Greenhouse gas emissions down on pre-COVID levels, fall across 10 regions

Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across most New Zealand regions compared with pre-COVID-19 times, with Taranaki seeing the largest decrease.

Figures from StatsNZ show total regional emissions in 2021 were down 0.3 percent to 78.4 megatonnes compared to 2020, when emissions dipped due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Compared to 2019, prior to the pandemic, emissions in 2021 were down 4.5 percent.  

Ten of 16 regions saw drops between 2019 and 2021. Taranaki saw the largest drop in terms of kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, down 18 percent. Other large falls were observed in Auckland (9.7 percent) and Northland (16 percent).

"The decrease in emissions in Taranaki was largely due to a decrease in gas being used for electricity generation, followed by decreases in both manufacturing and mining," said StatsNZ environmental-economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley.

Between 2019 and 2021, emissions in Taranaki from electricity, gas, water and waste services fell 35 percent. Auckland's drop since pre-COVID has been driven by a 16 percent decrease in household emissions, while Northland's fall is primarily down by manufacturing, down 34 percent.

The largest increases regionally were recorded in Gisborne (up 4.9 percent), Canterbury (3 percent) and Waikato (1.1 percent).

Looking at just household emissions, 11 of 16 regions saw decreases due to COVID-19-related restrictions. Total household emissions nationally fell 9.6 percent since pre-COVID, with the largest decreases being in Auckland (down 16 percent), Wellington (14 percent) and Waikato (5.6 percent).

"The large decrease in household emissions in this period is due to a general decrease in household transport emissions related to COVID-19 travel restrictions," said Oakley. "In 2021, household transport emissions increased a little as lockdown restrictions eased but they are still below 2019 levels."

At 60 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, Southland has the highest total emissions per capita "due to the presence of emission-intensive industries like agriculture, forestry, and fishing, and manufacturing, with relatively low population in the region". It's followed by Taranaki, while Auckland has the lowest total emissions per capita.

"Auckland has a high proportion of total emissions from manufacturing but comparatively fewer emissions from agriculture, forestry, and fishing, as well as a high population."

Agriculture forestry and fishing made up 61 percent of total regional industry carbon dioxide equivalent in 2021, down 0.2 percent on 2020. Canterbury, the largest contributor, saw emissions jump 3.9 percent due to an increase in dairy cattle, while Southland's fell 4 percent due to a decrease in cattle numbers. 

Manufacturing accounted for 14 percent, down 4.5 percent, with Auckland the largest contributor. Electricity, gas, water and waste services emissions contributed 12 percent, a fall of 0.8 percent. 

Transport, postal and warehousing made up 5.3 percent, an increase of 5.4 percent, however, this doesn't capture international aviation. That isn't given a regional allocation and is only recorded in the national numbers.

The Government earlier this year revealed its first three emissions budgets, which detail the total amount of greenhouse gases that can be put into the atmosphere over a certain period of time. The first budget, for between 2022 and 2025, averages out at 72.4 megatonnes per year. The Emissions Reduction Plan released in May set out more than 300 actions across transport, energy, building, agriculture and waste to bring down emissions. 

The Zero Carbon Act, passed in 2019, set a domestic target of cutting greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to net-zero by 2050. Biogenic methane must be cut to 24-27 percent below 2017 levels by 2050. 

The emissions budgets are different to New Zealand's Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, put into place to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow last year, the Government announced it would cut greenhouse gases by 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. While the emissions budgets are met through domestic actions, the NDC can be met by entering into international arrangements. This could see emissions reductions occur offshore, but be paid for by New Zealand.