About New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets

This page outlines our national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Our national targets

The Government has to date set four unconditional national targets for reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. These are:

  • a target under the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. New Zealand met this target in 2015 by submitting its “True-up Report” to the UNFCCC.  
  • a target of reaching 5 per cent below our 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2020. New Zealand reports progress towards this target in its 2020 Net Position Report.
  • a target of reaching 30 per cent below our 2005 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2030 (this target is equivalent to 11 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030)
  • a long-term target of 50 per cent below our 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2050.

We also have a conditional target range of 10 to 20 per cent below our 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2020, if there is a comprehensive global agreement for the period however this has been superseded by the Paris Agreement. 

New Zealand will meet its future targets through a mix of:

  • reducing emissions domestically
  • planting forests to absorb carbon dioxide, and
  • offsetting our emissions by buying emissions reductions from overseas.

For the 2020 target New Zealand can also count the surplus we achieved during first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012).

Measuring and accounting for our emissions

Our targets set out the level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions New Zealand is contributing towards international action on climate change. The following paragraphs explain some key components of measuring, reporting and accounting for our targets.


Forestry is a major part of the economy and plays an important role in helping us meet our long-term climate change commitments, while also delivering economic and environmental benefits.

Forestry and other land-use emissions are included in New Zealand’s national greenhouse gas inventory under a category called “Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry” (LULUCF). While under the LULUCF category we report on the changes in carbon stored in all of our land area, most of the impact from LULUCF in New Zealand is due to forests.

Accounting for forestry is complex because:

  1. Trees can both remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (as they grow) and then emit this to the atmosphere again (as/if they are cut down). Consequently cutting down trees generates emissions but growing them generates removals.
  2. There are different rules for forests which existed before 1990 in comparison to those established after 1989. This distinction was created in the international accounting rules of the Kyoto Protocol (which apply until 2020) and will continue after 2020 because we have decided to use a modified version of the Kyoto rules for accounting for forestry towards our Paris target. The detailed explanation of this can be read here.

UNFCCC reporting and target accounting

We use the measurements of our emissions for two different purposes:

  • To compile an inventory of all of our domestic emissions and removals which we submit annually to the UNFCCC.
  • To show progress towards our targets.

For showing progress towards our targets we use the accounting guidelines of the relevant target period. The objectives of the accounting guidelines are to ensure that our targets are only being judged against factors we have control over. For example, unless they are permanently cut down, the natural growth, harvest and re-planting cycle of plantation forests that already existed in 1990 are excluded from accounting for our target.

Emissions types

There are three different types of emission data:

  • Gross emissions (UNFCCC reporting). Emissions from all sectors of the New Zealand economy, excluding forestry and land use emissions/removals. When people think about greenhouse gases they often mean gross emissions, for example, emissions from cars, power stations, cows, factories and landfill sites are all included in the gross emissions data which we report annually to the UNFCCC.
  • Net emissions (UNFCCC reporting). Emissions from all sectors of the New Zealand economy, including all forestry and land use emissions/removals. Because in New Zealand more new forests have been planted than cut down over recent decades, net emissions have been substantially lower than gross emissions since before 1990. These emissions are also reported annually to the UNFCCC.
  • Net target emissions. This is what we use to measure progress towards our target. Net target emissions include all of our gross emissions, but only a subset of our forestry and land use emissions. In the rules of the Kyoto Protocol this is emissions/removals from forests established after 1989 and any deforestation. We have chosen to use a similar subset for our 2030 target but will modify the way in which this subset is treated to ensure that incentives for new forest planting remain but the cyclical emissions from planting and harvesting in our plantation forests is removed. These rules ensure that our approach has credibility and integrity. More detail on this can be found here.

Carbon budgets

New Zealand uses a multi-year “carbon budget” approach to setting and measuring progress towards our targets. This means that progress towards our target is not measured by looking at emissions in a single year (for example 2012, 2020 or 2030) but includes a comparison of emissions in all the years of each target period (2008-12, 2013-20 and 2021-30). This approach was required by countries that took a target under the Kyoto Protocol and has been used by New Zealand for all subsequent targets as well.

Gross-net accounting

Accounting for New Zealand’s targets (and those of other developed country signatories to the Kyoto Protocol) is often described as “gross-net accounting”. This is because the carbon budget is calculated in relation to historic gross emissions but this budget is then compared to our net target emissions.

Using this approach ensures that the measurement of progress towards our target only considers those factors that we have control over. If our national targets were mistakenly assessed using net emissions from our UNFCCC reporting, our targets would appear much less ambitious than they actually are because net emissions for UNFCCC reporting are much lower than the net target emissions.

Our targets and emissions projections

The chart below shows past and future projected emissions levels as we head towards our 2030 target. The gap between the green and orange lines shows how much we need to reduce emissions by to achieve our target (the level of ambition). It won’t be easy to meet our 2030 target - there will be a cost to the economy and we’ll need to make changes – that’s why we say our target is ambitious. This will require changes to our economic activity, a concerted effort to plant more trees and access to high integrity international carbon markets.

Notes on this chart

“Net target emissions” includes gross emissions minus the subset of forestry and land use removals that can be counted towards our target, but does not include international unit purchases.
The rules to account for emissions and removals from forestry and land- use activities differ between the 2008–2012, 2013–2020 and 2021-2030 target periods.
The calculation of New Zealand’s 2021-30 carbon budget is based on the latest available emissions data and projections which are subject to change. The details of the final methodology for forestry and land use are also still being confirmed. New Zealand will update how the target is reflected as better data and projections become available.
Net emissions for Kyoto Protocol Commitment Period 1 have been recalculated using Assessment Report Four (AR4) global warming potentials for consistency of presentation.