Climate Change

NZ yet to flatten emissions

New Zealand's net greenhouse gas emissions will only peak in 2025, according to data from the Ministry for the Environment, Marc Daalder reports

New Zealand has yet to flatten or even bend the curve of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to data provided by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE), New Zealand's net emissions will peak at 72.04 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2e) in 2025 - more than double what they were in 1990. From there, net emissions will begin a shallow decline.

However, even by the end of the decade, net emissions will be higher than they were in 2018.

Although these figures do not take into account the impact of the recently-strengthened Emissions Trading Scheme, the impact of that policy is expected to be limited over the next decade - in 2030, net emissions will be 64.01 Mt CO2e with the stronger ETS as opposed to the 66.07 Mt CO2e projected in the MfE figures.

They will also be well above where they need to be for New Zealand to meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement. On Saturday, Stuff reported MfE officials had advised Climate Change Minister James Shaw that the Paris target was not in line with an obligation under the Zero Carbon Act to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

If the target was instead expressed as two targets, one for long-lived gases like carbon dioxide and one for short-lived gases like methane, then the Paris goal might be consistent with a scenario where warming "exceeds 1.5°C by at least 0.1°C temporarily but returns to or below 1.5°C by 2100".

Officials modelled what sort of single, all-gases target - as our Paris commitment is currently framed - would be needed to ensure warming was kept to 1.5 degrees with "limited overshoot". Assuming the percentage of global emissions New Zealand contributes remained constant, the modelling arrived at a median figure of 516 million tonnes of CO2e over the next decade.

As it stands, New Zealand's target calls for it to emit 601 Mt CO2e over the next decade. Moreover, the MfE figures show that the country is currently projected to exceed even that and emit 707 million tonnes of carbon equivalent between 2021 and 2030, after removing the impact of plantation forests planted prior to 1990 as called for in New Zealand's Paris target.

That's 106 million tonnes more than the Paris goal allows for and a full 191 million tonnes more than a scenario consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, which is the ambition of the Paris Agreement and a legal commitment enshrined in the Zero Carbon Act.

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