NZ Greenhouse Gas Emissions Hit Record Levels

Geoff SimmonsUncategorized14 Comments

Over the weekend the Government released the latest greenhouse gas emissions figures, which show our emissions are at record levels. This is mostly thanks to more cars, more cows, more fertilizer, and fewer trees.

We have committed to reduce emissions, and we know from the Paris Agreement that we have to get to net zero carbon emissions this century. So every time our emissions increase, we are increasing the costs and the difficulty of achieving that ultimate goal. So far the Government’s plan for dealing with climate change has been to buy credits from overseas (mostly fraudulent ones from the Ukraine and Russia) and rely on forests planted in the 1990s. These are only short-term fixes.

We urgently need experts working on a plan for how we can cost effectively reduce emissions, not more consultation as the Minister is suggesting. The government is late on to this and still just dragging the chain – now it’s cheating ways have hopefully come to an end.

Emissions by the numbers

Gross emissions (excluding forestry) are up 23% since 1990, though not quite back to their 2006 peak (they fell from 2006-2009 but have been climbing since). Net emissions (including the carbon soaked up and released by forestry) are up 54% since 1990 – and are now at their highest level ever. As we pointed out last year New Zealand is bucking the international trend – our emissions continue to rise while in 2015 the world’s dipped.

What factors are driving the changes? Energy emissions are up a whopping 36% since 1990, the increase coming mainly from road transport and electricity generation. Agriculture is up 15%, due to the national dairy herd increasing by 95% and nitrogen fertilizer use increasing more than five-fold (partially offset by the fall in sheep numbers). And crucially our forestry sector removed the least amount of carbon it has since 1990 – down 16%. This is because in recent years people have been chopping down forests to convert to dairy. This was only possible because the carbon price crashed to almost nothing – a direct result of the Government allowing our Emissions Trading Scheme to be flooded by cheap fraudulent international credits.

Increases make it harder to hit future targets

Remember our targets are to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2012, 5% below by 2020, 11% below by 2030 and 50% below by 2050. Given that we are still increasing emissions above 1990 levels, we now face a hugely expensive task to get emissions down.

Incredibly, the Government tries to excuse this negligence, arguing that it is more expensive for New Zealand to reduce emissions. As we have discussed previously, this expense is largely due to the fact that we have done nothing to reduce emissions so far. It is a bit like one of our athletes not doing any training for the Olympics, then blaming their coming last on someone else.

So far the Government has met targets through international units (most of which were fraudulent and environmentally worthless) and benefiting from pine forests planted in the 1990s before we entered the Kyoto Agreement. Forests are only a temporary solution, unless you keep planting more. Planting trees as Pure Advantage have suggested would be helpful, but only help buy us time. The same is true of the Government’s plan to keep buying international credits. Even if they are credible, we have to reduce carbon emissions to net zero sometime this century, so eventually we will have nobody to trade with.

We need a plan

Firstly we need to make up for the 97m fraudulent units we previously used to meet our obligations. We are projected to have 93m spare come 2020 – why not cancel these now and show we won’t continue to live off the proceeds of crime?

But longer term we need a plan. Minister Bennett accepts the need for a plan but in response has been talking about setting up a “taskforce”. Collaboration can be useful but only if it is well informed by research, represents all stakeholders and the consensus is implemented. Government has had taskforces on climate change before – the ETS Review Panel for one – but then ignored their recommendations. Even the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum are cherry picked. So the Minister’s suggestion looks like another talk-fest – all hui and no doey – a way of delaying action another few years when we should be getting on with it.

What we need isn’t more gas-bagging – it is research into the most cost-effective actions we can take to reduce emissions.

Other centre-right Governments know that in the long run it is cheaper to take action on reducing emissions now, such as the Conservatives in the UK. Under their Climate Change Act they have an independent Commission on Climate Change, which advises the Government on setting short-term milestones, developing plans and implementing them. Whoever is in charge, the government is legally required to have a plan, which provides some certainty for business.

Here’s Jim Skea from the UK Commission on Climate Change talking about how it


NZ Greenhouse Gas Emissions Hit Record Levels was last modified: May 30th, 2016 by Geoff Simmons
About the Author

Geoff Simmons

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Geoff Simmons is an economist working for the Morgan Foundation. Geoff has an Honours degree from Auckland University and over ten years experience working for NZ Treasury and as a manager in the UK civil service. Geoff has co-authored three books alongside Gareth.

14 Comments on “NZ Greenhouse Gas Emissions Hit Record Levels”

  1. Agreed, Geoff. It makes sense to cancel all the NZUs that were grandfathered (manufactured from thin air and gifted for allowed emissions) and weren’t surrendered to cover emissions. However, it would be reasonable to give the owners 25 cents or so for each of them, to account for the purchase price of fraudulent credits plus a little interest. After all, government policy was to blame for the fraud, and the owners weren’t doing anything illegal.

  2. I think we are all doomed, really. Sea level rise and temperature will both continue to rise. We need to sequester carbon and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The bulk of the carbon in the atmosphere is from the degradation of soil worldwide, I read, and the best idea is to put it back in the soil (well, good soil is mostly carbon) where it can stay… forever. Lets look at better grazing practice as well as reforestation. We can’t rely on diatoms or bogus credits in the short term. Love the title picture.

    1. “I think we are all doomed”
      Not all. The rich will be just fine, but there will never be a worse time to be poor.

  3. No amount of breathless ‘hot air’ will impact on climate whatsoever – the lack of clear unequivocal science implies our only logical course of action is one of mitigation should climate risk turn into an issue. All the rest is financially constrained biased clap trap.

    1. “the lack of clear unequivocal science “. The science of climate change is as unequivocal as that which links smoking with lung cancer. So maybe we should have stickers on bags of coal and on petrol pumps saying “burning fossil fuels causes global warming” with a picture of a starving polar bear. Part of the education of people on this subject and likely to cause some change in behaviour at minimal cost. Of course as with tobacco the purveyors would have to pay for the labels. To reverse this analogy and use Barman’s logic (if I follow you correctly Mr B) instead of encouraging people to stop smoking by education, taxation and legislation (the three mechanisms I believe we need to employ urgently on GHG emissions) we should have just spent up large on early diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. Interesting! I wonder if anyone did the economic analysis on that one. In the mean time we just continue to prevaricate.

      1. If you feel the science is unequivocal then there is no hope for you – and thankfully scientists of the real species freely admit the science is not settled – not at least until the vast majority align. Don’t even got there with the 97% lie – because lies are what has driven us to this state – where a potential risk has been hijacked for nefarious reasons that transcend the original issue. A Trojan horse that most see clearly in the road.leading to their home. Keep being deluded nubee ?

        1. Sorry Barman but this article:

          does mention 97% (among a few other things) You may want to read it or you may not. Up to you. Here’s just one quote that makes sense to me:
          Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, explains:

          “After all, if you’re looking for an expert medical opinion, and you find out that 97 per cent of the specialists agree about the course of treatment, you can be justly confident that that’s the best advice that medicine can give you”.
          Of course the science is not “settled”. Science by it’s nature will never be settled, that’s why it is so interesting. That’s also why science uses the tool of peer review. And there are very very few peer reviewed scientific articles that do not support the concept that the climate change the world is currently experiencing is caused in large part by human activity. Have a really nice day.
          Yours sincerely,from a deluded newbie of an unreal species without any hope

  4. Why, on a global basis do we account for the carbon at the point of production rather than actual release? If I cut down a tree the carbon isn’t actually released until someone does something to it. If it is burnt the carbon is released but if I make furniture or a timber for a house with it doesn’t much of the carbon remain locked up until the furniture/house are destroyed?
    In an area such as food production assuming we are going to feed people we must produce the food. NZ is a massive exporter of food. Isn’t the carbon released by those who consume that food rather than the producer’s of it? Would the total global carbon output drop if we made less dairy but someone else made more as a result? That would depend on the level of carbon usage of the two different farming systems wouldn’t it?
    I expect the answer to this is a political problem. How would we track the carbon and then bill the end user? In the end we are trying to deal with a global issue when we have no global systems that we can use.

    1. Interesting questions Ray. Different products need to be treated differently.
      For wood, yes some carbon is locked up for a long time in houses and furniture but eventually it is released. So trees are not a carbon sink unless they replace a non forest area. Then the balance of carbon absorbed by the new forest outweighs the carbon emited by the trees until a new steady state is achieved. Hence carbon credits are claimable for new plantings of forest but not replanting of forest.
      For food production the “carbon” isn’t really carbon at all. The problem is with other gasses produced by the animals (mainly ruminants) as they grow or produce milk. Mostly this is methane, which acts in a similar but stronger way to carbion dioxide in the atmosphere, trapping heat on the planet. These green house gasses are often accounted for as CO2 equivalents – a complicated formula which (I think) takes into account the shorter duration of methane in the atmosphere, but the stronger it’s effect whilst there. So it is appropriate to account for the methane produced by the nations using animals to grow food.Also, as you point out, different farming systems will produce different amounts of methane so again best to account for it at production.
      Coal on the other hand could be looked at from the suppliers side – eg Australia, as if they had to account for the CO2 produced by their product there would be less incentive to mine it. However, at the moment it is accounted for when burned and the CO2 released. Also valid as the incentive is then for the consumer to find another energy source.
      Keep reading and thinking. Very interesting stuff. And scarey.

      1. Actually I don’t find it scary. In reality the climate has always changed and we will probably be better off with a warmer one than a cooler one. Humanity has proven pretty adaptable given the climates we live in already so I have no doubt we’ll cope. Some things will improve and others will deteriorate. I hold little hope of planetary action being taken that will have any measurable effect. After all the biggest problem is likely to be overpopulation by humans and there is little chance of much being done to deal with that!

        1. Some of what you say is true, but overall climate has been very stable since the last ice age. That is also the timeframe through which humans have expanded over the globe. I agree we have managed to find a suitable niche in many different climates, but that doesn’t mean the transition from one climate type to another will be easy. Consider my comment below to James regarding rice production. Similar crises are likely coming as glacial feed of rivers like the Ganges are lost altering seasonal flows.Can the world come together and act over this? I share your doubts, but have not given up hope. Again, I agree overpopulation is the underlying problem. Considering the one child policy in China only slowed population increase, and considering that if there were no more births, then within 70 years there would be no more people, then somewhere between those two is where birth rate needs to be to gradually reduce population without increasing death rate. Achieving it? HHHmmmmmmmmmm.

  5. That’s great news!! Increased CO2 levels are greening the planet, the earth has been measured by satellite as 18% greener than 30 years ago. More vegetation is better for everything on the planet. Most plants in the world today evolved when CO2 levels were closer to 2000ppm, so higher CO2 levels are good for plant life. Higher CO2 levels mean that plants can more foliage faster with less water, apparently due to the stoma being required to be open for less time to absorb CO2 and thus less moisture is lost at the same time. And all the forecast climate chaos has not eventuated, the US is currently at a record without a major storm (cat 3 and above) making land fall. Tornado activity is flat, sea level rise rates are unchanged. So the sooner we forget about all this horseshit the better. Except for the parasites living off the scam, thousands of climate scientists and other hangers on will need to find something useful to do with their lives.

    1. For a little look at climate chaos in the US have a look at the west coast drought:
      By the way what do you mean by “sea level rise rates” – can you give a reference please? I don’t see that it matters whether the rate of rise is stable or not – if sea level is rising then we are losing coastal land. And since the majority of rice production is in river delta’s (eg the Mekong Delta from 0 to 3 m above sea level) this is pretty important to the lives of millions of people.

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