Climate change: How New Zealand's efforts stack up against the world

New Zealand has been ranked middle-of-the-pack when it comes to fighting climate change in a new report.

The 2021 Climate Change Performance Index (CPPI) puts us in 25th place out of 58 countries and the European Union, covering more than 90 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. 

But in the report's formal list, we're actually 28th out of 61 - the experts behind the CPPI determining no nations were performing well enough to deserve gold, silver or bronze. 

"No country performs well enough in all index categories to achieve an overall very high rating in the index. Therefore, once again the first three ranks of the overall ranking remain empty," the report, released Tuesday, reads. 

It's an improvement on our 2019 ranking of 44th (or 41st, no country doing enough to meet their Paris Agreement obligations that year either). In 2006, we were ranked 31st. 

The scores are based on four areas - emissions, renewable energy, energy use and climate policy. 


New Zealand performs poorly in this category, ranking 44th out of 61 (no country being deemed worthy of positions one, two and three). This shouldn't be surprising, considering New Zealand has increased its emissions 24 percent since the 1990s - unlike countries such as the UK and Sweden who have cut emissions over the past three decades.

Other countries performing well in this category include Egypt, Chile, Malta, Morocco, Norway, Switzerland, India, Denmark, Croatia and France. Last place is Kazakhstan, whose growing dependence on fossil fuels is at odds with its Paris Agreement obligations. It actually boosted exports of oil and gas to help its economy through the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Renewable energy

New Zealand does well here, coming in ninth (or sixth, for the reasons above). We're ranked 'high' with Latvia, Lithuania, the Nordic countries, Chile, Brazil, the UK, Ireland and others. About 40 percent of New Zealand's total energy use comes from renewables, and 80 percent of our electricity generation. 

Last is Iran, with Russia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Belarus, Mexico, Egypt and Canada also being ranked 'very low'. The US and Australia barely scrape into the 'low' category.

The rankings.
The rankings. Photo credit: CPPI

Energy use

This section tracks whether a nation's current energy use, and future plans and investments, will put it on track to meet Paris Agreement warming targets. New Zealand performs badly here, ranked 'low', mostly because of our high per-capita energy consumption. Our mark is slightly improved by the targets the Government has set and a falling per-capita energy use, enough to put us in 44th (41st). 

The Ukraine tops this list, followed by Malta, Mexico, Morocco and Switzerland. The UK and South Africa also earned 'high' scores. 

Last is Canada, which gets only 16 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and has the world's third-biggest oil reserves. Saudi Arabia, the US, Finland, Australia and China also rank 'very low' in this category.

Climate policy

New Zealand ranks 24th (21st) here, with its efforts deemed 'medium'. We're far behind front-runners Finland, Sweden, the UK, Latvia, Portugal and Denmark, but well ahead of Australia (second-to-last) and the United States (last place, after pulling out of the Paris Agreement altogether last month; President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to overturn this decision). 

"The plans of president-elect [Joe] Biden present great opportunities for this assessment to improve significantly but only if the promises from the election campaign are actually delivered," wrote Niklas Höhne and Leonardo Nascimento of the Germany-based organisation NewClimate, which contributed to the report.

"Given the still unclear majority in the Senate, it is uncertain how much of this will be implemented."


Putting together all the results, New Zealand - as mentioned earlier - ranks 28th (25th). 

Top place - or fourth - went to Sweden, followed by the UK, Denmark, Morocco, Norway, Chile, India, Finland, Malta and Latvia. 

But not even their efforts are enough.

"The results show that, even if all countries were as committed as the current frontrunners, efforts would still be insufficient to prevent hazardous climate change," the report states.

Last place overall went to the United States, with wooden spoon runners-up including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Canada, Taiwan, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Australia, South Korea and Russia. 

The CCPI has been published every year since 2005, and is presented at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.