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Changes since the 1997 report

The 1997 report, The State of New Zealand’s Environment 1997, concluded that:

New Zealand contributes an above-average share to the world total of human induced carbon dioxide gas emissions but less than the average for developed countries. …

Although existing measures have achieved some reduction below a ‘business as usual’ projection, New Zealand is not on track to achieve its current commitment under the Framework Convention on Climate Change of stabilising CO2 at 1990 levels by the year 2000. …

Depletion of the ozone layer will continue for many decades and requires international action. New Zealand has been, and remains, an active participant in the responses to ozone loss including the signing of the Montreal Protocol and the banning of CFC imports in their raw form. We have moved to phase out the use of ozone-depleting substances faster than internationally required but do not yet have a phase-out schedule for methyl bromide. (Ministry for the Environment, 1997, chapter 10.)

The report also raised some issues about the availability of data.

Greenhouse gases and potential climate change:

National data on weather patterns, temperature, rainfall etc. are generally of high quality and go back many decades. Data on greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are also of high quality and go back two decades. Data on some greenhouse gas emissions are still limited and uncertain, but estimates of carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industrial processes can be accurately calculated from economic data. Good data on carbon storage in pine plantations are available, but are lacking for indigenous forests and soils. (Ministry for the Environment, 1997, chapter 10.)

Ozone depletion:

Data on ozone concentrations are of high quality and go back about a decade. National data on imports of some ozone-depleting substances exist, but no data exist on the use of and emission of ozone depleting substances. (Ministry for the Environment, 1997, chapter 10.)

Climate change

In 1997, much of the global debate on climate change was still focused on the growing body of scientific evidence and interpreting what this meant. Today, there is global consensus on the urgent need for response to climate change, both in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and in preparing for its impacts. This global consensus was set in motion, in part, through the Kyoto Protocol, which set binding reduction targets for developed countries for the period 2008–2012.

New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions

New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions represent much less than 1 per cent of total global emissions (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007). However, relative to its population size, New Zealand continues to have high emissions, and is ranked 12th in the world per head of population. New Zealand has a lower level of per capita emissions than other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, such as Australia and Canada, but higher levels than the United Kingdom and Germany.

Our annual emissions have grown by 25 per cent since 1990 as the population and economy have grown. This growth continues to present a challenge in light of our Kyoto Protocol commitments to reduce emissions to 1990 levels, on average, over the period 2008–2012.

The largest growth in emissions since 1990 has been in the energy sector (an increase of 9.9 Mt CO2-e) and the agricultural sector (almost 5 Mt CO2-e). However, growth in our emissions has been tempered by an increase in removals of greenhouse gases by carbon sinks since 1990 (–5 Mt CO2-e).

New Zealand faces particular difficulty in reducing greenhouse gas emissions because of our unique emissions profile – half of our emissions come from the agricultural sector. Since 1997, the management of greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand has largely focused on investing in research to reduce our significant agricultural emissions and developing programmes to reduce energy and transport emissions, deforestation, and encourage new forest sinks.

Present and future management

Climate change is a long-term issue that presents both risks and opportunities for New Zealanders. We start from a relatively favoured situation with high levels of renewable electricity generation, and low population density. Forest cover is extensive, we enjoy a temperate climate, and awareness of environmental issues is well-established. But we also face challenges. Much of our economy is based on biological industries which will be affected by a changing climate. We are also distant from markets and customers, including our tourism markets so there is a perception that the carbon footprint of our exported goods and services is high.

Present policy development is focusing on policies that reflect our own particular national circumstances, as well as those that seek global solutions.

In addition to sector-specific policies, an emissions trading scheme is under development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationally (see box 'Government action on climate change').

Under such a scheme, prices are established for units to emit greenhouse gases. Those prices then influence decisions throughout the economy by producers, consumers, and investors, driving the reduction of emissions and the expansion of more environmentally friendly alternatives.

For New Zealand, both now and in the future, taking effective domestic action will mean both shouldering responsibility for managing the reduction of our national emissions, and creating the platform upon which we can contribute internationally to achieving a broad and effective global response to climate change.

Government action on climate change

Sector-specific policies

A number of initiatives and policies are underway to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. These include:

  • sustainable transport programmes

  • energy conservation and efficiency initiatives

  • minimum energy-performance regulations

  • funding for healthy housing

  • air quality regulations

  • sustainable land-use policies

  • fuel efficiency labelling schemes

  • new building standards.

Emissions Trading Scheme

In addition to sector-specific policies, the Government announced in September 2007 that it would introduce an economy-wide Emissions Trading Scheme to reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. The scheme is to be phased in from 2008, beginning with the forestry sector, and including all sectors (transport, energy, industry, and agriculture) and greenhouse gases over time.

The Emissions Trading Scheme will set up a market that puts a value on greenhouse gas emissions. It will encourage companies that cut their emissions and make it more expensive for companies who do not.

Commitments and targets

At the same time, the Government has announced several specific targets relating to energy and climate change:

  • a goal to increase renewable electricity generation to 90 per cent of New Zealand's total electricity generation by 2050

  • a goal to reduce per capita emissions from the transport sector by half by 2040

  • a goal to increase forest area by 250,000 hectares by 2020

  • for New Zealand to be one of the first countries to widely deploy electric vehicles

  • six lead public sector agencies to be carbon neutral by 2012, and the remaining 28 core public sector agencies to be on the path to carbon neutrality by 2012. (See box 'Government action on sustainability' in chapter 3, 'Household consumption'.)

Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium

The Government and the agricultural sector signed a memorandum of understanding in 2003 to jointly initiate the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium. The signatories cooperate on research to develop practical and cost-effective farm practices and technologies to reduce agricultural emissions.

The research aims to:

  • develop on-farm technologies to improve production efficiency for ruminants

  • develop on-farm technologies that lower methane emissions from New Zealand ruminants and nitrous oxide from grazing-animal systems

  • exploit commercial opportunities arising in a global market.

Projects to Reduce Emissions programme

The Projects to Reduce Emissions programme introduced its first tender round in 2003 to support new initiatives – mainly in the energy sector – that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by awarding emissions units, or ‘carbon credits’. As these emission units are internationally tradable, the programme was designed to ‘lift over the line’ projects that were not commercially viable.

Permanent Forest Sink Initiative

The Permanent Forest Sink Initiative was introduced in 2006 to promote the establishment of new, permanent forests on previously unforested land. The initiative gives landowners the opportunity to generate income through ‘carbon farming’ – creating new carbon sinks. Participants are able to claim credits under the Kyoto Protocol that can then be on-sold.

Plan of Action for Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change

In 2006, a discussion document, Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change: Options for a Plan of Action, was released for public consultation. $170 million has been committed between 2007–2012 to develop and deliver the plan of action, which centres around five key pillars of work (adaptation to climate change; reducing greenhouse gas emissions alongside the Emissions Trading Scheme; business opportunities arising from climate change; research and technology transfer; and communications).

Stratospheric ozone

The 1997 report identified that the ozone layer was depleting and would continue to do so for several decades. The report also observed that UV radiation appeared to be increasing in response to ozone depletion.

Internationally, as a result of actions under the Montreal Protocol, there has been rapid progress in reducing the use of ozone-depleting chemicals. This has led to more stable levels of ozone over New Zealand and Antarctica. As a consequence, UV radiation is no longer increasing, and in recent years has decreased.

However, stratospheric chlorine and bromine levels are falling only slowly, so full recovery of the ozone layer is some way off.

Ozone-depleting chemicals

Although New Zealand is not a producer of ozone-depleting chemicals, the Government has regulated imports of them. Domestic controls (through the Ozone Layer Protection Act 1996 and Ozone Layer Protection Regulations 1996) reduce New Zealand’s reliance on ozone-depleting substances by progressively restricting the volumes imported. Efforts have also focused on reducing the quantity of ozone-depleting substances in use.

With the introduction of the Halon Management Strategy in 2000, over 30,000 tonnes of halons have been collected for safe destruction. This quantity of halons had the potential to destroy over 1.6 billion tonnes of atmospheric ozone.

A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007) states that New Zealand is the world’s 11th largest user of ozone-depleting methyl bromide. The use of methyl bromide for quarantine and pre-shipment processes can be attributed to increased biosecurity requirements for imports and exports (The Minister of Commerce and the Minister for the Environment, 2006).

Importing methyl bromide for uses other than quarantine and pre-shipment treatments is now prohibited, unless allowed by an exemption for ‘critical use’. The parties to the Montreal Protocol approved an exemption for the New Zealand strawberry industry for soil fumigation for the year ending 31 December 2007. The Government has decided that no further nominations for critical use of methyl bromide in the strawberry industry will be supported.

Improvements in data

The 1997 report identified some shortcomings in atmospheric data. In particular, the report found that New Zealand did not hold data on the use and emission of ozone-depleting substances. Progress has been made since that time, with more comprehensive data collected annually since legislation came into force.

There have also been improvements in estimations and calculations of our greenhouse gas inventory data. Emphasis has been placed on development of a Land-Use and Carbon Analysis System, a database to store and analyse land use and carbon stock changes over time. This database will assist with the development and reporting of climate change policy to meet New Zealand’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Mandatory reporting of greenhouse emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol will ensure data in New Zealand continues to improve over time.