Stats paint picture of the country we’re killing

The second release of landmark environmental data from Statistics NZ shows how little has been done to reduce emissions over the last decade. 

Households are emitting 19.3 percent more greenhouse gases than a decade ago, according to Statistics NZ's second annual release of environmental data. 

The accounts paint a grim picture of a nation where emissions have decreased only marginally in the past decade (2007-2017), despite many developed nations managing to reduce their emissions over the same period. 

New Zealand is among the 10 nations of the 38, mainly wealthy, nations who use comparable measurements, where household emissions increased over the period.

Statistics NZ's Michele Lloyd, who leads the team that developed the accounts, said the data would be used for policy work following passage of the Zero Carbon Bill. The Bill will establish a Climate Change Commission tasked with setting climate budgets as New Zealand moves to its target of reducing CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050.

The accounts take a slightly different approach from the standard measurement of New Zealand’s accounting of greenhouse gas emissions. Stats NZ has chosen to present emissions against their sector of the economy from which they are produced. 

This allows policymakers to track which industries are creating the most economic value for the emissions they create. This can be useful in singling out industries that need to do better.

Statistics NZ said the increase in household emissions was largely due to households’ transport emissions, which have tracked up over the decade. 

“Our transport emissions are the fastest growing part of our emissions profile,” Climate Change Minister James Shaw said. 

“Historically in New Zealand we tend to drive around in second-hand cars, we don’t have any emissions standards in New Zealand and we have not yet had a comprehensive plan to renew the fleet towards low emissions vehicles,” he said. 

Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter said an announcement on the Government’s long-awaited policy on electric vehicles would be made “in the near future. 

“Transport is a major source of climate pollution and also is very costly for households,” she said. 

New Zealand has faced a difficult journey in reducing its transport emissions. Our fleet is old, and New Zealanders tend to hold on to their cars for longer than in other places.

As Newsroom has previously reported, New Zealand’s fleet is constrained by the standards set in countries like Japan from where it imports most of its second-hand cars. Japan’s Shaken, it’s equivalent to a WoF, effectively makes it uneconomical for Japanese motorists to continue driving vehicles more than seven years old. This is when they are usually sold and exported to New Zealand and is why our fleet is seven years behind Japan's.

But there are other issues too. Imported cars have to meet basic safety requirements, but cars more than 20 years old are exempt from this rule, to allow for classic car imports. 

According to a report by economic consultancy BERL for the Motor Trade Associaiton, this loophole is being used to import thousands of old, emissions-intensive Hilux and Landcruiser vehicles rather than classic cars. 

Shaw said one of the difficulties with EV policy was that the shape of the New Zealand car market was so different to those overseas, meaning their settings couldn’t be easily imported. 

“We can’t just import the policy settings Norway has been using for example. The shape of our car market is so completely different to theirs,” he said. 

Emissions growing out of step with economy 

Industries like mining have seen emissions decrease over the past decade, but such industries have themselves shrunk in GDP terms at the same time, meaning they have actually become more emissions intensive. 

Other industries have managed to grow whilst decreasing their emissions, thus becoming less intensive. 

One industry on the naughty step is agriculture, which is responsible for nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions. Agriculture is becoming more efficient, but only just — emissions decreased 0.1 percent a year on average over the decade, whilst its contribution to GDP grew at a rate of 1.8 percent a year.

Emissions from dairy cattle farming saw a record increase in the past 10 years, increasing 27.7 percent from 2007. 

Other parts of the agriculture sector painted a more optimistic picture, emissions from sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming decreased 11.7 percent, while poultry, deer and “other” livestock emissions declined 43.6 percent. 

Of particular concern is the services sector, which is the sector which employs most New Zealanders. It has become slightly more emissions intensive than its economic growth would indicate. That means it has become even less efficient. 

The services story is one that’s repeating itself across the New Zealand economy, but is particularly relevant to agriculture. 

Lloyd said while overall emissions intensity had been tracking down in New Zealand, the amount of emissions produced for each million dollars of GDP we produce is in the top third of developed nations. 

She put this down to the significant amount of methane emitted by agriculture. The picture for carbon dioxide is slightly better. New Zealand is in the bottom third of CO2 emitters by unit of GDP. 

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