A New Zealand household emissions calculator

The New Zealand company Enviro-Mark Solutions, a spinoff from the Crown Research Institute Landcare, is a global pioneer is greenhouse certification. Founded in 2001, they now have hundreds of clients in seventeen countries.

Their most popular certification, CEMARS (Certified Emissions Measurement And Reduction Scheme) audits companies’ emissions and their emissions reduction plans – typically reductions of at least a few percent a year are required. Numerous large New Zealand companies are CEMARS certified and there are some amazing success stories.

A higher level is CarboNZero, which certifies that the client’s entire operation is carbon neutral. (Some residual emissions can be offset, where there is a plan to eventually eliminate them.)

Now they have a new tool that allow individuals to assess (and, if they want, offset) their emissions: the Enviro-Mark Household Calculator. It’s extremely easy to use and, unlike other calculators that I have seen, set up explicitly for New Zealand conditions.

Just trying out the calculator lets you start to get a feel for what a tonne of CO2 represents and how different sources of emissions compare. You can compare your household to the average for New Zealand: for a household of three, these are 1.4 tonnes from electricity, 5.9 tonnes from car travel, and 0.9 tonnes from waste, totalling 8.1 tonnes a year. You can see immediately the effect of switching to carbon zero electricity (discussed in a previous post), a more fuel-efficient car, or reducing your household waste. You can see that gas central heating adds about 2 tonnes a year. Taking the family to Sydney adds another 2.8 tonnes.

What I think people will find is that the steps they can take to reduce their emissions are simple and cheap. However, voluntary efforts by individuals by themselves are unlikely to cut emissions nationally. For example, land transport emissions in New Zealand rose 850,000 tonnes in just one year (2017), a trend which is still continuing. Turning that around will require hundreds of thousands of households radically cutting their transport emissions, as well as all other households cutting a little bit. That’s a bit task.

Offsetting: a sensible way forward, or rich people paying to continue polluting?

Offsetting is the second component of the calculator. Once you know your emissions you can choose to buy offsets for them, either for the whole year or for a single item such as a particular unavoidable flight. This is a controversial area. Individual offsets have been compared to the medieval custom of papal indulgences.

However, remember that we have hardly started on the full path of eliminating carbon emissions and stopping burning fossil fuels. We need everything that we’ve got to get started on that journey. Once we’re started, we will learn further as we go. The money from offsets pays for genuine carbon reduction projects, such as permanent indigenous reforestation, that might otherwise struggle to get going. The spectre of billionaires flying around in private jets with clean consciences is pretty far from reality at the moment.

One big issue that New Zealand is right on the point of facing up to is that of international transport emissions. (See the group Fly-Less Kiwis.) New Zealand may be remote, but most developed countries have similar per capita aviation emissions, and they are growing rapidly worldwide. Bringing international transport into the Emissions Trading Scheme would put a break on travel growth, support the carbon price, and fund a lot of low-emission industries that need support right now.

[PS – Don’t forget to submit on the Zero Carbon Bill! Officially known as the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon Amendment) Bill, submissions close on 16 July. OraTaiao has published a guide to preparing a submission.]

Robert McLachlan

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