The Resource Management Act isn't effectively protecting the environment and pressures will increase as the population grows, a new research report says.
The research, the first of its kind, was commissioned by the Employers and Manufacturers Association, the Property Council and the Council for Infrastructure Development.
It was conducted by the Environmental Defence Society.
The just-released report says the RMA has jurisdiction over many of the impacts of human activities on New Zealand's fragile ecosystems, exceptional landscapes and unique wildlife.
"It has largely failed to achieve the goal of sustainable management," it says.
"A lack of national direction has limited the potential of the resource management system to effectively and efficiently achieve its environmental goals."
The report says the challenges are far from dissipating.
"Projected population and economic growth will only sharpen pressures on the environment, and restructuring of economic systems will be required to achieve genuine sustainability."
Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor says the research was ground-breaking.
"It's time to put party politics aside and have a mature debate about how we as a nation want to effectively manage our resources to fully protect the environment and drive productivity," he said.
"There is no quick fix solution on offer here."
Among the specific issues identified by the research were:
The Greens say it's the Government's fault for not properly implementing the RMA and its planned changes to the legislation will make the situation even worse.