Today, New Zealand is home to just over 4 million people, with an average age of 36 years. Most New Zealanders live in urban areas within 50 kilometres of the coast. Three out of four of us live in the North Island. While our overall population density is low, it is high in major urban areas. New Zealand’s demography and the way it is changing have implications for both the way we live our lives, and the impact of our lifestyles on the environment. New Zealanders’ relationship with the environment is a defi ning feature of our national identity. We frequently use images of our natural scenery and rural heritage to present New Zealand to the rest of the world. Mäori have a particular relationship with the environment as tangata whenua (people of the land).
Increasingly, New Zealanders perceive the environment to be not only our iconic wilderness and rural areas, but also the urban areas where most of us live and work. New Zealand’s natural environment is fundamental to our economic and social well-being. Our stunning landscapes, forests, and productive agricultural and horticultural land generate a signifi cant part of New Zealand’s wealth. Careful stewardship of our natural landscapes and resources is therefore important: both tourism and our primary production sectors rely on New Zealand’s ‘clean and green’ reputation internationally. Safeguarding the environment for future generations is becoming increasingly important to New Zealanders. Many of us are taking action to conserve the environment for future generations in ways that protect our economic well-being, social systems, and cultural wealth.