Figures released by the Government yesterday showed that between 1990 and 2019, total greenhouse gas emissions increased by 26.4 per cent.

The figure is contained within the latest “Greenhouse Gas Inventory” published by the Ministry for the Environment.

The increase makes a mockery of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas reduction targets and means the country has missed every emissions reduction target set by the previous Government by massive amounts.

  • In 2010 New Zealand pledged to reduce emissions by between 10 and 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.
  • In 2013, as reality set in, that promise was reduced to a five per cent reduction by 2020.
  • In 2015 the figure was adjusted again; this time, by extending the deadline out and proposing a reduction of 11 per cent by 2030. That would require a 30 per cent reduction in emissions from 2019.

But the news is not all bad. Perhaps the most optimistic view might be that we have managed to reduce our emissions individually. The problem is that there are far more of us.

New Zealand’sZealand’s population has increased by 48 per cent since 1990. Over the same period, emissions went up 26.4 per cent.

From 19.6 tonnes of emissions per capita in 1990, we have now gone down to 16.7 tonnes.

That is still high by world standards.

However, the rate of increase in emissions is slowing and has flattened since the introduction of the Emissions Trading Scheme in 2008.

Emissions are dominated by two sectors; transport and energy (46.1 per cent of all emissions) and agriculture (48.1 per cent of all emissions).

Very simply, it boils down to cars and cows. And it is caused by massive increases in the numbers of each.


The report says enteric fermentation (cows and sheep belching methane) was the main source of agriculture emissions, contributing 73.1 per cent (of the sector’s emissions. But interestingly, though cow numbers increased by about 44 per cent between 1990 and 2019, enteric fermentation emissions increased by only around nine per cent.

Agriculture’sAgriculture’s big increase came from soils which made up 9.4 per cent of all agriculture emissions but were up 47 per cent from 1990.

The report says Increases in the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and the dairy cattle population were the predominant drivers of increasing emissions soils which were partially offset by decreases in the sheep and beef cattle populations. 

Transport and energy is largely about motor vehicles and electricity generation.

The report says the largest sources of emissions in the Energy sector were road transportation.

(42.8 per cent), and electricity and heat production category, contributing 12.2 per cent) to energy sector emissions.

“In 2019, emissions from the Energy sector had increased by 44.3 per cent from 1990,” it says.

“This growth in emissions is primarily from road transportation, which increased by 96.2 per cent.”

Over the same period, the total New Zealand vehicle fleet increased by 143 per cent.

Nevertheless, the gap between New Zealand’sZealand’s international promises and its climate change performance remains huge.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw yesterday said: “Whilst we can see from this report that we are acting in the right areas, it also shows we need to step up our response. The time for delay is over.”

Shaw endorsed the Climate Change Commission’sCommission’s draft carbon budgets as a way to meet the targets.

“What this makes absolutely clear is that every part of Government must now come together and help to deliver an Emissions Reduction Plan in line with what the Climate Change Commission recommends,” he said.

“If we can do that, then we can reverse the current trend and finally bring emissions down in line with what the science requires. “”

Shaw’sShaw’s strong endorsement of the Climate Change Commission targets comes as not only the National Opposition but also a number of industry organisations are indicating they will oppose them.

Shaw must worry that the level of external opposition could see his Labour Ministerial colleagues baulk at some of the tough tasks in the Commission’sCommission’s proposals.

“When the Climate Change Commission released its draft advice in January, I said that because of the legislative and institutional framework we have put in place and the roadmap the Commission had provided; I had never felt more confident that a climate-friendly, prosperous future for New Zealand was within reach.

“Whether or not we get there is going to depend on the decisions that we make over the next few years. Our best chance to take the actions that will bring emissions down is now; and we clearly have a lot to do,” he said.

If there is one area where New Zealand has made demonstrable progress, it is in afforestation.

Forestry now offsets 33 per cent of New Zealand’sZealand’s gross Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Net removals in 2019 have increased by 14.2 per cent from the 1990 level.

“This is largely due to increasing yields in plantation forests from improved genetics and management practices, the rapid expansion of afforestation in the 1990s and an increase in the production of harvested wood products, which have compensated for the emissions from the increase in forest harvesting,” the report says.

A measure of the scale of the battle to control climate change came last week from US Climate Envoy, John Kerry.

Speaking in India, he said, “at some point we’re  going to get to zero,” Once we have the ability to, we need to be net negative.”

That will mean actually removing more carbon from the atmosphere than contributing.  New Zealand’sZealand’s trees might come in handy.