Climate Change

2020 greenhouse emissions projections jump in latest report

The Government has bumped up its own forecast for greenhouse emissions in 2020, Marc Daalder reports

New Zealand will emit a million more tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020 than previously forecast, new figures from the Ministry for the Environment show.

The 2019 edition of the biennial climate change report, mandated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, contains new projections with a gloomier outlook for the country's greenhouse emissions. While the 2017 report had forecast 79.96 million tonnes of gross CO2 equivalent emissions in 2020, the new numbers predict 80.93 million tonnes for this year.

"The report says the two big drivers of emissions growth in New Zealand are land transport and the dairy sector," Russel Norman, executive director of Greenpeace Aotearoa New Zealand, told Newsroom. "The Government has virtually no policy to reduce emissions from the transport sector and nothing to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector - nothing regulatory or price-wise. It's hardly surprising that we're not making progress."

When the report was released on the last sitting day of Parliament in 2019, Climate Change Minister James Shaw highlighted that the Government had revised its predictions for net emissions downwards. While this is correct, it is largely due to an increase in the expected ability to store CO2 through land use change and forestry. In particular, the 2019 figures indicate New Zealand will be able to sink four million more tonnes of CO2 than expected in 2017.

The 2017 report's estimates for gross emissions in 2030 have been shifted down in the new report, from 77.24 million tonnes to between 74.7 and 75.27 million tonnes.

There is uncertainty regarding the specific emissions projections for 2025 and beyond, as the chart below shows. The report incorporates three scenarios in its projections. The first, not shown, projects what emissions would be if the country took no action to address climate change. The second projects what emissions will be under our existing regime. The third predicts emissions if New Zealand incorporates already planned and announced additional measures.

Even with the additional measures, the nation's emissions are still projected to be well above 2017 forecasts. They are also nowhere close to meeting New Zealand's pledge under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

According to the 2019 data, New Zealand needs to reduce its gross emissions to 58.29 million tonnes by 2030. It is currently projected to emit 74.7 million tonnes, even after accounting for the additional measures, meaning it will not be able to meet this target without the purchase of carbon offsets.

"Even under [Ministry for the Environment] estimates, which are usually quite generous, of the Government's policy, we're still miles off track from where we need to be to cut our emissions," Norman said.

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