Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when

Adapting to climate change is going to affect the way every New Zealander lives their lives, but it's often difficult to imagine exactly what these changes will look like.

However, the UN has warned that we only have 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels before it starts having devastating effects.

Newshub Nation explores what will be different about how we get our energy, how we get around, how we shop, how we travel and what we eat.


Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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The Government has set a target of being 100 percent renewable by 2035. Currently, 82 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources - mainly hydropower.

The problem with renewables is their reliability. If the sun isn't shining, or if our lakes are low, or if the wind isn't blowing, our backup is burning fossil fuels like coal in power plants.

However, these power plants could be converted to burn other less-carbon heavy products like waste-wood from forestry.

"We've obviously got lots of wood lying around and the problems we had in Tolaga Bay - you can imagine that would have been much better used as a source of energy if we'd had the supply chain set up," says James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change.

Another potential solution to the storage problem is using renewable sources to produce hydrogen gas, which acts a bit like a battery.

"Hydrogen plants can make a lot of energy at short notice, and that's a really key capability that we need to push the last bit of coal and gas off the grid and get to 100 percent renewable," says Katherine Errington, Helen Clark Foundation executive director.

Ms Errington says New Zealand could produce and sell green hydrogen to other countries like Japan if we maxed out our renewable energy generation.

"That's our edge, that's what we can offer. New Zealand has heaps of renewable generation that's already been consented and just isn't being built because no one wants to develop it."

Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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However, organisations like Solarcity want New Zealand to rely less on the grid all together.

"Batteries solve the [renewable] problem, and the accelerated rate that companies like ourselves and Tesla, and Panasonic are bringing forward battery solutions mean that you can now use that renewable energy at night when you need it the most," says Andrew Booth, Solarcity NZ CEO.

Alongside generating more renewable energy, New Zealanders are also going to need to become more efficient.

"Insulation material placed in the ceiling and under the floor is a basic component that every house should have and also using cold water when doing the washing, turning off the lights when needed, using LED bulbs - all sorts of things that are well understood and recorded," says Professor Ralph Sims, Massey University climate scientist.

Many homes in the North Island will also need to transition away from using natural gas for cooking and heating water.

Natural gas has about half the emissions of coal and is often talked about as a transition fuel. However, it's estimated we only have about 10 years worth of gas reserves left.

"We need to phase this out and what that means is actually, as a transition fuel, now is the transition and what we need to be doing is investing heavily in the alternatives," says Shaw.


Transport accounts for 19 percent of the country's emissions, mainly because New Zealanders love their cars.

We imported 319,662 light vehicles in 2018. Of that total, just 5,542 or 1.7 percent were electric or hybrid cars according to the Ministry of Transport.

This needs to change and fast. By 2030, the Productivity Commission says 80 percent of NZ vehicle imports need to be electric and by 2050, nearly every vehicle will need to be electric. As at March 2019, electric vehicles (EVs) made up just 0.3 percent of our fleet.

"We swap out our cars on average about every 15 years so if you were to go out and buy a car today, then the next car you buy 15 years from now will have to be an electric," says James Shaw.

Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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The Climate Change Minister says the Government's long-promised electric cars policy is still being developed, with concern for low-income families behind the hold-up.

Drive Electric's Mark Gilbert says the quickest way to get more EVs into the market would be through adjusting the fringe benefit tax, to incentivise businesses to transition their company fleets.

"Companies roll their fleets every two to three years so these vehicles will quickly end up in the second-hand market, which will make them more accessible," he says.

Gilbert also suggests temporarily reducing GST on electric cars and a feebate scheme, where electric vehicle registrations are subsidised by higher fees for petrol and diesel vehicles

An electric fleet will require a big change in infrastructure, with more charging ports around the country.

It'll also mean greater reliance on walking, cycling and public transport.

"Most journeys in New Zealand are just two to three kilometres so you don't really need a car for that," says Ralph Sims.

For trucks, trains, ships and planes, green hydrogen offers a potential climate-friendly solution.

"[Hydrogen] can offer a clean fuel option that's a lot more convenient than electrification," says Katherine Errington.

"For example with electric trucks, the time taken to charge those means the vehicle has to be out of service for that time and most truck companies have their fleets in near constant operation, but with a hydrogen truck you can refuel the same way you do a petrol or diesel truck."

Air Travel:

The main changes to air travel for the average New Zealander will be the heightened cost, which UK research has estimated will kick in around 2035.

Aviation is one of the trickiest areas to reduce emissions. It currently produces about 859 million tonnes of carbon each year or around two percent of global emissions. However, by 2050 it is expected to emit more than any other sector.

Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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Currently, the main way that airline companies offset their emissions is through buying carbon credits which are used to plant trees. Air New Zealand has a voluntary "FlyNeutral" option that customers can select when booking their tickets.

"Forests are only a temporary measure but can offset air travel in the short term," says Ralph Sims.

"However, it's something that we can't keep doing and in the next 10 to 20 years we need to find substitutes for aviation fuels and reduce the demand for air travel."

The Climate Change Minister is confident this will happen.

"[Air New Zealand] are doing things like looking at how to use biofuels as part of their aviation fuel mix, they're investing in electric aeroplane technology and I think I've heard Christopher Luxon (Air NZ CEO) say that within ten years some of the smaller regional planes will be battery powered," says James Shaw.

The biggest problem is what to do about international flights, as there is no global agreement on how to put a price on these emissions.

A solution put forward by the UK Climate Commission is having industries like aviation pay to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere. It estimates the cost of this at $20b-$40b in the year 2050, with that cost likely passed on to consumers. This means the price of flights will start to increase from 2035 as emission removals are predicted to scale up.


Online shopping can actually be better for the environment than traditional shopping, because it means people aren't driving their cars to and from the store.

However, US research found online shopping is only better when consumers choose regular delivery rather than express shipping, which creates nearly 30 percent more emissions.

That's because delivery companies are forced to prioritise speed over efficiency.

Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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"If we can get to the idea that we don't need that pair of running shoes immediately and we could wait for two or three weeks and therefore it's shipped across by boat from Australia [instead of by plane], and then it's put on a train and finally delivered to your home," says Ralph Sims.

"It's the expectations which are driving up the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from the internet shopping."


Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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This is probably the most controversial area to make changes, but with the world's food system accounting for nearly a quarter of all emissions it is one of the areas we need to adapt.

By 2050, the average New Zealander will likely still be able to purchase meat and dairy, just at a higher cost, with the majority of what fills up our fridges likely to be plant based.

In New Zealand, agriculture makes up half of our emissions - mainly from livestock burping methane. This gas breaks down in the atmosphere after 12 years, unlike carbon, which can hang around for hundreds of years. However while it is shorter lived, methane is 25 times stronger than carbon when it comes to warming.

"There are ways to try and reduce methane which are being researched - what you feed the animal on, how you breed the animals to produce less methane," says Ralph Sims.  

"But if we can increase the productivity [e.g. more milk from each cow] then that's a better alternative than having to reduce stock numbers."

Sims also says that the potential of vegetable protein is something that New Zealand's agricultural sector should keep an eye on.

"Vegetable protein is being used to produce artificial meat, burgers, etc, that look like meat, smell like meat, taste like meat, but they're not meat and therefore they're healthier and have lower carbon footprints," he says.

Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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Already, 10 percent of New Zealanders are estimated to be vegetarian or vegan.

"As a Government we're not really in the business of telling people what they can and can't eat," says James Shaw.

"I do know that agricultural practises are changing and will change over time but they always have."

What still needs to be figured out:  

Under the Paris Agreement, New Zealand has committed to targets to reduce emissions.

Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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The Zero Carbon Bill establishes an independent climate commission, which will give the Government advice on how to achieve them. The bill also commits New Zealand to new targets for carbon and methane over the next 30 years.

Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when
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However, even with these changes - it's unlikely global warming will be slowed without removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere with new technology.

One way of doing this is with trees. Plants absorb carbon as they grow. The idea is that we burn them, capture the carbon and store it underground, with the electricity it generates adding an economic incentive.

"There is a constraint in just how much [carbon capture and storage] we can have and how many trees we can grow, but we need all the help we can get," says Ralph Sims.

For context, it's estimated forests up to three times the size of India would need to be grown, burnt and the carbon stored underground to halt global warming.

"We know that it works, can we rely on it? That's really a case of having to trust that we can," says Sims.

Shaw says the Government's already trying to ramp up tree planting.

"We've planted over 60 million trees under the billion trees programme and the work that Shane Jones and I are doing on changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme will lead to significantly greater rates of planting than we've had in the past," he says.

Shaw adds that it's important New Zealanders don't get bogged down in the negatives when it comes to the climate change transition.

"Climate change represents the greatest economic opportunity in at least a generation because the transition that we're talking about represents huge amounts of investment, huge amounts of innovation and new technology and that's great for the economy," he says.

Newshub Nation.

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