New Zealand’s greenhouse gas update 2017

Each year around this time, New Zealand, along with most other countries, reports its annual greenhouse gas emissions to the UN. The 2017 figures have just been released. (It takes a while to prepare and check the figures – if you delve into the spreadsheets and reports, you will see why.)

In countries with established and functioning emission reduction plans, these reports are a useful way to check, sector by sector, whether the plans are working, or whether they need to be adapted in some way to meet emissions targets. For example, in the UK, in 2017 emissions fell 3%, leaving net emissions 43% below 1990 levels.

We’re not at that point in New Zealand, as the Emissions Trading Scheme is widely regarded as having had little effect on emissions, there is no cap on emissions, the existing targets are very weak, and we are still waiting for the Zero Carbon Bill. Gross emissions have been fairly flat for a decade.

Even so, it was a bit of a surprise to see a sharp uptick in emissions in 2017. They jumped 5%:

Of course, this is a far cry from what is needed: limiting warming to 1.5ºC requires cuts in emissions of around 6% per year, with burning of fossil fuels halving by 2030.

Breaking it down into sectors, the big issue remains transport:

So many things wrong with this picture. Don’t do this.

Alas, the forces that contribute to rising emissions are still in place, and although consumers and businesses are starting to look at plans to lower emissions, they will take time to have an impact. As James Shaw commented recently, emissions are not likely to start falling significantly until the mid-2020s.

Don’t do this either. The stone age is over.

The vehicle fleet grew by 180,000 in 2017, and the total distance travelled, after being flat for several years, was up sharply too:

Fuel efficiency of the fleet is hardly improving. Altogether, transport emissions rose by 930,000 tonnes of CO2 – a 6% jump in a single year. This trend continues – although final emissions figures are not yet in, the fleet grew by another 140,000 vehicles in 2018. The measures that would cut emissions, and that are well underway in most developed nations – a feebate scheme, fuel efficiency standards, and rapid electrification of the national bus fleet – are still missing in New Zealand.

This is the kind of thing that will reduce transport emissions. Diesel buses are a major source of particulate emissions which are known to kill people.

Electricity emissions were up 580,000 tonnes, although they are still less than half what they were at their peak in 2005. Emissions likely fell in 2018, which was a better year for renewables, and should continue to trend down as more wind power is built. Mercury’s recent decision to build the Turitea wind farm should cut emissions by several hundred thousand tonnes a year and must have raised questions about the viability of gas power plants that are consented but not yet built.

Forestry sinks were down 870,000 tonnes: more trees were cut down than were planted. This situation is likely still in place, although it will be reversed when the billion tree programme kicks in.

Perhaps the most staggering sector is international aviation. These figures are reported, but are not part of our national targets. Emissions rose 362,000 tonnes, or 11%, in a single year, and are now up 178% on 1990 levels. 

Hmm…

Robert McLachlan

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