The Government Says 40% Greenhouse Gas Reductions Can’t Be Achieved By 2020. I Say They Can.

The New Zealand Government has just announced that it has ruled out New Zealand adopting a 40% target for greenhouse gas reductions on 1990 levels by 2020. Countries are required to go to this year’s Copenhagen climate negotiations with a target on the table, and the New Zealand Government has recently been consulting on what target New Zealand should go in with.

Climate science says that we need developed countries to take on a 40% reduction target, but the New Zealand Government has rejected this as too expensive and unworkable. I think they’re wrong, and in the paper I submitted to the consultation process, I outlined how we could meet a 40% target. I wasn’t going to post this here, feeling it was too long and too specialised, but I’ve changed my mind.

The struggle isn’t over: New Zealand’s final target will be set during the negotiations. The 40% target isn’t going to go away, whether the Government likes it or not. A lot of people will be watching to see what target they do adopt, and whether it reflects the needs of the biosphere and of future generations, or the lobbying of those who have most to love from the change away from a high-emissions economy.

A Pathway Towards Achieving a 40% Responsibility Target for Emissions Reductions on 1990 Levels by 2020
by Tim Jones


The recent Government-initiated consultation process on New Zealand’s interim greenhouse gas reductions responsibility target for 2020 has seen a strong push by environmental and development NGOs for the Government to adopt a target of a 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020, in line with what climate science indicates is the overall minimum level of reductions necessary by 2020 to significantly lessen the risk of runaway climate change, and with New Zealand’s responsibilities as a developed country. Meanwhile, major greenhouse gas emitter interests have argued for a minimal reduction target. The Government has responded to the 40% call by NGOs by asking them to demonstrate how this target could be achieved.

This briefing note outlines a pathway towards a 40% responsibility target. It is neither a comprehensive analysis, nor a detailed set of policy recommendations. (As Greenpeace has noted, the NGO community does not have the resources to perform such an analysis in the time allowed by the Government’s 2020 target consultation schedule.)

The nature of the target

A responsibility target:
The public discussion of the 2020 target has often appeared to assume that all of the required reduction on 1990 levels must be met onshore. This is incorrect. The 2020 target is a responsibility target, which means that New Zealand can pay for some of the required reductions to be made offshore by credible means, e.g. by means of green CDMs or their post-2012 equivalent. For both diplomatic and equity reasons, however, it is preferable to make the greater part of these reductions within New Zealand.

The raw numbers: The discussion below is based on a 1990 emissions baseline of 61.9 Mt CO2 equivalent (CO2-e), compared with 2006 emissions of 77.9 Mt CO2 equivalent (CO2-e). To achieve a 40% target by 2020 entirely onshore would require domestic emissions to be reduced to 37.1 Mt CO2 equivalent (CO2-e).

The rules: The discussion of how to reach a 2020 emissions reduction target tends to be framed in terms of how such a target could be reached under the current Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas accounting rules. It is almost certain that these rules will be different in a post-2012 greenhouse gas accounting regime. In particular, changes to the rules affecting land use, land use change, forestry and the use of forest products, agriculture, and soil carbon could have a major impact on the best methods open to New Zealand to make emissions reductions that qualify towards the target.

A negotiating position: Finally, New Zealand will not be able to set its own target. While we will enter the process of negotiations with an initial offer, we will end up being assigned a target as part of any agreement reached.

Where can domestic emissions reductions be made?

The three biggest contributors to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are agriculture (currently 48%), stationary energy, including household and industrial energy use (24%) and transport (20%). These percentages are round figures and are based on 2006 emissions. The notes below focus on these three sectors, and on native and exotic forests, the biggest potential sources of increased biological carbon storage (excluding soil carbon, which I have not considered in this discussion.)


48% of New Zealand’s current greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. It is a common misperception that there is no method available to reduce emissions in this sector.

In fact, work done by the Sustainability Council shows that 13% of total agricultural emissions (which would to equate to about 6% of total emissions) could be reduced at a profit to farmers, by methods including the use of nitrification inhibitors, biodigestion, stand-off pads, and changes in grassing policies. These options have generally been successful where used, but, in part because the farming sector’s lobbyists prefer to claim that emissions reductions are not possible within agriculture, they have so far suffered from a lack of promotion.

Beyond this 13% of total emissions, further gains would chiefly come from land-use changes within agriculture, particularly the decline in sheep and beef farming and the conversion of land marginal for pastoral farming into “carbon farming”. A further 8% reduction in agricultural emissions can be achieved by these means, meaning a total reduction of 21% in agricultural emissions on 2006 levels by 2020, thus contributing a reduction of 7.6 Mt in overall emissions.

Stationary Energy (including household and industrial energy use)

Across the household and industrial sectors, there are many opportunities to reduce emissions. In the household sector, opportunities to reduce emissions have been available for some time, but are only now starting to be implemented.

Key opportunities include a further expansion of the household insulation programme (which will have emissions reductions as well as health benefits); the installation of genuine smart meters (as opposed to the pseudo-smart meters being installed at present) and a moratorium on the installation of “dumb” meters; the much wider uptake of solar water heating; the use of efficient wood burners; and the full uptake of energy-efficient lighting and heating. These individual measures should be backed up by a major revision and modernisation of the Building Code.

It is the falling percentage of renewable energy generation which has been the leading factor in increasing emissions in the stationary energy sector. A commitment to a minimum of 90% renewable generation in the electricity sector needs to be not only made but acted upon, with fossil thermal limited to peaking generation only.

With a firm commitment to baseload renewable generation, aggressive energy efficiency measures in the household sector, and fuel switching in the industrial sector, a 35% reduction on 2006 emissions can be made within this sector, contributing a reduction of 6.4 Mt.


99% of New Zealand domestic transport is powered by fossil fuels. The biggest long-term emission reductions (and gains in efficiency) come from replacing fossil fuels by renewable sources, primarily electricity but with a contribution from biofuels. Such fuel and vehicle substitution has the potential to make a very significant impact by 2050, but will have comparatively little impact by 2020.

By 2020, two main areas can lead to significant emissions reductions:

1) Transport policy changes. A major switch in transport policy, from the current emphasis on roading (in particular state highways) and the private motor vehicle, is needed. In freight, the emphasis should be on substituting sea and rail freight for road freight wherever possible. In passenger transport, the present emphasis on building new state highways needs to be abandoned, and the investment instead put into the development of public transport systems, incentives from carpooling and for working from home, and new rules on urban forms designed to minimise travel times.

2) Fossil fuel pricing/availability. The high fuel prices, and especially the periods of rapid fuel price rises, during 2007 and 2008 resulted in increased uptake of public transport and decreased motor vehicle use where the option of public transport was available to transport users. In its most recent report, the International Energy Agency forecasts that the oil supply crunch that they had previously predicted for 2010 onwards will be delayed to 2013-2014 due to reduced demand caused by the recession. Since a supply-driven sustained rise in fuel prices may not occur soon enough to make a sizeable differences to transport emissions by 2020, the Government should consider implementing either an increasing fuel tax, or a tradeable individual fossil fuel quota which reduces over time, to drive further reductions in fossil fuel use.

By aggressive use of transport policy options excluding fuel pricing and/or quotas, transport emissions can be returned to 1990 levels, a contribution of 5.3 Mt of emissions reductions.

Fuel pricing or quotas can be set to provide a desired level of reduction: for example, a 5% per year reducing quota beginning in 1990 would by itself return transport emissions to 1990 levels, while a 9% per year reducing quota beginning in 1990 would by itself take transport emissions to 40% below 1990 levels in 2020.

Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)

In this area, the potential gains are in increased carbon storage and retention in natural systems. Though this debate tends to focus on exotic plantation forestry – which clearly has an important role to play in biological carbon sequestration – the greatest and most cost-effective opportunities for reducing net emissions may lie in the area of pest control and the associated regrowth and expansion of indigenous forests.

The greenhouse gas accounting rules in this area are the subject of active negotiation, and it is difficult at this stage to predict what will and will not be included in a post-2012 agreement. However, the overall trend is towards complete carbon accounting, which means that LULUCF rules will become more encompassing over time.

A strong argument in terms of policy action in this area is that it is usually win-win: for example, indigenous forest restoration not only stores carbon, but mitigates the effect of the greater number of extreme weather events, and consequent flooding, expected as the climate changes; control of possums not only benefits forests and reduces the risks of bovine TB, but also generates substantial numbers of jobs.

The key message here is that New Zealand should work to ensure that the major carbon storage opportunities open to us in plantation forestry; improving the health of existing native forests; and regenerating native scrub and forests are brought within the scope of the post-2012 agreement. Furthermore, all forestry and land use incentives must be properly accounted for domestically, to ensure that perverse incentives do not result in, for example, clearing regenerating native bush to plant pines. Under the right set of rules, major progress can be made in this area at a lower cost than in any other area.

Until the post-2012 LULUCF rules are known, it is difficult to know the scale of net emissions reductions possible to New Zealand in this area, but I have estimated that changes under the current rules could result in 3Gg of net reductions by 2020.


The emissions reductions outlined above do not take into account post-2012 changes in greenhouse gas accounting rules, and do not include additional sectoral price or quota-based measures beyond the ETS (such as a tradeable personal fossil fuel quota). Nevertheless, even with these limitations, the following sectoral emissions reductions can be made by 2020:

Agriculture 7.6 Mt
Stationary energy 6.4 Mt
Transport 5.3 Mt

TOTAL 22.3 Mt

In other words, the measures outlined above can contribute 22.3 of the 38.5 Mt reduction needed by 2020 to reach 40% below 1990 levels. The remaining 16.2 Mt reductions required can be achieved by a mixture of purchase of appropriate reductions offshore, enhanced net reductions made possible by changes to the LULUCF rules, greater shifts in agricultural production, and pricing or quota measures in transport.

The purpose of this briefing note is not to provide a formula for reaching the 40% target. It is to show that reaching such a target is possible, and that there are methods available to New Zealand to do so.

Consult and Survive: The First Session

I’ve just come back from the first session of the New Zealand Government’s consultation meetings on New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020.

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith was faced with an audience of between 300 and 400 people. After his twenty-minute presentation, doing its best to send a message of “we’ll sign up to a target, but don’t expect it to be substantial”, members of the audience had the chance to speak — and, one after another, they implicitly or explicitly supported New Zealand taking on a strong reduction target in Copenhagen, with most of them plumping for the target to be a 40% cut in 1990-level emissions by 2020.

The Minister’s response was interesting. He stayed in his seat after most of the speakers, and when he did take the stage, he claimed that a 40% cut was too difficult because the fact that agriculture is responsible for 50% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions meant that no emissions would be allowable in all other sectors if we adopted a 40% by 2020 target.

There was a glaring hole in this response: it assumed that no emissions reductions were possible in agriculture. This is patently untrue: in fact, many farmers can make a profit while reducing emissions by using nitrification inhibitors, as revealed by the Sustainability Council.

So why don’t they? Part of the answer is that they are under the sway of their leadership, Federated Farmers, who are so opposed to taking responsibility for farming’s share of greenhouse gas emissions that they have called for agriculture to be completely excluded from New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

Fed Farmers are only one of a number of powerful lobby groups – others include the Major Electricity Users’ Group and the Greenhouse Policy Coalition – which have spent a lot of time and money trying to prevent New Zealand taking any effective action on climate change. These groups are too clever to deny the science of climate change – instead, they argue that it would cost New Zealanders too much to take action. What they really mean, of course, is that it is their members who are responsible for the bulk of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore their members who would have to start paying.

I was forcibly reminded of this, because I happened to sit behind the the main lobbyists from two of these groups at tonight’s meeting. They didn’t get up to speak. They didn’t state their real views. But they were listening, carefully, and no doubt working out the arguments they will use behind closed doors to try, yet again, to prevent the New Zealand government getting serious about climate change.

When I left the meeting, the speeches from the floor were still continuing, speaker after speaker making passionate, well-informed calls for action. And the lobbyists were still sitting quietly, saying nothing and taking in a lot. The constrast symbolised why these meetings are so important. For most of the time, the well-funded lobbyists have the Minister’s ear. But tonight, and for the next twelve nights, it’s the public turn.

Find out when the meeting is in your town
. Get along and call for serious action on climate change. Challenge the Minister when he tries to leave agriculture out. And don’t let the lobbyists have it all their own way.

UPDATE: Joshua Vail has posted a full report of the meeting, with video links to Nick Smith’s presentation and people’s responses. It’s at

UPDATE 2: is posting summaries of the consultation sessions on their home page – scroll down to see them. I’m pleased to see Dunedin went so well!

Consult and Survive

Twelve days. That’s how long the Government has allocated to the public consultation process to decide what greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020 New Zealand will take to the Copenhagen climate change negotiations at the end of 2009.

There have been many international climate change negotiations down through the years, but the Copenhagen negotiations are shaping up as the most significant since the Kyoto negotiations that led to the much-debated Kyoto Protocol. The prognosis for the global climate and for sea-level rise has got much, much worse since the Kyoto Protocol was signed – but the world’s knowledge of that predicament has also grown much greater.

I could write a lengthy explanation of what these consultation meetings are about, and why it’s so important that many voices call for steep reductions in New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 – to be precise, a 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020. But Greenpeace have done that already, so, with due thanks and acknowledgement to their Sign On site, here are the key things to know about the consultation sessions, including the schedule.


In December governments will converge at Copenhagen aiming to reach a new climate agreement and urgent and ambitious reductions are being encouraged by climate scientists.

The Government hasn’t given the NZ people much time to have their say on this crucial issue. But we still see it as a good opportunity for people to get vocal about the target that New Zealand needs to set – 40 percent by 2020. Government Ministers will take just two weeks to visit only nine centres in New Zealand to hear what the public think, starting Monday!

We need to mobilise as many people as possible to attend the meetings and show their support for 40 by 2020 targets.

Sign On supporters will be out front of the meetings beforehand each night signing people on and also distributing stickers that people can wear into the meeting showing their support for the needed 40 percent by 2020 target.

Times and venues:

* Mon July 6 – Wellington – 7.30pm – 9pm, Oceania Room, Te Papa.
* Tues July 7 – Auckland – 7.30pm – 9pm, Princes Ballroom B and C. Hotel Hyatt Regency, Corner of Princes Street and Waterloo Quadrant, Auckland Central.
* Wed July 8 – Christchurch – 7.30pm – 9pm, Hall C, Convention Centre, Kilmore Street,
* Thur July 9 – Dunedin – 7.30pm – 9pm, Clifford Skeggs Gallery, Dunedin Centre, 1 Harrop Street, Dunedin
* Friday July 10, Queenstown – 7.30pm – 9pm, Icon Room, Heritage Hotel, 91 Fernhill Drive.
* Monday July 13 – Hamilton – 7.30pm – 9pm, Waikato Room, Sky City Hamilton, 346 Victoria Street, Hamilton
* Tuesday 14 July – New Plymouth – 7.30pm – 9pm, Conference Room Plymouth International, Corner Courtenay and Leach Streets, New Plymouth
* Wednesday 15 July – Napier – 7.30pm – 9pm, Ocean Suite East Pier, Hardinge Road Ahuriri, Napier
* Friday 17 July – Nelson – 7.30pm – 9pm, Waimea Room Rutherford Hotel, Trafalgar Square, Nelson.

The consultation won’t be the final word on the target. This is simply to find New Zealand’s opening offer at the international negotiations. Let’s make it as strong as possible. We’ll be campaigning for 40 by 2020 right up to the last second of the last day because the future of the planet isn’t up for negotiation.

Internet based consultation for those who can’t attend

You can submit questions for the Minister for Climate Change Issues’ online video conference to be held from 7.30pm on Monday 20 July at Questions can be submitted in advance by email to 2020target(at)

You can also email the Minister with your views to nick.smith (at)

Tim adds: If you’re not closely involved in climate change issues, the parade of meetings and negotiations can soon become mind-numbing – in fact, it confuses me, and I am involved. But this meeting, and this target, really are important. Time is running out for a liveable global climate. The Government, after initially believing it could sideline the issue, has now discovered it can’t. Elements within the Government want to take meaningful action on climate change, and other elements want to block meaningful action. As many people as possible need to get along, call for deep cuts, and stiffen the Government’s sinews so that it opts to become a part of the solution rather than remaining part of the problem.

Two Big Climate Campaigns for 2009

2009 is a critical year for the future of the planet’s climate. World leaders are gathering in Copenhagen in December to attempt to agree on a successor to the current Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which expires in 2012.

The successor to Kyoto needs to mandate deep and rapid global cuts in net greenhouse gas emissions, and fund the means by which these cuts can be made, if the bulk of the planet’s surface is to remain liveable for its existing macrofauna (that’s big creatures, like humans and trees) much beyond the mid-point of this century. Things really have got that serious.

The science is arguing – screaming – for action now, but the politicians who will gather in Copenhagen have many powerful interests whispering in their ear, urging them to do nothing. To counteract this,several major climate campaigns are gearing up for action in the lead-up to Copenhagen. If you want a meaningful agreement at Copenhagen, I suggest you add your voice to one or more of these. In New Zealand, there’s an action this coming Friday to kick things off.



That says it all, really. The target is to get the global concentration of greenhouse gases back down to 350 parts CO2-equivalent, which has a high probability of being a safe level. The political goal is to get world leaders gathering at the Copenhagen climate summit later this year to sign on to such a goal. And the strategy is for a massive worldwide day of action on 24 October, with all the actions featuring the number 350 in some way.

Around the world, you can find out what’s planned for your area, and get involved, at the website. And in New Zealand, the corresponding site is This is a campaign in which you can really exercise your creativity!

Greenpeace Sign On Campaign

As I’ve lamented previously, the National-led Government which was elected in New Zealand in late 2008 has been gaily throwing out many of the previous Labour-led Government’s initiatives on climate change. Prime Minister John Key has gone on record, most recently earlier this year in Investigate magazine, as a climate change sceptic. It certainly won’t be out of any sense of personal commitment that he signs New Zealand up to an agreement at Copenhagen.

Therefore, New Zealanders who want our Government to take meaningful action on climate change need to make it very clear to John Key what the political consequences of doing nothing will be. One way is by signing on to Greenhouse’s Sign On campaign. Here’s the call to action:

Climate change is happening faster than anyone expected. In December this year world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to Sign On to a global agreement for action. For NZ to do its bit to help avoid catastrophic impacts, John Key needs to go to Copenhagen and Sign On to reduce New Zealand’s emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.

You can join the campaign here.

Mr Freeze

People across New Zealand are Freezing at 1pm on 5 June (this coming Friday) to show their support for united action on climate change. You can join a Freeze in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch or Dunedin at

So there we are. For a small commitment of time, we have the chance to make a difference on climate change in 2009. Let’s hook into it!

Climate Change 2009: Hope Abroad, Farce At Home

When I started this blog, I used to interrupt my regularly-scheduled programming quite often to talk about my other interests, including climate change, energy policy and the need for a sustainable transport system. I stopped doing that after a while, figuring that I’d stick to my knitting on this blog and post about those issues elsewhere, but at the start of a new year I think it’s a good time to take a peek at the year ahead in climate policy.

My starting point is that climate change is real; that all or almost all of the recent sharp rise in average temperatures is human-induced; and that it is one of the most pressing dangers facing our planet – all the more so because it exacerbates other problems, such as food shortages and species extinctions. Climate change and oil depletion (“Peak Oil”) are two sides of the same coin: both result from our gluttony for fossil fuels.

The Audacity of Hope

My overall assessment is gloomy for New Zealand, and a little brighter for the world as whole. To take the brighter part of the assessment first, world climate negotiations have been mired in despond ever since the Bush administration came to power in the US. Whereas Bush was a climate change denier by both conviction and association, President-elect Obama appears to grasp the reality and the seriousness of climate change, and his appointments reflect this.

If Obama is serious about action on climate change, and if he can use the clout of a newly-elected president effectively, it may not be too late for a meaningful climate change agreement (“Kyoto II”) to be negotiated in Copenhagen in December 2009 – an agreement that would commit both developed and developing countries to meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

But the bigger question is whether this is too little, too late. Gaia proponent James Lovelock thinks that a major shift in the climate is already irreversible, and that human existence will only be possible at the poles and in the circumpolar regions before too many more decades have passed. Lovelock’s view is still very much on the fringe, but even such a mainstream figure as NASA climate scientist James Hansen has sent an open letter to President-elect Obama urging him to grasp the seriousness of the climate situation and the need for radical action.

It’s a sad irony that the recent economic recession may have done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the whole raft of recent international negotiations. Given that most of the world’s energy consumption is still derived from fossil sources, growth in greenhouse gas emissions is strongly linked with economic growth; so although the downturn has led to the suspension of some non-fossil energy programmes and a push to “get back to basics” on energy policy (i.e. “let’s forget about all these silly renewables and burn lots of coal”), I expect that it, and the preceding period of high fuel prices, will have caused greenhouse gas emissions to level off and perhaps decline a little. But the basic impetus of the world economic system is to grow as far and as fast as it can, and then collapse when it runs up against its limits. One outcome is unsustainable, and the other lethal. To make true progress on the world’s problems, we have to get off that treadmill.

The Absurdity of Hide

After such gloomy musings, it’s almost a relief to turn to the low comedy of the New Zealand political scene, where the incoming National-led Government has let a jester in a canary yellow jacket – ACT leader Rodney Hide – lead the way in rolling back the modest climate policy gains made under the previous Labour-led Government, which lost power in November 2008. National’s core supporters in the farming and business communities want the Government to do nothing on climate change, except to compensate them for any losses they might suffer due to its effects.

National’s strategy has been to let the climate change deniers of ACT make the running on climate policy while painting themselves as the moderates. However, this cunning plan hasn’t escaped the notice of New Zealand’s trading and diplomatic partners, and new National Prime Minister John Key is rumoured to have got at least one broadside on the subject during his recent overseas travels.

Over the next couple of months, a “special” Select Committee will be meeting to review New Zealand’s stance on climate change policy. The likely outcome will be a great deal of hot air, more opportunities for Rodney Hide to grandstand, and the previous Government’s Emissions Trading Scheme to be trimmed of some of its potentially effective provisions but allowed to proceed.

New Zealand is only responsible for about 0.2-0.3% of world greenhouse gas emissions. That’s no excuse for inaction: the situation is too urgent for countries like New Zealand to be free riders on the efforts of others. But it is a relief in one sense: if New Zealand’s politicians (with a few very honourable exceptions) were in charge of climate policy for the whole world, I’d know we were stuffed. As it is, there’s still a chance we might pull through.

If you’re interested in following up the issues raised in this post, and groups working on various ways of addressing them, see the Energy and Climate section on the left of this blog.