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Population Policy

Kennedy Graham MP
kennedy [dot] graham [at] parliament [dot] govt [dot] nz (Email)

Read the Population Policy Summary

Download the Population Policy as PDF


  1. Sustainable: In a sustainable world, society's demand on nature is in balance with nature's capacity to meet that demand.
  2. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  3. An ecological footprint is a resource management tool that measures how much land a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology.
  4. Carrying Capacity is the maximum population that a given area of land can support indefinitely. This will depend to a large degree on the per capita footprint of the population.
  5. Overshoot: To overshoot is to exceed the carrying capacity of the land.
  6. Energy land (also CO2 land): This represents the demand on biocapacity required to sequester (through photosynthesis) the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Although fossil fuels are extracted from the Earth's crust and are not regenerated in human time scales, their use demands ecological services if the resultant CO2 is not to accumulate in the atmosphere.


Some studies estimate that the global population of over 6 billion has already exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth by 30% (Wackernagel et. al. (2005) "Tracking the ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US)). The world is finite. We cannot indulge in unlimited material growth and population expansion. New Zealand is part of the problem. We need to establish and maintain a population that is in ecological balance with the resources of the Aotearoa/New Zealand environment if the country is to be truly sustainable.New Zealand's population is currently 4.1 million. Global population pressure has caused environmental degradation, species loss and man-made global warming. Our country is part of the global problem. Excessive levels of consumption and global population numbers must be drastically reduced. Due to an inability to sequester all the greenhouse gases produced, the New Zealand population is not currently living within its ecological limitations. At the moment it is estimated that the maximum population that New Zealand can sustain (based on the level of useable productive land and the ecological footprint of each person in 1997/98) is around 5.7 million. [from the Ministry for the Environment's "Ecological Footprint of New Zealand and its Regions" currently being developed further.] However at this stage the figure is based on the level of useable productive land and doesn't take fully into account other crucial sustainability indicators such as water, carbon and energy footprints. Furthermore a range of factors may cause the total productive land capacity to be reduced in the future e.g. as a consequence of climate change/sea level rise or peak oil etc.These factors mean that we should treat the figure of 5.7 million with caution and as an indicative upper limit figure only.


The Green Party's vision is for an Aotearoa/New Zealand (or a world) where:

  • humans are an integral part of the natural world in which ecological sustainability is paramount
  • society's demands on nature are kept in balance with nature's capacity to meet that demand
  • the natural, social and material resources needed to sustain and enhance human life are distributed fairly amongst the population
  • further degradation of land, ocean and freshwater species and habitat, through the impact of current and future populations, is avoided, and where possible, previously degraded areas are rehabilitated.

Key Principles

  1. Maori, as tangata whenua, have a partnership role in determining the population policy.
  2. A self-sustaining population cannot be increased beyond the carrying capacity of useable land available.
  3. The population cannot be increased beyond its capacity to offset its greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. The population must not be increased beyond the capacity of the local environment to provide essential ecosystem services such as clean water, air and soil.
  5. The uneven regional distribution of the population will be addressed through regional economic development measures.
  6. Informed decisions about family size and spacing will be made by the parents concerned.
  7. A stable population is desirable to minimise negative impacts on infrastructure and resources.

Specific Policy Points

1. Determining a sustainable population for Aotearoa/New Zealand

The Green Party recognises that a sustainable population level for New Zealand would not be 'final and fixed' but flexible. As we move to develop renewable energy resources, an efficient vehicle fleet, and an improved public transport system, our per capita footprint will become smaller and it may be possible to sustainably support a larger population. On the other hand, other factors (as outlined previously) may reduce the amount of useable productive land in New Zealand and this will also impact on the sustainable population level.
To determine a sustainable population for NZ the Green Party will:

  1. Support continuing development of the Ministry for the Environment's Ecological Footprint modelling to incorporate best practice, as further information becomes available.
  2. Seek to reduce New Zealand's per capita and total ecological footprint by developing and supporting practices that curb unnecessary consumption and wasteful and extravagant means of production. (See Energy, Climate Change and Water Policies)

2.Fertility and natural increase of the population

In the last century, New Zealand has gone through a "demographic transition" from high birth rate and high mortality rate to low birth rate and low mortality. This means that people are having fewer babies and are living longer. This drop in birth rate has been a worldwide trend in countries with good education, health and welfare services. While New Zealand's birth rate is now below replacement rate, this drop has not yet resulted in an annual natural decrease in population. There has been a natural increase of around 30,000 since the late 1980s due to the flow on effect of past birth rates.The Green Party will:

  1. Ensure that potential and existing parents have full and free access to countrywide Family Planning services so that informed decisions about the number and spacing of children can be made at the appropriate level, by the parents concerned. (See Health and Women's Policies)
  2. Retain a strong emphasis on providing quality education, health and welfare services.
  3. Promote initiatives to raise awareness regarding the issue of sustainable global population levels.

3. Retention of spare population capacity

It is predicted that in the coming decades the world will experience a range of significant global events such as severe weather events due to climate change, the end of cheap oil, economic system instability and large population movements caused by drought and famine (UN prediction). It is possible that a significant number of the estimated 750 000 New Zealand citizens living overseas may return (with their spouses and dependants) within that period. In addition climate change projections forecast a rise in sea levels and intensity of storms in the Pacific over the next decades. New Zealand has historic links with our close neighbours in the Pacific some of whom are very likely to become climate-change refugees. Already the Tuvalu population is under pressure from rising sea levels. New Zealand has a responsibility towards Pacific Island people.Australian citizens have unrestricted access to New Zealand. With predictions of continuing drought and water shortages it is possible that there could be an increase in immigrants from Australia, who are not covered by the immigration quota.The ability of the environment to sustain the present and future population is not a consideration in current immigration policies. A surge in population could see the population pushed beyond a sustainable level. The Green Party acknowledges the inevitable need which will arise to re-shape society with a focus on strong, self-reliant local communities.The Green Party will:

  1. Retain spare capacity so that as and when needed, we can manage the settlement of returning citizens and climate-change immigrants/refugees with the resources available
  2. Plan and prepare for the possibility of a surge in numbers of returning New Zealand citizens.
  3. Plan and prepare for the anticipated needs of Pacific Island climate-change refugees/immigrants. In conjunction with others in the region, we will take a leadership role in the resettlement of Pacific Island people threatened by climate-change events
  4. Regularly review NZ's immigration policy to ensure that we are retaining capacity to absorb climate change refugees and returning NZ citizens.
  5. Address the reasons, such as student debt and unaffordable housing, which are keeping New Zealand graduates and skilled workers from remaining here or returning home
  6. Review the categories under which immigrants are currently accepted so that skills needed for a society developing sustainable agricultural practices and alternative energy technologies are identified and sought.

4. An optimum population and quality of life.

By reducing our ecological footprint through means such as more densely clustered housing and a simpler (low meat/ low dairy) diet, we may be able to increase our population levels while remaining within the carrying capacity of the land.However as a nation we place a high value on things such as access to wilderness, mountains, clean rivers, unpolluted oceans and uncrowded towns and cities. Such cherished values could be eroded through population pressure. In order to maintain both spare capacity and a decent standard of living, the optimum population figure will be significantly lower than the maximum carrying capacity of the land. We also need to plan and prepare to adapt to changing population demographics. Current predictions are that by 2050 1 in 4 New Zealanders will be over 65 years of age. Currently around 12% of the population is over 65. The Green Party will:

  1. Research what an optimum population level could be in order to maintain both spare capacity and a decent standard of living
  2. Plan and prepare for the effects of an aging population
  3. Facilitate the development of regional population plans, in partnership with local tangata whenua.

5. Aotearoa /New Zealand as a responsible global citizen.

The Green Party's vision for New Zealand is also our vision for the world.We acknowledge that in comparison with many countries we are far better placed to respond to the mixed challenges of climate change, the end of cheap oil and the demand to limit carbon emissions. In proportion to our current population we have relatively abundant water and land resources. New Zealand should be a responsible international citizen by:

  1. Accepting its share of climate change refugees particularly from Pacific Island countries.
  2. Working cooperatively with other countries through international aid programmes and other means to address problems of over-population and/or environmentally unsustainable lifestyles.


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