Past and present greenhouse gas emissions have committed the Earth to substantial climate change for the next century and beyond. As an island country reliant on primary production and tourism for much of its economic wealth, New Zealand is particularly vulnerable to the economic and environmental impacts of climate change.

New Zealand must both adapt to changes in climate and contribute to a coordinated international response to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

This requires New Zealanders to build emissions reduction and the potential impacts of climate change into planning and economic development processes. New Zealand needs to become more resilient to the future economic and social impacts of climate change while ensuring we can take advantage of the opportunities.

What are we seeking to achieve?

Longer term outcomes

  • The resilience and adaptation of New Zealand’s economy, society and environment to climate change increases.

  • New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to levels that meet international agreements.

Managing for shared outcomes

Climate change is a 'whole of government' issue. The work the Ministry for the Environment leads in relation to addressing climate change is supported by work in other agencies. For example, the Ministry of Economic Development plays a critical role in ensuring New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to levels that meet international agreements by implementing the New Zealand Energy Strategy and working with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority to deliver the New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy.

Many climate change solutions have wider sustainability benefits. For example, sustainable land management and forestry can absorb carbon and also improve water quality and reduce erosion; energy efficiency in the home can contribute to public health and lower energy costs, while also reducing carbon emissions.

What will we do to achieve this?

To make progress towards the longer term outcomes, the Ministry’s work programme focuses on influencing key sectors, as outlined at the beginning of this section. Research suggests that by incorporating the cost of greenhouse gas emissions into our day-to-day business we put in place incentives and disincentives that begin to reduce our emissions. In line with international trends, New Zealand has favoured the introduction of an Emissions Trading Scheme to set about achieving this. Some initial scoping and analysis work for carbon8 pricing compared the costs to the New Zealand economy of implementing various approaches (including emissions trading).9 An extensive consultation programme and the preference for ‘least cost’ emissions reduction led to the adoption of an Emissions Trading Scheme as the preferred option.

The Ministry will lead the implementation of the Emissions Trading Scheme and any other associated project mechanisms to ensure an appropriate statutory framework is in place. The Ministry will also:

  • provide advice on a National Policy Statement on Renewable Electricity Generation

  • assess possible areas of untapped, cost effective, Kyoto-compliant abatement

  • provide support to Ministers in legislating for an Emissions Trading Scheme.

While only a small player in terms of total global greenhouse gas emissions (contributing less than 0.3 per cent), New Zealand has the 12th highest level of emissions per capita in the developed world. New Zealand needs to contribute to international climate change negotiations. By providing appropriate leadership through reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging appropriate adaptation to the effects of climate change, New Zealand can influence major emitting countries in post-2012 negotiations. Some key outputs are:

  • contributing to New Zealand’s efforts to negotiate a comprehensive post-2012 international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol

  • leading the implementation of the Carbon Neutral Public Sector programme to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions in government agencies

  • developing a clear and efficient purchasing strategy to ensure Crown obligations under the Kyoto Protocol are achieved with minimal risk and costs.

Climate change is likely to bring about rising sea levels, an increase in floods and droughts, changing wind and rainfall patterns, increased temperatures, reduced frosts, more pressure on our ecosystems, and an increased threat of pest species becoming established here. Changes to our climate are, therefore, likely to affect everyone. The Ministry encourages and facilitates adaptation to climate change by:

  • effective partnerships with science researchers, central government and local government to develop national guidance so that local government and business can prepare for climate change

  • fostering innovative thinking in new technologies and encouraging businesses, households and government to find smarter ways of doing things eg, energy efficiency, environmental awareness, communications, sustainable government procurement.

The Ministry ensures availability of sufficient information by:

  • meeting international and domestic reporting obligations, including building and implementing the Land Use and Carbon Analysis System (LUCAS) application to meet the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol

  • providing science and communications support for climate change policy, implementation and negotiations

  • providing climate change impacts information and support to enable New Zealand communities, businesses and government to adapt appropriately to climate change

  • providing consistent and high quality greenhouse gas data, modelling and analysis.

How will we demonstrate success?

The following table outlines New Zealand’s progress towards the longer term outcomes:

Longer term outcomes


The resilience and adaptation of New Zealand’s economy, society and environment to climate change increases.

Government and local government strategies consider additional hazards associated with assessments of risks for climate change. This interim indicator shows progress in implementing changes in decision-making required to move towards the longer term outcome.

New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to levels that meet international agreements.

Emissions and removals of greenhouse gases.

State: In 2006, New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 77.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent
(Mt CO2-e).10

Trends: New Zealand’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions have increased 26 per cent (15.9 Mt CO2-e) since the 1990 level of 61.9 Mt CO2-e. This increase reflects our growing population and economy. In 2006, removals of carbon dioxide from planted forests were 22.7 Mt CO2-e (29 per cent of total emissions). This is an increase of 11 per cent since 1990.

Indications are that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions intensity (tonnes of CO2-e/unit of GDP) is on the decline. Total emissions in 2006 were less than 1 per cent higher than the previous year. The increase in 2005 over 2004 was 3 per cent.

Target: New Zealand remains committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels, on average, over the period 2008 to 2012 or to take responsibility for any emissions above this level if it cannot meet this target.

Making a link between the Ministry’s outputs and the longer term outcomes for climate change needs more work. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not wholly attributable to the Ministry for the Environment as it requires action by many sectors eg, government agencies, business, industry and households. What is directly attributable to the Ministry is, for example, the provision of good policy, and an appropriate statutory framework and their effectiveness in changing behaviours and practices. For example, a Regulatory Impact Statement supported the basis for implementing an Emissions Trading Scheme as the most affordable and sensible means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet New Zealand’s international obligations. However, further work is needed on how we will demonstrate success in achieving the desired outcomes.

Although caution must be exercised, the annual net position report provides one forecast indication of how we are tracking toward achieving our longer term outcomes for addressing climate change. This report models the effects of current climate change policy across the whole of government and forecasts New Zealand’s likely balance of emissions units during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The projected quantity of emissions units is a core component of New Zealand's financial surplus or liability over the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008 – 2012).

In 2007 (based on the then current policy mix) the net position was projected to be a deficit of 45.5 million units during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. This compared with a projected deficit reported in May 2006 of 41.2 million units. Policies included in this net position report included the biofuels sales obligation and the solar hot water programme. The forecast was also affected by a projected increase in dairy cow numbers due to rising commodity prices for dairy products (emphasising the unique importance of agricultural emissions for New Zealand), deforestation, and enhanced modelling.

The 2008 projected estimate of emissions will include the modelled effects of the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme, the New Zealand Energy Strategy, the Transport Strategy, the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Programme of Action, the Waste Strategy, the New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, and other complementary initiatives.

The Ministry for the Environment, in consultation with Local Government New Zealand and other government departments, will assess the socio-economic impacts of New Zealand’s existing and proposed climate change mitigation policies on rural communities over the period to 2028.

The Ministry will undertake some evaluation to assess whether the objectives of the Carbon Neutral Public Sector programme have been achieved over time, ie, did the first six government departments achieve carbon neutrality by 2012?).

8 Carbon pricing refers to all greenhouse gases simplified to a carbon dioxide equivalent basis.

9 Infometrics, 2007. General Equilibrium Analysis of Options for Meeting New Zealand’s International Emissions Obligations. Prepared for the Emissions Trading Group, October 2007.

10 New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990 – 2006.