Climate change: New Zealand's annual emissions report shows 'limited progress' - James Shaw

New Zealand is making "limited progress" to reduce its emissions but not nearly quickly enough, with Climate Change Minister James Shaw claiming the scale of what is needed goes beyond what current policies can achieve.

Shaw's declaration follows the release of the latest annual report on the country's greenhouse gases. The New Zealand Greenhouse Gas Inventory provides the most up-to-date information regarding how much work needs to be done to make an impact on climate change. 

The annual report provides the official estimates of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions and removals that have occurred in New Zealand since 1990. It covers carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

"Narrowing the gap between where we are now and where we need to be is the difference between handing our children a better world, or more crises in the future," Shaw said in a statement on Tuesday.

"People are understandably worried about their immediate future, which is why we must continue to do everything we can to reduce the economic pressures [that] people and businesses... are facing. However, we can do that in a way that also helps the climate."

Key findings of the inventory include:

  • in 2018, New Zealand's gross greenhouse gas emissions  were 78.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent - a 24 percent increase in emissions compared to 1990
  • between 2017 and 2018, gross emissions decreased by 1 percent. The report attributes this mainly to a decline in emissions from manufacturing, construction, public electricity and heat production
  • the agriculture and energy sectors were the two largest contributors to New Zealand’s gross emissions, at 48 percent and 41 percent respectively
  • The Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector offset nearly one-third of New Zealand’s gross emissions in 2018
  • New Zealand's net emissions increased by 57 percent compared with 1990 mostly due to the underlying increase in gross emissions and increased volume of timber harvested from the plantation forest estate in 2018
  • between 2017 and 2018, net emissions decreased by 3 percent due to a reduced rate of deforestation and an increase in the production of harvested wood products
  • in 2018, New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions consisted of 44 percent carbon dioxide, 43 percent methane, 10 percent nitrous oxide and 2 percent fluorinated gases
  • increases in emissions from dairy cattle and road transport remain the largest contributors to the growth in emissions.

"When we look at the pathway to zero net emissions by 2050, there are two things that stand out from this report - firstly, we have a long way to go, but secondly, that the scale of what is required goes beyond what current policies will achieve," Shaw explained. 

"Building on our track record of progress is going to be crucial if we are to solve climate change and create a better future for our kids and grandkids."

Shaw also highlighted the measures introduced by the Labour Government in the fight against climate change, claiming that successive governments have long acted with "little regard" for the environment. 

Action taken by the Government so far includes:

  • the Zero Carbon Act
  • the formation of the Climate Change Commission
  • the reformation of the Emissions Trading Scheme
  • the first set of emissions budgets
  • the Billion Trees programme
  • a Joint Action Plan for Primary Sector Emissions
  • the end of new offshore fossil fuel exploration 
  • the investment of billions of dollars in rail, light rail, buses, walking and cycling infrastructure to help drive down emissions.

The report does not show what impact COVID-19 has had on emissions. As it takes about 15 months to collect and analyse the data for each year and prepare it for the inventory's publication, the impacts of COVID-19 won’t be fully known until the 2022 inventory.

"We have an opportunity to change the quality of our economic growth and reduce its impact on the climate," Shaw said.

"Our goal is to transition to a net-zero carbon economy in a way that gives people good job opportunities and certainty about how they will provide for their families."