Government organisations make few travel plan changes despite climate promises

By Niva Chittock for RNZ

A majority of the government organisations working to become carbon neutral from 2025 have not yet established travel limits for their staff.

The Carbon Neutral Government Programme began in December 2020, with an aim "to make a number of organisations within the public sector carbon neutral from 2025".

From July 2021, all ministries, ministerial agencies and the government's executive branch were instructed to begin implementing the programme.

Its top priorities were to phase out coal boilers, optimise and electrify car fleets where possible, measure the energy efficiency of office buildings and report on their emissions.

Two years in, the majority of the organisations said their leading cause of emissions was air travel.

RNZ asked 30 of them if they had established travel limits for their staff to help ensure they reached the carbon neutral target.

There was no requirement for limits to be introduced under the programme and none had been implemented by 1 February 2023.

Treasury had set travel emissions targets but not limits.

It wanted to reduce travel emissions by 15 percent by the end of 2023, 25 percent in 2025 and 47 percent in 2030.

In its response, it said "It is essential that our travel policy and guidelines are ambitious and that we stick to it."

"These changes alone are expected to promote a significant reduction to air-travel related emissions. Although, to achieve our travel and overall targets we will need to implement further initiatives to reduce our travel emissions," Treasury said.

The Ministry for Environment had set "an overall annual reduction ambition for our travel emissions".

It said it had smaller, internal emissions budgets that were focused on air travel, which made up 90 percent of the Ministry's overall emissions.

Air travel also made up nearly 90 percent of the Ministry of Defence's total emissions in the last year.

It had not yet implemented staff travel limits but had introduced more stringent travel policy to ensure "travel is necessary and justifiable in every case", and "the class of travel is appropriate to meet business needs whilst minimising the emissions generated from travel."

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said "It is too early for carbon travel limits to be set at this stage, but MPI will explore opportunities to manage carbon as the programme continues."

The Department of Conservation, Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Security and Intelligence Service also had similar statements.

Corrections, the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Te Puni Kōkiri, Oranga Tamariki and the Serious Fraud Office all said they had a plan to reduce travel emissions that included stringent travel policy, programmes including car pooling, working from home or greater use of virtual meetings.

The rest said they had no limits implemented between 1 February 2022 and 1 February 2023.

In addition to the ministries, ministerial agencies and the government's executive branch, from December, all Crown agencies also be required to report their emissions, gross emissions reduction targets and reduction plans for the 2022/23 financial year onwards.