Statement on international travel

Date:  11 January 2019

Ministry for the Environment

Statement on international travel

This statement is in response to an article that ran on Stuff and in the Dominion Post on Friday 11 January 2018.

The Ministry fully accepts that travel by its staff is of public interest, and it is important we are held to account for the travel we undertake. We also understand that reducing our transport, where possible, is critical for us in playing our part in New Zealand’s emissions reduction. We actively try and limit the number of people travelling and the trips made, for both cost and environmental reasons.  

However, the story was missing some useful context, and there were some points we don’t agree with.

International travel is necessary for the Ministry to fulfil New Zealand’s responsibilities in international negotiations and under international treaties. Many environmental issues, like climate change, the use of ozone depleting gases and the use of harmful chemicals cross national boundaries. To make progress on these issues in New Zealand, we also need to make progress with other countries around the globe. This is important context for our travel, which was not covered in the print version of the story.

Many other Government agencies also travel to represent New Zealand offshore. It would have been useful context for readers to understand how our travel stacked up against these other agencies. The article only used a single individual, Minister Peters, as a point of comparison.  And the article talks about 116 trips, which obscures the fact that many of those were groups of two or three people travelling together.

All agencies operate a similar approach, of flying economy unless the flight time is over a certain duration.  In many agencies the duration to qualify for business class is travel over 8 hours. The Ministry’s 10 hour threshold is more restrictive than those. The article also refers to “first class travel”, when there was none. The travel was all economy and some business class.

In terms of domestic travel, our policy is that our people will walk or use public transport to get to meetings around town wherever practical.  We use taxis, Uber or rental cars only conservatively. For meetings with people outside of town we encourage the use of Skype as opposed to travel.

As mentioned in the item, the Ministry is moving towards carbon neutrality.  The first step is being able to measure our carbon emissions accurately.  So we were pleased to recently be certified by Enviro-Mark under the Certified Emissions Measurement and Reduction Scheme (CEMARS). CEMARS is a rigorous, science-based programme. Not only has the Ministry’s carbon footprint and reduction plan now been certified to the highest international standards, but it ensures we will continue to set new targets to consistently reduce our carbon footprint.

MfE is actually one of only two agencies to be CEMARS certified, the other being EECA. And as part of our sustainability strategy we have committed to reducing emissions from travel by 20 per cent by 2020. We are committed to a transition to a low emissions agency, and we are making progress, like many other organisations around New Zealand.