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New Zealand deploys creative accounting to allow emissions to rise

13th July 2015

Read the full analysis here.

New Zealand climate target “inadequate” and “far from doing its fair share” - international analysis.

New Zealand is far from doing its “fair share” of climate action, with its climate plans, submitted this week to the UN, and rated as “inadequate” by an independent international analysis: the Climate Action Tracker.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an analysis undertaken by four independent European research organisations:  Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.  It has developed a groundbreaking method to measure the fairness of governmental climate action efforts.

New Zealand this week submitted its provisional INDC – (intended nationally determined contribution) to the UN with a target to reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 by 2030 which is equivalent to 11% below 1990 levels by 2030.

New Zealand’s “inadequate” rating indicates that its commitment is not in line with any interpretations of a “fair” approach to reach a 2°C pathway:  if most other countries were to follow New Zealand’s approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C, a world that would see oceans acidifying, coral reefs dissolving, sea levels rising rapidly, and more than 40% species extinction.

“New Zealand’s climate target shows it’s far from doing its ‘fair share,’ and is anything but ambitious,” said Bill Hare, CEO and Senior Scientist at Climate Analytics.

“While most other governments intend cutting emissions, New Zealand appears to be increasing emissions, and hiding this through creative accounting. It may not have to take any action at all to meet either its 2020 or 2030 targets. ”

The Climate Action Tracker’s assessment shows:

  • Based on current policies NZ emissions per capita, while likely to remain stable at around 17 tonnes of CO2e per person (or decrease slightly), are set to surpass those of the US by around 2025.  US per capita emissions in 2012 were 20.6 tonnes of CO2e per person and decreasing steadily. This reflects the underlying reality that while the United States is taking action on climate change with a wide range of policies, New Zealand has few policies in place to cut emissions, and has no emissions cap in its domestic Emission Trading System (ETS).
  • If New Zealand applies the rules it is proposing to use after 2020 to account for its Kyoto surplus and forestry credits, its overall agriculture, energy, waste and industrial greenhouse gas emissions could increase to 11% above 1990 levels by 2030;
  • New Zealand's proposed 2030 INDC target is not on a direct path to its 50% reduction by 2050 goal, unlike other major economies such as the EU and the USA. But New Zealand’s 2050 goal is also insufficient, and would require a 45% reduction by 2030 below 2005 levels (30% below 1990).
  • There are virtually no policies in place to address the fastest-growing sources of emissions in New Zealand from transport and industrial sources, which comprise over 50% of the growth in emissions (excluding forestry) in New Zealand since 1990.
  • While New Zealand has not agreed to accept a legally binding commitment for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, yet it appears to be planning to apply accounting rules that carry over surplus units from the first commitment period.  This is something that is available to countries with commitments under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, but not those without a commitment, like New Zealand. The legal basis upon which New Zealand is seeking to rely upon these accounting rules is therefore unclear. 

“New Zealand’s climate policy is projected to head in the opposite direction from the world’s biggest emitters such as China, the United States and the European Union.   It has taken little or no action on climate change since 2008 – except for watering down its ETS, and we can find no evidence of any policies that would change this,” said Prof. Kornelis Blok of Ecofys.

“Accounting credits claimed by New Zealand to meet its 2020 target could see emissions (excluding forestry) increase without constraint to 32% above 1990 levels by 2020, rather than decreasing to 5% below 1990 as stated in the government’s original unconditional pledge,” said Dr Louise Jeffery from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Unusually, New Zealand’s INDC is stated as being provisional pending confirmation in or after Paris of the accounting rules for the land sector and access to carbon markets.  However, New Zealand may struggle to secure the rules that it needs to allow its emissions to continue increasing, which raises another question:  what would New Zealand’s target be if its preferred rule-set fails to materialise?” said Dr Marcia Rocha from Climate Analytics.