Because of its relatively small population, New Zealand's natural resources have so far suffered less from the pressures of development than have those of many other industrialized nations. Air pollution from cars and other vehicles is an environmental concern in New Zealand. The use of fossil fuels contributes to the problem. New Zealand's concern about the effects of air pollution on the atmosphere is, in part, due to the fact that the nation is among the world leaders in incidence of skin cancer. In 1996, New Zealand produced 29.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources.
Water pollution is also a problem due to industrial pollutants and sewage. The nation has 327 cu km of renewable water resources, of which 55% is used for farming activity and 13% for industrial purposes. The nation's cities produce an average of 2.3 million tons of solid waste per year.
Another environmental issue in New Zealand is the development of its resources—forests, gas and coal fields, farmlands—without serious cost to natural beauty and ecological balance. Two-thirds of the nation's forests have been eliminated. Principal governmental agencies with environmental responsibilities are the Commission for the Environment (established in 1972), an investigatory and advisory agency that audits environmental impact reports; the Environmental Council (1970), an advisory body that publishes information on environmental issues; and the Nature Conservation Council (1962), an advisory body that may inquire into the environmental effects of proposed public or private works projects and is free to make its reports and recommendations public.
In 2001, 3 of New Zealand's mammal species and 44 types of birds were endangered, as were 165 plant species. Native species have been seriously endangered by species introduced from outside the country. Endangered animal species in New Zealand include the takahe, two species of petrel (black and New Zealand Cook's), the black stilt, orange-fronted parakeet, kakapo, and Codfish Island fernbird. Extinct are the bush wren, laughing owl, Delcourt's sticky-toed gecko, South Island kokako, New Zealand quail, and New Zealand grayling. Endangered species on the Chatham Islands were the Chatham Island petrel, magenta petrel, Chatham Island oystercatcher, New Zealand plover, Chatham Island pigeon, Forbes's parakeet, and Chatham Island black robin. The Chatham Island swan and Chatham Island rail are extinct.