Lawyers challenge New Zealand’s proposed emissions budgets as inconsistent with the 1.5℃ goal

Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom via Getty Images

By Robert McLachlan

New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission is facing its first legal hurdle, as a group of 300 climate-concerned lawyers seek judicial review of the processes it used to calculate carbon budgets in its recently released advice to government.

Carbon budgets are a cornerstone of New Zealand’s climate change response under the Zero Carbon Act and lie at the heart of the commission’s advice package. They specify the allowed emissions over successive five-year periods, initially up to 2035. The advice calls for net emissions of all greenhouse gases to fall 27% between 2019 and 2030.

The Lawyers 4 Climate Action group claims the commission has misinterpreted pathways in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports in its calculations, making its advice inconsistent with the act, especially regarding the goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5℃.

Pending the outcome of the legal challenge, the government is likely to adopt the recommended budgets, which would then flow into the settings of the Emissions Trading Scheme and all other aspects of climate policy.

The commission has engaged extensively with the more than 15,000 submissions it received on its draft advice. So it was surprising that in its final advice, the budgets were increased, allowing higher emissions.

The commission’s immediate reason for the increase was the significant blow-out of emissions in 2019, up by three million tonnes of CO₂-equivalent emissions. It judged this was not a one-off, and has allowed another two million tonnes in each year to 2030.

The commission also had to balance a long list of requirements, including that the budgets be ambitious, achievable and fair to both present and future generations, while supporting the global effort to limit warming to 1.5℃. The commissioners write:

A transition that is fair, inclusive and equitable for people is crucial so that it is acceptable to New Zealanders. Putting the values of manaakitanga, tikanga, whanaungatanga and kotahitanga at the forefront means having a deep ethic of care for people and the land. Having support and buy-in from New Zealanders is vital for meeting and sustaining emissions reduction targets.

But consider Ireland. Like New Zealand, Ireland has high agricultural emissions and a poor climate track record to date. Yet Ireland recently adopted a new climate law that requires net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2050 and cuts of at least 51% between 2018 and 2030. This is unquestionably much stronger than New Zealand’s act.

Many goals, but no easy options

New Zealand is indeed in a tight spot. Decades of delay and spurious manoeuvring have seen emissions rise steadily, with few transition plans in place.

The main emitting sectors are often also key export industries, which should not face unfair competition, while consumption sectors (like private cars) lie broadly across the whole society.

Some key approaches from the past — international carbon trading, and extensive forest planting — have fallen out of favour. Following a collapse in credibility, international carbon trading will need new rules to allow it to restart, while afforestation, though still playing a part, pushes the transition out to future generations.

The scope of the transition is challenging, and the commission argues its budgets are the best combination of ambitious and achievable.

A path towards lower emissions

A major part of the report describes in detail how the budgets could be met. For example, a relatively easy first step is to phase out coal burning for electricity generation.

Coal and gas use in the food industry, mostly for the production of milk powder, has to rapidly decrease. So far, one plant, at Te Awamutu, has been converted from gas to biomass, saving 83,000 tonnes of CO₂-equivalent emissions per year. But by 2030, the industry needs to cut more than 20 times as much.

Fossil fuel use in buildings, like coal boilers in schools, gets a lot of attention, but only adds up to a small part of the cuts needed. All other industries (including steel, aluminium, methanol, cement, mining, hydrogen, and ammonia) need to cut fossil fuel use substantially, preferably without all having to close.

The table below shows the proposed emissions reductions for different sectors, under the commission’s demonstration path.

The transport sector has finally seen government action, with the introduction of an extensive system of fuel efficiency standards and fees and discounts for newly imported vehicles. The commission argued for all of these and more, with a substantial shift away from private cars to active and public transport on a scale beyond New Zealand’s experience.

This transformation is sure to be contentious, from local battles over car parking and cycleways to the entire operation of the public transport system.

New Zealand’s Paris commitments

Another significant piece of advice the commission was asked to give was whether New Zealand’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) is adequate. Climate change minister James Shaw had punted this question to the commission, which has passed it right back like in a game of hot potato.

There are two difficulties. First, the commission has already identified the biggest domestic emission cuts; anything further must come from overseas. That will be expensive, and there are no rules yet on how these “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” will be conducted. This will be on the agenda at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow later this year.

Second, the entire basis for the NDC stems from the requirements to balance equity, responsibility and need. For New Zealand, that points towards much higher ambition than at present.

The commission did advise the NDC should involve an international mitigation effort of “much more than” 10% of current gross emissions, at a cost of many billions of dollars per decade. But it argued this required political, social and ethical considerations only the government could determine.

All of these matters will now fall under the scrutiny of the High Court.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New plastic ban: Interview with Trisia Farrelly

On 27 June, the New Zealand Government announced the phase-out of some hard-to-recycle and some single-use plastics. Robert McLachlan talks to Massey University’s Trisia Farrelly, a tireless campaigner against plastic waste.


Trisia: I’m an anthropologist at Massey University, I wear quite a few hats around New Zealand and internationally on plastic pollution, which I’ve been researching since 2016.

Robert:  And here I thought it was a lifetime passion! You’re an anthropologist… so are you trying to save the world, or just study how it works?

Trisia: Save it! One piece of plastic at a time. 

Robert:  The talk you gave recently described everything from your plastic-free year all the way up to the UN.

Trisia: Yes, multiscale! My personal journey started with a film, I watched the Clean Bin Project. The directors were in New Zealand and I invited them to Massey. That was the turning point. Film can be powerful! The revelations hit home and made me become quite concerned about plastics. A moment of realisation, a wake-up call. After that, things happened. 

My UN work came out of one presentation I gave in Switzerland. In fact I angsted over whether I should go for a long time, but a number of New Zealand organisations urged me to go and speak for them. 

I gave a very impassioned, political talk on why we should stop putting so much attention on the individual, on “ecological citizenship”, and start focussing head on on state–industry relationships and start talking about limiting production. I gave it my best shot. Then I was invited to join the UNEA Ad Hoc Open Ended Expert Group on marine litter and micro plastics.

I also met Pete Myers, author of Our Stolen Future. He later came to New Zealand and talked to the Ministry for the Environment, he talked to Kim Hill. That inspired my work to try and regulate toxic chemicals in plastics.

Robert:  This “state–industry relationship”, is that as simple as industry lobbying government to do what they want, or is there more to it than that?

Trisia: There’s a whole playbook that industry has on how to influence government and redirect responsibility for plastic pollution onto consumers. It’s an exciting area to study. Since the 1950s they’ve been playing the recycling card, diverting attention from one thing to another, complicating by confusion.  Very much the ‘merchants of doubt’ situation.

Robert:  So New Zealand has now announced that we are going to ban some single-use plastics by 2025. And apart from the supermarket shopping bags, it’s the first time that something has actually been banned, is that right?

Trisia: They also banned some types of microbeads. This is all covered under the Waste Minimization Act: since 2008 there’s been a facility provision to prioritise some products for product stewardship schemes. It’s exciting that this is finally being used. It sets a precedent for a number of problematic products.

Robert:  Is the hope that this will get people used to the idea of banning things?

Trisia: Yes, but it doesn’t have to be bans. There are other tools, like incentives. But for the worst products, banning is suitable. And unfortunately, 2025 feels like a long way away!

Robert:  Apparently New Zealanders generate 58 kg of plastic waste each per year. Are these the most urgent products to be looking at?

Trisia: I think so. They partly made these determinations based on what is found in the beach cleanups/audits, a very powerful citizen science initiative. For example, expanded polystyrene (EPS) is very toxic, and it’s difficult to recycle, and also to transport because it’s so light and bulky. It’s nasty stuff. With  an EPS meat tray, you’ve got a high fat food item which potentially increases the potential for toxic leaching from the plastic packaging into the food. They are also starting to find increasing volumes of disgusting plastic ties from meat works on some beaches, and a lot of plastic preproduction pellets. These are not on the list. But they have caught some of the high-volume items, and they’re starting with the low-hanging fruit. That’s not a bad way to go. It will ease industry and consumers into this new way of thinking about regulating problematic items.

A lot of people missed the very last line of the press release, which is the bit that got me really excited: New Zealand has now declared that we will support a global treaty on plastic pollution. I’ve been working on this for years and we couldn’t get even an informal statement of support. Now we could be seeing support for an international negotiating committee in the September ministerial meeting, before the UN environmental assembly meeting next February. We are the 131st country to support the treaty! 

Robert:  With the New Zealand phase-out by 2025 – why is it so long?

Trisia: It’s about getting everyone on board. For me it’s too long, but I keep reminding myself to celebrate the small stuff. And I can see it setting a precedent for more problematic items. There’s so much more I’d like to see in there, that a lot of people submitted on: cigarette butts, wet wipes that clog waste water plants, agri-plastics.

It’s good to see that the oxo-degradable and photo-degradable plastic are included. They break down into microplastics but are not truly biodegradable. That came about because of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor’s report, which had some really good scientists on it. 

Robert:  There were 8000 public submissions on the proposal.

Trisia: It was so huge! It was the biggest public engagement on plastics we’ve ever seen. There are a lot of people really wanting this to happen.

Robert:  Thanks Trisia! We look forward to our plastic-free future.

Trisia: We do indeed.

So it begins: The Climate Change Commission’s advice to government and what happened next

By Robert McLachlan

What’s that? You wanted action, not just words, on climate change? And you wanted it now, not next year or the year after? How about something big, really big, maybe also diving right into the heart of an emotional, touchstone issue – say, the private car? 

Welcome to the EV subsidy.  

The New Zealand government has surprised and delighted electric vehicle advocates by announcing significant direct subsidies for electric vehicles – both all-electric and plug-in hybrid, whether new or used but newly imported) of up to $8625. These take effect in just a few weeks time, on 1 July 2021. 

From 2022 they will be replaced by a revenue-neutral ‘feebate’, in which higher-emitting vehicles pay a fee, and lower emitting vehicles (including some petrol cars) receive a rebate. That year fuel efficiency standards also come into effect, with fines for noncompliance applying to vehicle importers from 2023. Taken together, these three steps bring New Zealand firmly and finally into line with most other developed countries, where fees, subsidies, and efficiency standards are the norm

Ināia tonu nei: The time is now 

Now we’ll find out if EV sales will start to increase significantly from their currently puny levels. We’ll find out if the charge that the taxpayer is subsidizing rich suburbanites’ consumption will stick. We’ll find out if more EVs means less power for the fossil fuel industry. In the meantime, winning the support of the car industry and of drivers’ advocates (the AA called the plan “well-balanced and positive” with a “good mix of carrot and stick”) is no small feat. 

Carbon price: necessary, but not sufficient 

The Climate Change Commission, in their advice to Government released on 10 June, were very clear that existing tools to address emissions are far from adequate. In particular, the market-based Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), even with a rising price on carbon and a falling but flexible cap on emissions, cannot do the job on its own. Their landmark report discusses a whole smorgasbord of market failures (such as split incentives, bounded rationality, and infrastructure lock-in), all of which of have arguably been preventing climate action so far, and all of which are addressed by the new vehicle package. 

Think collectively 

For example, the benefits of an EV subsidy don’t fall mainly on the car buyer. The benefits arise collectively from starting the decarbonisation of the entire transport system, from building networks of suppliers and supporters, and from beginning the delegitimisation of burning petrol. 

Yes, it would be more environmentally sound to rapidly ramp up the cost of all unsustainable consumption, especially of cars and petrol; to stop all new road construction; and to divert the lion’s share of transport funding towards walking, cycling, and public transport. It would also have massive side effects and be politically completely impossible from our current starting point.  

While the ETS retains a central role – the Commission advises raising the carbon price from its present $20-$50 range to $30-$70 immediately, and to $50-$150 by 2030) – its actual operation under the Zero Carbon Act remains to be tested. While the international evidence is that a mixed approach of carbon pricing and regulation has worked so far, for the far more sweeping changes needed in the years ahead we are in uncharted waters. 

To sketch just one possible outcome of an “ETS only” approach, a sharp rise in the carbon price could result in excessive tree planting and damage to industry, while still not having any noticeable effect on suburban drivers. (Even $100/tonne would only add an extra 12c/litre to the price of petrol.) 

The Climate Change Commission is just the kind of institution we need more of to safeguard the future 

The Climate Change Commission, through its establishment in 2019 under the Zero Carbon Act in 2019, its formation, its draft report, its extensive community engagement resulting in more than 15,000 submissions, and now its first package of official advice (engaging in detail with the public’s arguments and evidence), is amply fulfilling early hopes of depoliticising climate and fixing the areas of debate.  

That’s not to say that carrying out the advice will be easy. A common thread running through the 400 page report is the almost complete lack of planning up to this point. The Commission recommends that the government develop national strategies to decarbonise the energy system; for the bioeconomy; for a circular economy; for an equitable transition; for industry transition; for low-emission freight, for hard-to-abate industries; for waste; for buildings and urban form; and for an equitable transition for Iwi/Māori and the Māori economy.  

This “planning” is not central planning. Communities, Iwi/Māori, and industry are all expected to take part. But a failure to plan at all can lead to trouble, one current example being electricity shortages that have led to price spikes and an increase in coal burning. This could have easily been avoided if we had had even slightly more direction on climate change just five years ago.   

An example of what long-term strategies might look like is found in Hīkina te Kohupara – Kia mauri ora ai te iwi: Transport Emissions: Pathways to Net Zero by 2050, a May 2021 green paper from the Ministry of Transport, now out for consultation. One pathway, the only one that achieves a 47% cut in transport emissions by 2035, as suggested by the Climate Change Commission, involves significant shifts throughout the transport system. Driving by cars and light trucks falls 39%; public and active transport increases massively (five times as many buses as now, and all of them electric), while total demand for travel decreases. The main tool that reduces driving is “distance pricing”.  

Let’s hop on that pathway, sure, but let’s bring everyone else on board too. And if you know a better way, tell me. 

We now know the first three carbon budgets (probably) 

The Commission’s carbon budgets have been the focus of attention, for the government is very likely to adopt them. Gross CO2 emissions, mostly from fossil fuels, are to fall from 37.5 Mt a year in 2019 to 27.5 Mt by 2030. In addition, tree planting – which largely stopped fifteen years ago – starts expanding again, so that net emissions of long-lived gases fall 38% over 2019–2030. The scope of the changes suggested in the detailed plan give some idea of how challenging this will be. The Commission argue that this, in fact, the most that is practical and achievable. 

Are we meeting the Paris Agreement? 

The question of the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which the Minister of Climate Change James Shaw punted to the Commission, has been passed right back again like a game of hot potato. There are two difficulties. One is that the Commission has already found the biggest domestic emission cuts it thinks it can; anything on top must come from overseas. That will be expensive, and there are no rules yet or how these “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” will be conducted. It was on the agenda at COP25 in Madrid, it will be on the agenda at COP26 in Glasgow. It’s a famously difficult issue. Most developed countries aren’t using them, but many developing nations would love it.  

Secondly, the entire basis for the NDC stems from the requirements to balance equality, responsibility, and need. For New Zealand, that points towards much higher ambition that at present. The Commission found that the precise level of the NDC involves political, social, and ethical considerations that could only be determined by the government. Still, they did advise that the NDC should involve “much more than” 8 Mt CO2e a year of international mitigation (10% of current gross emissions), at a cost of many billions of dollars per decade. Over to you, Minister. 

And to any ute drivers out there worried about price rises: I’m reliably informed that modern utes are built to last forever. If a ute really is the best vehicle for the job, just keep driving it a while longer. 

Jacinda- you beauty!

Steve Trewick

She’s a scarlet, long-legged stunner with dainty white feet, and the male of the species is almost as impressive. Yet this stunning creature has rarely been seen and was only this year formally recognised.

Hemiandrus jacinda is a ground wētā named this year for New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Most of us are aware of distinctive New Zealand species. Kiwi and kākāpō for example are unusual birds specific to New Zealand and frequently in the news, but our bird diversity is relatively small and well-recognised. There are today a little over 200 species of native birds in New Zealand, but there are an estimated 20,000, yes twenty thousand, native insect species, of which more than 80% are endemic to this land (found nowhere else on the planet). Given the number it is not surprising that about half of those insects (moths, beetles, flies, bees, wētā etc) have not yet been formally recognised. And then there are the millipedes, spiders, mites, land-hoppers etc… About 22,000 New Zealand arthropods (invertebrates with an exoskeleton and jointed legs) have been described but we have a similar number to get to grips with. Oh, let’s not forget the flat-worms and worms, the slugs and the snails.

To put that in some sort of context, consider the United Kingdom is only slightly smaller than New Zealand and home to abut 24,000 species of insects. One of those insect species is endemic to the UK. That means the level of endemicity among UK insects is less than 0.005%. More precisely, that one endemic species is a small moth called Eudarcia richardsoni; one species out of an impressive 2,500 Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) known to occur in the UK (endemicity of ~0.04%). The New Zealand Lepidoptera fauna is a bit smaller in terms of total numbers of species; it includes about 1,800 species. Of these, approximately 1,600 are found nowhere else in the world. In other words about 90% of New Zealand butterflies and moths are endemic and if lost from New Zealand would be lost from the world. And there’s the rub.

The dearth of endemic species in the United Kingdom is not for want of trying; the entomology collections of the Natural History Museum in London, for example, number more than 34 million insect and spider specimens, amassed over 300 years. No, here lack of endemicity is not a lack of discovery. It is because the UK biota is shared with western Europe; the plants, animals, fungi, microbes and humans (Cheddar man) arrived in Britain as the last glacial maximum (LGM) receded about 18,000 years ago. Before that an icy climate and polar ice sheet excluded life from the region. The same global climatic cycling affected the Southern Hemisphere including New Zealand but long distance from the Antarctic ice sheet and temperature buffering by the ocean allowed an existing biota to survive through the Pleistocene glacial phases. The net result is a biota in New Zealand evolved over millions of years rather than one dominated by arrival over fewer than 20,000 years as in the UK.

Despite the lack of insect endemicity in the UK, insect biodiversity is ecologically and culturally valued. Entomologists across Europe are justifiably concerned about recent declines in species richness and waning populations of many formerly common insects. Declines are now documented across the landscape including the reserves established to protect native plants and animals. As insects and other invertebrates mediate many aspects of plant biology including pollination and are essential prey for many vertebrates, their loss is predicted to destabilise fundamental ecosystem functions.

The challenge for the UK and Europe is to identify changes in species richness and population size among an already well-studied biota and respond to it. For New Zealand the problem is more complex as it involves discovering the diversity at the same time as documenting changes in abundance and finding solutions.

The reasons for the declining abundance and diversity of insects and other organisms are well recognised. They relate primarily to habitat loss. Since the 1950’s the UK has destroyed almost all of its ancient, native, flower-rich meadows (97%) and half of its ancient woodlands, with similar trends across Europe. The remaining native, complex ecosystems with rich biodiversity are fragmented and less resilient.  In New Zealand the dominant vegetation when humans arrived was forest; native herb-rich grasslands were a limited feature of our landscape outside the alpine zone. The process of landscape change was extremely rapid and extensive as European colonists developed a pastoral economy using a small number of European grass and herb species. Two thirds of the ancient forests, the majority in lowland areas favoured for farming, have been erased. These forest were not just havens of biodiversity but among the most important carbon reserves on the planet. Moves are being made to establish a more inclusive and moderated approach to the landscape, but this will not return substantial, biodiverse native forests in a hurry. Meanwhile pastoral intensification continues.

Formally describing the dwindling populations of endemic insects and other small animals is already beyond our current capacity. There are too few scientists with the necessary skills and time. Understanding the biology of these animals and their interactions with each other and their environment is even more remote. Looking away is not an option.

So, welcome jacinda. See you around, I hope.

Climate explained: when Antarctica melts, will gravity changes lift up land and lower sea levels?

Shutterstock/Nickolya

By Robert McLachlan

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

I’ve heard the gravity changes when Antarctica melts will lower the seas around New Zealand. Will that save us from sea level rise?

The gravitational changes when Antarctica melts do indeed affect sea levels all over the world — but not enough to save New Zealand from rising seas.

The ice ages and their effects on sea level, geology, flora and fauna were topics of intense scientific and public interest all through the 19th century. Here’s how James Croll explained the “gravity effect” of melting ice in his 1875 book Climate and Time in their Geologic Relations:

Let us now consider the effect that this condition of things would have upon the level of the sea. It would evidently tend to produce an elevation of the sea-level on the northern hemisphere in two ways. First, the addition to the sea occasioned by the melting of the ice from off the Antarctic land would tend to raise the general level of the sea. Secondly, the removal of the ice would also tend to shift the earth’s centre of gravity to the north of its present position – and as the sea must shift along with the centre, a rise of the sea on the northern hemisphere would necessarily take place.

His back-of-the-envelope calculation suggested the effect on sea level from ice melting in Antarctica would be about a third bigger than average in the northern hemisphere and a third smaller in the south.

A more detailed mathematical study by Robert Woodward in 1888 has falling sea level as far as 2000km from Antarctica, but still rising by a third more than average in the north.

Sea-level fingerprints

Woodward’s method is the basis of determining what is now called the “sea-level fingerprint” of melting ice. Two other factors also come into play.

  1. The elasticity of the earth’s surface means the land will bounce up when it has less ice weighing it down. This pushes water away.
  2. If the ice is not at the pole, its melting shifts the south pole (the axis of rotation), redistributing water.

Combining these effects gives the sea-level fingerprints of one metre of sea-level rise from either the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and Greenland (GIS), as shown here:

Red areas get more than the average sea level rise, blue areas get less.
Fingerprints of sea-level change following melting of ice from West Antartica (WAIS) and Greenland (GIS) equivalent to one metre of sea-level rise on average. Red areas get up to 40% more than the average sea-level rise, blue areas get less. Author provided, CC BY-SA

Woodward’s method from 1888 holds up pretty well – some locations in the northern hemisphere can get a third more than the average sea level rise. New Zealand gets a little bit below the average effect from Antarctica, and a little more than average from Greenland. Overall, New Zealand can expect slightly higher than average sea level rise.

Combining the sea-level fingerprints of all known sources of melting ice, together with other known changes of local land level such as subsidence and uplift, gives a good fit to the observed pattern of sea level rise around the world. For example, sea level has been falling near West Antarctica, due to the gravity effect.

Changes in sea level around the world, 1993-2019
NOAA

Sea-level rise is accelerating, but the future rate is uncertain

The global average rise in sea level is 110mm for 1900-1993 and 100mm for 1993–2020. The recent acceleration is mostly due to increased thermal expansion of the top two kilometres of the oceans (warm water is less dense and expands) and increased melting of Greenland.

But the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite has revealed the melting of Antarctica has accelerated by a factor of five in recent decades. Future changes in Antarctica represent a major source of uncertainty when trying to forecast sea levels.

Much of West Antarctica lies below sea level and is potentially subject to an instability in which warming ocean water melts the ice front from below. This would cause the ice sheet to peel off the ocean floor, accelerating the flow of the glacier towards the sea.

In fact, this has been directly observed, both in the location of glacial “grounding lines”, some of which have retreated by tens of kilometres in recent decades, and most recently by the Icefin submersible robot which visited the grounding line of the Thwaites Glacier, 2000km east of Scott Base, and found the water temperature to be 2℃ above the local freezing point.

The big question is whether this instability has been irreversibly set into motion. Some glaciologists say it has, but the balance of opinion, summarised by the IPCC’s report on the cryosphere, is that

Observed grounding line retreat … is not definitive proof that Marine Ice Sheet Instability is underway. Whether unstable West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreat has begun or is imminent remains a critical uncertainty.

The IPCC special report on 1.5℃ concluded that “these instabilities could be triggered at around 1.5℃ to 2℃ of global warming”.

What’s in store for New Zealand

Predictions for New Zealand range from a further 0.46 metres of sea-level rise by 2100 (under a low-emission scenario, with warming kept under 2℃) to 1.05 metres (under a high-emission scenario).

A continued rise in sea levels over future centuries may be inevitable — there are 66m of sea level rise locked up in ice at present — but the rate will depend on how fast we can reduce emissions.

A five-year, NZ$7m research project, NZ SeaRise, is now underway, seeking to improve predictions of sea-level rise out to 2100 and beyond and their implications for local planning.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Read the original article.

My favourite Anzac biscuit recipe

By Mary Morgan-Richards

Every year, in the lead up to Anzac day (25th April) when Australians and New Zealanders remember all those who died at war, we bake and eat sweet biscuits associated with WWI.

After 100 years I wanted to calculate the impact of my biscuits on global warming. Each ingredient needs to be harvested, prepared and packaged before transporting to my local shop. What is the carbon footprint of these activities?  Because food is grown in different parts of the world, I wanted a New Zealand figure. I found a thesis by M.J. Drew from the University of Otago called “Healthy & Climate-friendly eating patterns for New Zealand” and it had all the information I wanted (Drew et al. 2020).

NZCPE ANZAC recipe

The Anzac biscuit has been described as a culinary icon embedded in the Australian and New Zealand intangible cultural heritage (Cobley 2016) – but it is also a sweet and crunchy treat. The name “ANZAC” first appeared in recipe books during the First World War and what is now known as the Anzac biscuit seems to have emerged independently in kitchens in New Zealand and Australia ~1918 using the same basic ingredients that were readily available at the time (Leach 2008).  

Method: Heat water in bowl in microwave on high (about 40sec at 800-1000 watts), add baking soda, honey, golden syrup, oil and stir. Add oats, flour, coconut, sugar and two good pinches of salt. Mix thoroughly. Dust baking try with flour. Place teaspoonfuls of mixture onto the tray. Bake 180oC for about 10 mins until biscuits have melted flat and are golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before removing from tray onto a rack. Eat with a hot cup of tea.

For each food item, farming and processing produces most of the greenhouse gasses (with a few exceptions; Figure 1). Other stages in what is called the “lifecycle” of the food such as packaging, transport, refrigeration all contribute a smaller proportion of emissions per item, but it adds up.

FIgure 1

For some ingredients and many recipes there are a range of possibilities; one could use butter or margarine, apples or oranges. If I use canola oil in my biscuits instead of butter, I make the biggest difference to the total footprint. Most canola oil on my supermarket shelf is from rapeseed plants that were not grown in New Zealand, but there are a few yellow fields of rapeseed (Brassica napus) grown, harvested and pressed for oil in this country (e.g. Pure oil NZ). Even though transport is a much bigger contributor to the total for the canola oil I used (about 50%; Figure 1), growing a plant (rapeseed) produces much less CO2 than dairy farming. Butter also needs refrigerating. But without butter I need to add a pinch of salt to my biscuits. Per kg salt has a fairly high emission level and I wonder if we could reduce how far salt needs to travel? – selecting locally produced brands would help (I didn’t need to use pink salt from the Himalayas to get the taste I wanted and I made sure to reduce my chance of suffering from goitre by using a salt with iodine added). 

I was surprised to discover that honey production has a lower footprint than either salt or sugar or golden syrup – although more CO2 is invested in packaging honey, the transport and production releases less CO2 in total. But honey is expensive, and it doesn’t easily convert into the same volume of sugar in a recipe. Here I have reduced the golden syrup and sugar a bit, and added honey, but traditional Anzac biscuit recipes (from 1920’s) all have golden syrup. In fact, I might be breaching the NZ law if I don’t have enough golden syrup, as the law here requires that the name ‘Anzac’ is only associated with the original basic recipe (and that they are never referred to as cookies). In addition, completely replacing sugar and golden syrup with honey risks ‘food waste’ by producing a softer biscuit that doesn’t get eaten, so I’ve tried to balance emission-reduction with taste.

Electricity in New Zealand can be completely renewable and so I brought my electricity for baking my biscuits from ecotricity

In general, vegetables, fruits and whole grains are less climate-polluting (1.2−1.8 kgCO2e/kg) than animal-based foods (12−21 kgCO2e/kg). Potentially I could reduce my CO2 emissions by up to 42%, depending how much I reduce meat and dairy from my diet and continue to minimise food waste – I might even live longer!

Cobley, J. 2016. Should we safeguard ‘the idea of the Anzac biscuit recipe’? Women’s Studies Journal, 30 (1): 62-70. ISSN 1173-6615

Drew, M. J. 2017. Healthy & Climate-friendly eating patterns for New Zealand. University of Otago. https://ourarchive.otago.ac.nz/handle/10523/8058

Drew, J. Cleghorn, C. Macmillan, A. Mizdrak, A. 2020. Healthy and climate-friendly eating patterns in the New Zealand context. Environmental Health Perspective 128(1) https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP5996.

Leach, H. 2008. The pavlova story: A slice of New Zealand’s culinary history. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press.

Why did New Zealand’s CO2 emissions blow out so spectacularly in 2019?

By Robert McLachlan

Every year in April, the trees start changing colour, the clocks go back an hour, and the national greenhouse gas figures are released and promptly forgotten.

They take fifteen months to prepare, so by the time they come out it’s very easy for commentators to point out that they are out of date. Even now that the national media are running several new climate change stories every day, this one seems to pass us by. Not only are the figures out of date, they are also highly technical and hard to interpret: the year-to-year changes might be influenced by one-off factors like the weather, while the long-term trends have been subject to the changing winds of climate policy.

The Ministry for the Environment does an amazingly thorough job of reporting greenhouse gas emissions. The latest release includes a 633 page report accompanied by 100 MB of data – 300 spreadsheets in all. But as for interpreting the data, they don’t go very far:

Between 2018 and 2019, gross emissions increased by 2 per cent, which was largely attributed to an increase in emissions from the energy sector (by 5 per cent ot 1,711 kt CO2-e) drive mainly by an increase in emissions from manufacturing industries and construction, largely due to an increase in methanol production, and an increase in emissions from public electricity and heat production, primarily driven by an increase in natural gas-fired and coal-fired electricity generation in response to lower levels of hydro generation.

The “energy sector” is exactly the part we’re supposed to be focusing on. A 5% increase in one year, unless it’s some sort of one-off exception, is disastrous. We need to be cutting those energy emissions by at least 5% a year. The Ministry makes is sound like those increases just happened. But how can that be, when we’re in an emergency and climate politics is front and centre? What’s the relationship between emissions and climate policies?

CO2 emissions reach record highs

To try and get a grip on recent trends, I’m going to look at the changes from 2016 to 2019. Gross CO2 emissions did at first fall over the past decade, from 41.2 Mt in 2008 to 38.3 Mt in 2016, before rising again to 42.2 Mt in 2019. This turnaround is a worry and could indicate that climate policy over the period has failed. The three years 2017 to 2019 saw a massively increased focus on climate change: September 2017 saw Labour returned after a decade in a strikingly climate-led election. A Zero Carbon Bill (originating with the youth climate movement Generation Zero) was promised and extensively debated over 2018 and 2019, becoming law in November 2019.

Meanwhile, Greta Thunberg burst onto the world stage in late 2018, leading to massive School Strikes 4 Climate throughout New Zealand and the world in 2019. Climate emergencies were declared throughout the country, and eventually by Parliament itself.

Surely anyone even tangentially involved with fossil fuels would have realised that change was coming?

In fact, change had already been signalled before the 2017 election. The 2008 Emissions Trading Scheme, which had been weakened almost as soon as it was introduced, began to return to its original plan, with a 50% discount being removed during 2017 and 2018. Carbon prices rose, perhaps indicating that emitters expected to face more restrictions:

Carbon price (per tonne of CO2) in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. Until 2019 only half a unit was needed for each tonne of emissions, effectively halving the price.

Although on the surface it looks like carbon prices tripled during 2017-2019, it is difficult or impossible to know how much emitters actually paid. Several years worth of credits have been banked ahead of time, many bought when prices were much lower, and many imported from Russia and Ukraine in dodgy deals: as the “low integrity” of these carbon credits became known, New Zealand companies were left as the only buyers, leading to very, very low prices (and an end to international carbon trading). In addition, many large emitters get 60% or 90% discounts, to protect them from international competition. The only large sectors that are fully exposed to the ETS are domestic transport and electricity.

Emissions up 10% in three years

CO2 emissions (kilotonnes)20162019ChangeFully in ETS?
Road transport1346214560+1098+8%Yes
International aviation32743856+582+18%
Electricity30294171+1142+38%Yes
Food processing (dairy)26893237+548+20%
Metal industry (70% steel, 30% aluminium)22512236-15-1%
Chemicals (mostly methanol)19991875-123-6%
Agricultural industry, forestry, and fishing13701430+60+4%
Fugitive fossil fuel emissions12391021-218-18%Yes
Agriculture (50% lime, 50% urea)1089111728+3%
Mining & other industry10221194+172+17%
Commercial buildings9951130+135+14%Yes
International shipping9431009+66+7%
Domestic aviation9191015+97+11%Yes
Oil refining847882+34+4%Yes
Non-metallic minerals: energy (cement, lime, glass)727618-109-15%
Residential buildings585628+44+8%Yes
Non-metallic minerals: industrial processes466596+130+28%
Pulp, paper, and print381421+40+10%
Manufacture of solid fuel291354+63+22%Yes
Domestic shipping270329+59+22%Yes
Chemical industry (hydrogen, ammonia)191183-8-4%
Iron and steel industries176190+14+8%
Rail transport129126-3-2%Yes
Total CO23834342180+3836+10%
New Zealand’s CO2 emissions (kilotonnes) in 2016 and 2019, compared.

Let’s look at the big four.

Road transport (up 1098 kt CO2) is in the ETS, but a carbon price is a terrible way to reduce emissions in this sector. Even $50/tonne only adds 10 cents per litre to the price of fuel, which itself is only weakly linked to people’s transport decisions. The main causes of the rise in emissions are the almost exclusively car-focussed transport system, which has left us with the highest rate of car ownership in the OECD, and a lack of fuel efficiency standards. These had been on the way in 2008 but were cancelled by the incoming National government, then stalled in 2019 by Labour’s coalition partner New Zealand First. (They’re supposed to be introduced in 2021.) Since 2016 there has been a large increase in road building, with further massive plans announced in February 2020. Despite the phrase “mode shift” being seen more and more frequently, there is not a lot of it about yet. Electric car sales got off to a good start in 2017, but have stalled since 2018. The total EV fleet is preventing about 50 kt a year or 0.3% of road transport emissions. Conclusion: transport policy was a failure in 2017–2019 and there are still major forces pushing emissions higher, while big battles over mode shift lie ahead.

International aviation (up 582 kt) is not in the ETS and it is also exempt from GST and fuel excise tax. Together these have contributed to make it one of our largest emission sectors. Covid has wiped it out, reducing emissions by 90%, but there are no measures in place to prevent it returning in full.

Electricity (up 1142 kt) is in the ETS and is very sensitive to the price of carbon. A carbon price of $25 adds 2.5 cents per kWh to the price of electricity. There are cheap alternatives to fossil fuels and higher renewable energy targets have been in place for many years. So why have emissions blown out? The Ministry for the Environment blame the weather (“lower levels of hydro generation”). But that isn’t the whole story.

It’s true that hydro generation does fluctuate. But looking at the long-term trends, new renewable energy construction came to a complete stop in 2016. If it hadn’t, emissions would have fallen significantly. Wholesale electricity prices were low in 2016 (6c/kWh), but by 2019 they were at record highs (13c/kWh) and companies started to plan new renewable power stations. (A bit late: in 2021 prices are over 20c and we are facing electricity shortages.) A possible conclusion is that despite what they say, electricity generators don’t really care about emissions at all.

Food processing (up 548 kt) is not fully in the ETS. Most of these emissions are from burning coal and natural gas to dry milk into milk powder. In these three years new plants and boilers were being built and operated at a great rate. A 2017 presentation from a Fonterra representative did not mention that their company was the largest consumer of coal in New Zealand. (The word “coal” does not even appear.) Since then they have changed their tune, but progress is slow. Their Brightwater plant was converted to a coal/wood blend in 2018 (emissions savings: 2 kt a year); in 2020 a larger plant at Te Awamutu converted fully to wood (savings: 83 kt a year). The Stirling cheese factory has been promising to go electric since 2018, and an announcement was expected in 2020, but there does not seem to be any decision yet. At this rate it will take a decade just to undo the past three years of growth.

And so it goes down the list. Throughout the country people were deciding to buy new fossil-fueled cars, boilers, and machinery far more than they were deciding to get rid of them. Away from the world of elections, policy reviews, school strikes, and opinion pieces, it was business as usual for three years.

So to try to answer my question, Why did New Zealand’s CO2 emissions blow out so spectacularly in 2019: the forces for increasing fossil fuel burning were vastly more powerful than the puny forces opposing them. All the talk about climate change in 2017–2019 had little effect on the behaviour of companies or individuals.

Have we turned the corner?

Possibly. The pro-fossil fuel forces are still there, but the opposing forces are gathering strength, especially through the Zero Carbon Act which for the first time includes a falling cap on emissions. In the most sensitive sector, electricity, the changes can be seen already. My takeaway from the new 2019 data is that the big four, road transport, aviation, electricity, and food processing, that are so large, that have performed so poorly, and that have so much scope for transformation, are where we need to look for change.

Recreation Transition: low-carbon recreation in the mountains

By Jamie Stewart, Federated Mountain Clubs

Looking 130 km east from Fanthams Peak, Taranaki (1966 m) to Mts Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu (2797 m). Photo: Peter Laurensen, www.occasionalclimber.co.nz

Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC), founded in 1931, represents 96 clubs, 22,000 members and 300,000 people that regularly recreate in the New Zealand backcountry. This article first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Backcountry magazine and is reproduced with permission. (Read the original article). See also “EVs for mountain recreation” (Backcountry, June 2020) and a series of articles on climate change and the backcountry (November 2020).

It has been a while now – pre-Covid-19 (everything pre-Covid seems a while ago) since the FMC Executive approved a new campaign we have called ‘Recreation Transition’ to encourage low-carbon recreation.

FMC has been considering our response to the climate crisis for several years. We have taken steps to minimise our organisational carbon footprint, including the recent decision to phase out the FMC Travel Club. But the times demand more of us, so we have developed this campaign to shape our future advocacy, to attempt to impact central and local government thinking and possibly to influence the recreational choices of clubs and our wider outdoor community.

FMC recognises that in this instance we are not leaders, but followers, of many committed initiatives from clubs and individuals in our outdoor community.

Railcar about to enter the Arthur’s Pass tunnel, mid 1970s. These trains ran from 1956 to 1978 and were a legendary source of transport for trampers who would wave down the train for unscheduled pickups. The Auckland–Wellington night train fulfilled a similar function in the North Island until 1979, and is now the subject of a revival campaign. (Photo: Roy Sinclair)

Low-carbon recreation infrastructure

There is a need for low-carbon transport options for people to get to the places they love. Dan Clearwater investigates in this Backcountry what is possible currently with electric vehicles. Improved passenger services on railways are also important, and this government is heading in the right direction – will we see Cantabrians heading to Arthurs Pass on the train for a climb and tramp again in our lifetimes? Clubs also have, and will continue to, play a crucial role with car-pooling, club buses and other climate-friendly practices.

The push for low-carbon recreation infrastructure encompasses the creation of and investment in recreational opportunities that don’t have high embedded transport costs. How much could carbon emissions be reduced if people from Auckland and Tauranga did a yearly tramp in the Kaimai ranges rather than on a distant Great Walk? How much carbon emission reduction if the public money invested in the Paparoa track had been used instead to develop more mountain-biking opportunities near some of our larger centres of population?

From my back door

FMC coined #frommybackdoor pre-Covid, but events have overtaken us. What a lesson and opportunity we have all had to rediscover our neighbourhoods, and to think about how we can improve our local outdoor opportunities. How much could carbon emissions be reduced if more people choose to recreate from their back doors regularly? Should we apply the ‘recreational opportunity spectrum’ suburb by suburb, town by town?

Department of Conservation research has shown that the most influential factors in connecting people to nature are experience in nature as a child and regular interaction with specific natural places as an adult. Where better to make this happen than people’s own neighbourhoods? The unkempt gully, the piece of bush locked away between neighbours, the old braid of the river, the swamp on the edge of town.

A ‘from-my-backdoor’ ethic also includes self-powered journeys, be that to nearby coasts or distant mountains. Ed Hillary of course rode his bike to the hills, as did many others. A more contemporary trip I have always aspired to emulate is Erik Bradshaw’s and Jonathan Kennett’s climb of Tapuae-o-Uenuku from Wellington – by bike – in a weekend. Low-carbon outdoor recreation still allows plenty of opportunity for exploring, achieving ambitious trips and developing skills.

The actual bicycle ridden by Edmund Hillary and Julian Godwin in the 1940s. “”Godwin’s best mate in the RAF was Ed Hillary and on weekends they would ‘double’ each other out to Mt Taranaki and have a crack at the mountain,” said Jecks, recalling what Godwin had told him. In Hillary’s autobiography, there are several mentions of Julian Godwin and even a reference to this very bicycle.” (Photo: Emma James/Fairfax)

Layers of Experience

‘Layers in the outdoors’ usually refers to poly-pro and fleece. Two of each and a good raincoat is my ‘handle anything’ kit. ‘Layers of experience’ might bring to mind those forehead wrinkles and calm that comes with enduring a few challenges in your time. In this case though, FMC is talking about the richness to be gained from a multi- layered experience in a place, beyond what you get from briefly passing through. We are talking about going beyond just ticking another place off your list or taking your photo for instagram.

Layers of experience may include: skill development, sense of community, contribution to the place – say through conservation volunteering – artistic endeavour, mentoring and increased knowledge in various fields. This is a richness which many clubs have done well to preserve, but which has been lost to much of our outdoor community, who have been herded instead from carparks, along gravel tracks, to well-worn destinations. It is a richness that may help people confidently choose to recreate #frommybackdoor and indeed to generally live more lightly upon the earth.

Family Tramping

FMC has had a focus this past year on family tramping, the joy of parents introducing their children to the outdoors. What if we look at this opportunity anew through a recreation transition lens? Can we family tramp from our back doors, after a short drive, or from a railway station?

Wellington’s Ōrongorongo valley is a long-standing outdoor recreation success with its mix of bookable and non-bookable huts, close to each other but incredibly well used and cost-effective for servicing and maintenance. Is this a model worth replicating elsewhere? In say the Glentui/Mt Richardson area, Waitawheta River, or at an appropriate spot in the Hūnua Ranges?

Do we need to design multi-day trips for little legs – were DOC’s previous policies to remove front-country huts and ensure minimum distances between huts short-sighted? Do we need to think more about providing appropriate loops in our most accessible places? Could we do more to encourage camping during what we now call day-trips?

There will no doubt always be a place for journeys to remote road ends and mysterious ranges out the back of beyond, but maybe we can make more of the opportunities close to home as well.

Submit! Submit! Submit!

Yes, it’s time to submit to the Climate Change Commission on their draft advice to the government, if you haven’t do so already. Submissions close on 28 March 2021.

Actually, Tolstoy can teach us a thing or two about climate change. See Michaelson 2011, Morally Differentiating Responsibility for Climate Change Mitigation: An Analogy with Tolstoy’s” Master and Man”Business & Professional Ethics Journal, pp. 113-136, and “How Tolstoy’s War and Peace can help us understand history’s complexity“, History News Network, December 2019.

Paul Callister and I have submitted in two key areas, transport and the level of emissions.

On emissions, as I argued in an article in Stuff, the suggested carbon budgets actually allow our emissions to increase in the coming decade. I think most people who voted for the Zero Carbon Act were expecting them to decrease. Our emissions as reported to the UN for the decade 2009–2018 were 548 Mt CO2e; the draft advice puts them at 602 Mt CO2 for the decade 2021–2030.

Paul and I are suggesting a budget of 514 Mt. Even that doesn’t sound like much of a decrease. However, it would still require major cuts to fossil fuel burning, and it would still require us to reverse our past fifteen-year standstill on forestry.

Lawyers for Climate Action NZ have suggested a budget of 400 Mt, the same as what we emitted in the 1990s.

On transport, the Commission is targeting emission cuts of 47% by 2035. However, it’s hard to see the suggested actions achieving that, since we are still going full steam ahead in the wrong direction. Private car travel is heavily and increasingly subsidised and bedded into society, which makes it difficult to visualise the complete transport revolution that is needed. Paul Callister and Heidi O’Callahan have looked at the whole issue in this March 2021 working paper; Heidi also covers it at Greater Auckland.

Our Commission is based on the one in the UK, which has now been running fairly successfully for a decade. The UK has surface transport emissions of 1.9 tonnes CO2/person, New Zealand 3.3 tonnes. The difference (UK is 43% lower) is made up of 21% less car travel per person and 27% lower emissions per kilometre. In some ways I’m surprised the difference is not even more. The UK has comprehensive bus and train networks and denser cities, and also fuel efficiency standards.

The UK CCC “Balanced Net Zero” model involves transport emissions falling 62% over 2020-2035. This is made up from EVs 55%; better petrol cars 4%; electrifying rail 1.5%; lower demand 14%, with these reductions countered by an increase of 13% due to population and economic growth. This isn’t the transport revolution that some are calling for, but it’s a good start. Could we match that here?

And did I say, it’s time to submit?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

By Robert McLachlan

I first wrote about New Zealand wind farms in May of 2019 (“A long time between drinks“). At that time, Mercury’s decision to build the Turitea wind farm seemed to me to be extremely significant, but also hard to interpret in terms of the larger scheme of things. Could it be that our low-emission transition was actually going to get started?

By the end of that year (“Blow, winds of fruitfulness“) there had been a flurry of activity (four more wind farms?!?!?), but the future was still misty.

And now here we are in March of 2021. Amidst all the excitement of the Zero Carbon Act, an election, and the Climate Change Commission getting up and running, what’s been happening with renewable energy?

First, if you’re reading from overseas, a warning. This is New Zealand. You won’t be seeing vast solar panels marching across the deserts, city-sized fleets of electric buses, or mega-projects of any sort (unless they involve motorways). No, here we need to examine the gleanings.

So here are the developments since December of 2019:

  • On 22 December 2020, a long-tailed bat was thrown into the works of the 93 MW Mt Cass wind farm (Canterbury). The developer says the project has been delayed, but is still expected to start towards the end of 2021.
  • The 222 MW Turitea wind farm (Manawatū) is under construction, but has been delayed by a slip preventing transport of the blades up to the site and a fire onboard a ship that destroyed 12 nacelles and 11 hubs. It’s definitely happening, though, I can see the towers and turbines from where I’m sitting. The first stage should be finished by April.
  • The 133 MW Waipipi wind farm (Taranaki) is nearly finished, suffering only an incident in which a blade was blown over en route.
  • On 15 February 2021, Contact Energy pressed go on the 152 MW Tauhara II geothermal plant near Taupō ($580 million, but equivalent to over 300 MW of wind).
  • On 24 February 2021, Meridian pressed go on the 176 MW Harapaki wind farm in Hawke’s Bay. The capital cost of $395 million, over a 20 year lifetime, comes out to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, far below present wholesale prices for electricity. They also hinted at much more to come.
  • On 1 March 2021, plans for two turbines on Rakiura / Stewart Island – which would have been funded entirely by the government – were canned after “agreement could not be reached with the land owners”. The islanders will continue eking out their expensive, high-emission diesel-fired electricity.
  • On 24 March 2021, Contact Energy announced it was moving into wind energy for the first time, with an initial site lined up in Southland and more to come.
  • Genesis Energy is still being coy about the prospects for its 860 MW Castle Hill farm. No solid news.
On the way to Waipipi. Source: Taranaki Daily News
Turbine blades waiting for a ride up a hill, Palmerston North. Photo: Warwick Smith / Stuff.

All up, that’s 776 MW of new generation, and very welcome it is too. It can’t come a moment too soon. Electricity prices are still high,

20165.8c
20178.1c
201811.3c
201913.4c
202011.1c
2021 Jan-Feb19.8c
Wholesale electricity prices

the hydro lakes are a quarter below average for this time of year, heading into the dry season, the renewable share has been drifting down from 85% to 81%, Genesis has fired up a spare 250 MW coal/gas unit for the second year running, and the papers are complaining about record coal imports.

So the new farms and the encouraging comments from power companies are positive signs. Perhaps the carbon price (which hit $39, up from a low of $22 in 2020) is starting to bite, or perhaps the companies have come around to the idea that the Zero Carbon Act is here to stay. The suddenly announced closure of the Tiwai Point smelter, and then its four-year stay of execution, is another complicating factor.

Although the government was elected in 2017 with a pledge of 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and re-elected in 2020 with a new target of 100% renewable by 2030, it’s not clear what specific new steps, other than the Zero Carbon Act, have been taken to bring this about. The official target remains where it has been since 2011, 90% renewable by 2025. One of the headline items, to investigate large-scale energy storage (the “NZ Battery Project”), has been delayed.

Some manoeuvrings are hard to read. Infratil sold its majority stake in Tilt Renewables, who built Waipipi and were planning three more wind farms, to Mercury. Remember that Mercury is in the thick of building Turitea and had already installed some enabling works there for yet another farm further east, Puketoi. Will Mercury really be up for five new large wind farms?

Meanwhile, Genesis Energy, for decades the bad boy of climate change in New Zealand, has suddenly changed its tune. First, they bought all of Waipipi’s electricity for the next twenty years; then they bought half of Ecotricity, New Zealand’s only zero-carbon electricity retailer, and sold them some of Waipipi’s power. This is a company behind 10% of New Zealand’s fossil fuel burning, that has been making profits of $300 million a year seemingly forever, but somehow hasn’t built any renewable electricity since 1996. Their annual report talks about “sourcing” a lot of renewable energy, but not necessarily building any. Perhaps they are waiting to see if the government is serious about climate change. Can the leopard change its spots?