New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory

This page contains information about New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory. It includes information about the data, the sectors and gases covered, quality and best practice reviews, and how the inventory differs from the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. 

Publication link 

New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2013 (includes links to supporting tables, files and the Snapshot)

What the inventory contains

New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory is an annual report of all human-induced emissions and removals of greenhouse gases in New Zealand. The inventory is produced each year as part of New Zealand’s obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. The next inventory publication is planned for April 2016.

See inventories produced by all Annex I Parties from 2003 at National inventory submissions 2014 [UNFCCC website]

Responsibility for the inventory

The Ministry for the Environment (the Ministry) as the ‘Inventory Agency’ is responsible for producing and submitting the greenhouse gas inventory under the UNFCCC every year by 15 April. The Ministry is New Zealand’s designated single national entity for the greenhouse gas inventory under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Ministry works closely with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Environmental Protection Authority to compile the data. Many of the values used in the inventory are also derived from data collated by Statistics New Zealand. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides the information on the minimisation of adverse impacts, which is also included in the inventory (currently in chapter 15).

Sectors covered in the inventory

The 1990-2013 inventory reports greenhouse gas emissions and removals from five sectors:

  • agriculture
  • energy – (eg, emissions from transport and electricity generation) 
  • industrial processes and product use (IPPU) – (eg, cement production and refrigeration)
  • land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF)
  • waste.

Under the UNFCCC, the inventory reports emissions and removals from the entire LULUCF sector. Under the Kyoto Protocol New Zealand reports only emissions and removals from forests planted or deforested since 1990 (in accordance with Article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol), and emissions and removals by forests not already covered under Article 3.3. This is reported under Article 3.4 (forest management).

Gases covered in the inventory

The most recent inventory report published in April 2015 covered the following direct greenhouse gases: 

  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • methane (CH4)
  • nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Only emissions and removals of these six direct greenhouse gases are included in the national greenhouse gas total.

The inventory also reports indirect greenhouse gases but they are not included in New Zealand’s greenhouse gas total. These gases do not have a direct warming effect, but react with other gases in the atmosphere and increase the concentration of greenhouse gases.

The indirect gases are:

  • oxides of nitrogen (NOx)
  • sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • carbon monoxide (CO)
  • non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs).

Why data is only reported to the end of 2013 when it is 2015

The international reporting guidelines govern what the inventory covers and when it is submitted. The inventory year is 15 months behind the current calendar year to give time for countries to collect data and prepare the inventory. The latest inventory, published in April 2015, contains data from 1990 to 2013 inclusive. All developed countries report using the same international guidelines.

For international guidelines see Methodology reports [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change website]

Changes to historic emissions data since the last inventory

The continuous improvement of inventory development and reporting is a fundamental requirement under the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC. When inventory improvements are made, it is good practice to recalculate the entire time series to ensure the consistency of emission trends. Recalculated estimates can result from any one improvement or a combination of improvements in activity data, emission factors, methodology or when additional emission sources are identified.

Emissions in this year’s inventory have been calculated for the first time using IPCC 2006 reporting guidelines together with new UNFCCC reporting guidelines. This included the shift to a new system of global warming potentials (GWPs) that reflect the global warming effect of the greenhouse gases in relation to carbon dioxide. The GWP for methane, for example, increased by 20 per cent compared to its previous value used in the 2014 inventory submission. As a result of changes in the guidelines, estimates of total and net emissions for the 1990-2013 time series are now higher than estimated in last year’s inventory. However this does not mean that absolute emissions have increased. Chapter 10 of the national inventory report provides explanations for all recalculations in the inventory.

The difference between net emissions and gross emissions under the UNFCCC

Gross emissions or total emissions include emissions from agriculture, energy, IPPU and waste. Net emissions are made up of emissions from those four sectors and also include emissions and removals from the LULUCF sector.

About the uncertainty in net emissions

For New Zealand, the uncertainty in net emissions (including the LULUCF sector) for the 2013 calendar year is ±11.2 per cent. Uncertainty in the trend in net emissions since 1990 is ±12.3 per cent. The trend in emissions is paramount under the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol as the objective is to reduce emissions over time to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system.

Why the figures differ for net removals under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol

In any given year, New Zealand’s net removal estimate under the Kyoto Protocol accounting rules may differ significantly from the net removal estimate under UNFCCC reporting. This is because the Kyoto Protocol estimate captures a subset of the LULUCF.

The net removal estimate under the Kyoto Protocol is designed to reflect (and influence) human activities related to land-use change and forestry since 1990 (as set out in Articles 3.3 and 3.4). The Kyoto Protocol accounting rules for Articles 3.3 and 3.4 (afforestation, reforestation, deforestation, and forest management) were intended to treat emissions and removals from forestry equitably with emissions from other sectors (agriculture, energy, etc). Furthermore, the accounting rules were designed to promote emissions reductions. To achieve this, countries agreed to a base year for the calculation of targets as a reference against which to estimate emissions and removals. For most countries, this base year is 1990.

How harvesting is distinguished from deforestation

Areas where forests have been cut down are identified and mapped using satellite imagery. Higher resolution aerial photography and ETS returns are then used to distinguish whether these areas have been harvested and are being replanted, or whether the land-use has changed (ie, the land has been deforested). The higher resolution aerial photography can detect farmed animals, new structures or newly planted trees which indicate whether or not the land is still being used for forestry.

Article 3.4 activities under the Kyoto Protocol

New Zealand is required to report forest management activities under Article 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol from the 2015 inventory submission. In previous inventory submissions, reporting for Article 3.4 was voluntary and New Zealand did not elect to report for it. Other activities covered by Article 3.4 for which reporting is voluntary include cropland management, grazing land management, re-vegetation, and wetland drainage and rewetting.

Criteria for quality review

The New Zealand inventory is compiled using internationally agreed guidelines produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The inventory is reviewed annually against the criteria of being:

  • transparent – assumptions and methodologies used for an inventory should be clearly explained.
  • accurate – estimates should be accurate in that they neither over- nor under-estimate true emissions or removals and that uncertainties are reduced as far as practical.
  • complete – the inventory covers all sources and sinks as well as all gases included in the IPCC guidelines, as well as other existing relevant source/sink categories which are specific to individual countries and therefore may not be included in the IPCC guidelines.
  • consistent – the inventory should be consistent with inventories of other years (eg, the same methodologies are used and consistent data sets are used to estimate emissions or removals from sources or sinks). Sometimes an inventory using different methodologies for different years can be considered to be consistent if it has been recalculated in a transparent manner in accordance with the IPCC guidelines.
  • comparable – estimates of emissions and removals reported in inventories should be comparable among countries. For this purpose, countries should use the methodologies and formats agreed by the Conference of the Parties [Climate Change Information website] for estimating and reporting inventories.

The inventory is also a Tier 1 statistic [Statisphere website] under the New Zealand Official Statistics System. This means it is one of the most important publicly available statistics for understanding how well New Zealand is performing.

International best practice review

The greenhouse gas inventory is reviewed annually by a team of UNFCCC-certified international experts. The review team is selected from a roster of experts managed by the Secretariat to the UNFCCC. Most of the reviews are conducted in Bonn, Germany. Every few years the review team will come to New Zealand for one week for an in-depth in-country review. The last in-country review for New Zealand was in August/September 2010. The UNFCCC planning for the current inventory review cycle is still in development so review timeframes remain uncertain. New Zealand has consistently met the reporting requirements under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol.

See Inventory review reports 2013 [UNFCCC website]. 

What happens if the inventory does not comply with international best practice

If the expert review team found that New Zealand’s inventory did not meet the international criteria (transparency, accuracy etc), New Zealand would be encouraged to make improvements to the inventory to meet each criterion.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the expert review team has the mandate to recommend that improvements are made during the review period. New Zealand would be provided with opportunities to correct any problems.

If New Zealand was not able to make the corrections, the expert review team would recommend an adjustment to the emissions or removals estimate. An adjustment would result in a more conservative estimate to ensure New Zealand is not under-estimating emissions or over-estimating removals. The compliance committee of the Kyoto Protocol would decide whether to apply the adjustment. New Zealand would then either accept or reject the adjustment recommendation. In a worst case scenario New Zealand may be prohibited from international emissions trading until compliance is restored.

Disagreements are forwarded to the Kyoto Protocol Compliance Committee who would resolve the issue. This process is the same for all Parties listed in Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol (ie, those with Kyoto Protocol targets).

The difference between the inventory and the NZ ETS

The inventory monitors New Zealand’s emissions and removals of greenhouse gases and will be used to assess our Kyoto liability. The inventory’s purpose is to document all human caused emissions and removals at the national level. It is also to report New Zealand’s emissions and removals to the UNFCCC as per our international obligations in compliance with the UNFCCC reporting guidelines and IPCC guidelines. 

The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) is a domestic policy instrument, used to incentivise emission reductions across the New Zealand economy. It is the Government’s primary policy instrument for reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and meeting international emission reduction commitments. For further detail on the scheme see The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme [Climate Change Information website].

Net position reporting

In previous years, New Zealand has reported a ‘net position’ to track progress towards net emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. New Zealand does not have a commitment for the second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol. However, New Zealand has pledged an unconditional responsibility target under the UNFCCC for the period 2013-2020. This target is to reduce emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

New Zealand will be applying the Kyoto Protocol framework of rules to this target. New Zealand’s progress towards this target will be reported by 1 January 2016, as part of New Zealand’s Second Biennial Report under the UNFCCC. The net position report will also be published later in 2015. New Zealand is forecasted to comfortably meet its obligations for the first commitment period (2008-2012) of the Kyoto Protocol. This will be confirmed following the Kyoto Protocol reviews and the period allowed (100 days) for countries to trade/retire units in order to comply with emissions obligations. 

New Zealand’s 2020 emission reduction target

On 16 August 2013, the Government announced an unconditional 2020 climate change target of 5 per cent below 1990 emissions. For the period 2013-2020, New Zealand has chosen not to commit to a climate change target under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. Instead, New Zealand has joined countries responsible for more than 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions who have made international pledges under the United Nations Framework Convention (the Kyoto Protocol’s parent body). New Zealand will apply the Kyoto Protocol framework of rules to its unconditional 2020 target to ensure that our actions are transparent and have integrity.

This unconditional 2020 target represents New Zealand’s fair share of climate change action. It is more ambitious than our target under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. It compares favourably with similar countries’ actions and reflects New Zealand’s national circumstances. Based on UNFCCC methodology, this target is equivalent to a 2013-2020 Quantified Emission Limitation and Reduction Objective (QELRO) of 96.8 per cent on 1990 emissions.

The publication of this inventory corresponds to the first time New Zealand has officially published a value for emissions levels in 1990 using the new reporting guidelines, see Changes to historic emissions data since the last inventory. It has enabled New Zealand to provisionally establish its carbon budget to 2020. This corresponds to our target of a 5 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2020.

Carbon budget = 1990 gross emissions * QELRO (96.8%) * 8 years of the 2013–2020 period

= 66,720.158 kt CO2-e * 0.968 * 8

= 516,680,901 metric tonnes CO2 equivalent (rounded to nearest metric tonne).

This carbon budget will remain provisional until the inventory has been externally reviewed by the UNFCCC at a time to be determined. New Zealand will report progress towards meeting this target in its second and subsequent biennial reports. New Zealand’s Second Biennial Report is scheduled to be submitted to the UNFCCC by 1 January 2016.

How New Zealand will meet its 2020 target

Consistent with the Kyoto Protocol framework of rules, New Zealand’s 2020 target will be met through a combination of:

  • Domestic emissions reductions
  • Removal of carbon dioxide by forests
  • Participation in international carbon markets
  • Recognising the surplus of units achieved during the first Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol.

For more information on the surplus of units achieved during the first Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol, please visit the CP1 Net Position webpage.