NZ records biggest drop in greenhouse gas emissions ever, but still far from meeting targets

New Zealand's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions hit a seven-year low in the year ended March 2021, new figures show.

But despite the lockdown's effect on emissions, two industries still managed to increase theirs on the previous year. 

"Electricity, gas, water, and waste services emissions were up due to the greater reliance on fossil fuel use for electricity generation over the year, as New Zealand experienced dry conditions in hydro-generation areas," environmental economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley said on Wednesday. 

They were up 13 percent, adding an extra 1016 kilotonnes of GHG emissions into the atmosphere. Services excluding transport, postal, and warehousing increased 0.3 percent, adding 11kt more than the year before.

Every other sector of the economy was cleaner though. The country spent two months under heavy movement restrictions from March 2020 through to May, in a successful attempt to eliminate community transmission of COVID-19. This, plus other localised restrictions later in the year, resulted in a GHG emissions drop of 4.5 percent - the biggest in history. 

In the year to March 31, New Zealand emitted 80,552kt of GHG - down from 84,367kt the previous 12 months. 

The June quarter - which encompassed most of the nationwide lockdown - saw emissions drop 7.6 percent. They rebounded in the September quarter, despite the Auckland level 3 restrictions, up 8 percent. 

The December quarter saw another small fall, before a slight rise in the March 2021 quarter, resulting in a 4.5 percent drop overall. 

The biggest drops were seen in transport, postal, and warehousing (down 49 percent), manufacturing (7.2 percent) and agriculture, forestry, and fishing (1.2 percent).

Household GHG emissions dropped slightly less than the overall figure, down 3.7 percent. They only account for 12 percent of all emissions. 

New Zealand's target is to reduce GHG emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That appears unlikely - even with the record drop, emissions in the year to March were about the same as they were in 2005, having barely moved since then. 

A previous voluntary pledge made in 2010, to drop our emissions to at least 10 percent below 1990 levels, was also missed.