Insight: Time for serious action on decarbonisation

Commissioner James Renwick shares his thoughts about the latest inventory of greenhouse gas emissions for Aotearoa and the implications for climate change.

Insight: Time for serious action on decarbonisation

I’ve been asked for my thoughts a few times over the past 24 hours about New Zealand’s latest inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and the implications for climate change.  

Quite simply: the report shows New Zealand’s emissions going in the wrong direction. We need serious action to turn that around. 

New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory is the official annual report of all human induced emissions and removals of greenhouse gases in New Zealand. 

The 2021 inventory contains the emissions and removals data from 1990 to 2019, and it shows that gross emissions of greenhouse gases increased 2% in 2019, compared to 2018. This is one of the larger annual increases this century, but overall gross emissions have hovered around 80 megatons for about 20 years. Net emissions have also been quite stable for the last decade or so. 

The increase in 2019 takes us slightly further away from our goal of getting to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and are a reminder of why we need committed action.  

The Climate Change Commission was set up under the Zero Carbon Act to help government tackle the problem, and once the Commission's advice is tabled in Parliament at the end of May, we hope to see government action to start bringing emissions down. 

The emissions inventory for 2020 is still to be released and we can expect 2020 emissions to be lower than in 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Estimates are that global emissions reduced around 7% overall, and Aotearoa probably saw at least that level of reduction.  

The important thing now is to lock in those reductions by investing in low-carbon infrastructure as economies come back to full strength.  

We need to find ways to reduce emissions that much every year, without the terrible cost of the pandemic, by investing in renewable energy, electrified public and private transport, and more sustainable economic activity generally. 

Climate Minister James Shaw’s announcements yesterday around phasing out coal boilers for heating and powering schools and hospitals, and the government's announcement in late 2020 of a carbon-neutral public service by 2025, are steps on the path we need to take.  

The Commission's draft advice shows it's possible to decarbonise the NZ economy in an affordable way, using technologies that already exist. More action from Government, the business sector, and communities across New Zealand will make it a reality. 

Article originally published on LinkedIn