain:

  • why we did our audit;
  • the scope of our audit;
  • our expectations;
  • how we undertook our audit; and
  • the structure of our report.

What is the Sustainable Development for New Zealand: Programme of Action?

The Programme of Action was the Government’s response to an agreement made at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (the World Summit) in Johannesburg to prepare a national sustainable development strategy by 2005.

Participating countries at the World Summit agreed to work towards sustainable development goals in areas spanning social, economic, and environmental concerns. The New Zealand Government endorsed the World Summit commitments.

For 2003 to 2006, the commitments related to water, sanitation, human settlements, energy for sustainable development, industrial development, air pollution and atmosphere, and climate change.

Published by the Government in January 2003, the Programme of Action committed to strengthening the way government operated and established a high-level vision statement and principles to guide government policy and decision-making.

The Programme of Action set out:

  • 10 sustainable development principles for use in all government decisionmaking;
  • a programme of action for each of four workstreams; and
  • how progress towards sustainability would be measured.

The four workstreams selected for immediate and collaborative action during the three years to July 2006 were:

  • Quality and Allocation of Freshwater;
  • Energy;
  • Sustainable Cities; and
  • Investing in Child and Youth Development.

According to the Programme of Action, the four workstreams were selected because they had “intergenerational effects on well-being, persistent effects in the environment [and] significant impacts across the social, economic, environmental, and cultural spheres that are difficult to disentangle”.

Solving these complex issues required urgent attention, innovative approaches, and collaborative action through partnerships, and government leadership. The Programme of Action said effort would focus on some important issues in the expectation that the experience of applying the sustainable development approach would have benefits “across the board”.

When Cabinet approved the Programme of Action and the use of the 10 sustainable development principles, it also approved a broad programme of work for the three years from July 2003 to July 2006 that had been agreed by the relevant government departments.

Why we did our audit

In 2002, an international working group of Auditors-General promoted audits of government responses to the World Summit. We outlined a proposed performance audit of the Programme of Action in our 2005/06 annual plan.

The topic was of interest to us because the Programme of Action sought a different way of working, such as requiring central government to work more collaboratively on complex issues, to better integrate existing initiatives, and to learn from new processes. This approach has many features in common with the Government’s stated goals of identifying shared outcomes and working in a whole-of-government way.

We saw an opportunity to assess how well the Programme of Action was implemented and also to identify any implications for other complex cross-agency work.

In addition, as the Programme of Action was the Government’s initial response to a significant international agreement of considerable public interest, we considered it timely to look at the effectiveness of its implementation.

Sustainable development has been on the Government’s agenda for some time. In February 2007, the Prime Minister announced that sustainability would be a top priority for the Government, and that the Government intended to take a leadership role to contribute to this goal.

The scope of our audit

To assess how effectively the Programme of Action had been implemented, we audited how the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) undertook leadership and co-ordination, planning, and evaluation and reporting of the Programme of Action as a whole.

We also audited the leadership and co-ordination, planning, and evaluation by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Development for the Sustainable Cities workstream, and by the Ministry of Economic Development for the Energy workstream.

We chose the Sustainable Cities workstream because it included an objective to achieve progress in Auckland using a partnership model. Auckland’s development is also a focus in the Government’s economic transformation goals.1

We chose the Energy workstream because the energy sector is one of the Auditor- General’s strategic areas of interest and because it was an example of bringing together a sector with disparate interests.

We did not audit:

  • whether the Programme of Action met the World Summit commitments;
  • whether all government policy used the sustainable development principles in decision-making; or
  • the programme for reporting progress towards sustainability.

Our expectations

We expected to find:

  • effective collaboration and co-ordination by DPMC with central government departments and other sectors such as local government, and effective collaboration and co-ordination between departments and with other sectors;
  • support for the sustainable development principles;
  • effective planning and implementation of the Programme of Action as a whole and for the separate workstreams; and
  • evaluation of the processes and reporting on the progress of the Programme of Action as a whole and for the separate workstreams.

How we undertook our audit

During our audit, we spoke to the co-ordinating Minister, current and past senior staff from DPMC, and staff from the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Development in Wellington and Auckland. We spoke with Auckland local government representatives and reviewed many central and local government documents.

We also talked to some participating agencies and stakeholders. In particular, we worked closely with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who was conducting a study on progress towards sustainability in New Zealand, to ensure that the scope of our audit complemented the Commissioner’s work.

To provide a context for our audit, we read about how some other signatories at the World Summit were fulfilling their commitments. There is extensive literature on this topic, so we focused on publications from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, and Germany.

Structure of our report

In carrying out our audit, we identified three themes underlying the effective coordination of cross-agency work. We have based our report on these themes:

  • leadership, co-ordination, and governance (Part 2);
  • management and planning (Part 3); and
  • accountability through reporting, monitoring, and evaluation (Part 4).

Each Part describes our expectations and findings in relation to the Programme of Action as a whole and to the Sustainable Cities and Energy workstreams, and concludes with a discussion of the implications for cross-agency work.

Figure 1 shows the organisations, workstreams, committees, and groups involved in implementating the Programme of Action and the relationships between them. Many of the working groups evolved and their names changed during the threeyear life of the Programme of Action; in these instances, we have shown only the early and final forms of the working groups. Also, a group established to support the use of the Programme of Action principles had several names; for this report, we have referred to this group as the Quality Practice initiative.

Figure 1
Organisations, workstreams, committees, and groups involved in implementation of the Programme of Action

[PDF version of Figure 1, A3 page, 149kB]

1: In March 2006, Cabinet agreed that economic transformation would be one of the Government’s three priorities for the next decade. Economic transformation is a cross-departmental effort led by the Ministry of Economic Development. It comprises five themes – growing globally competitive firms, world class infrastructure, innovative and productive workplaces, Auckland as an internationally competitive city, and environmental sustainability.

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