Our greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets

New Zealand has made commitments to the following international and domestic emission targets. 

  • Domestic targets are targets that New Zealand decided as part of its domestic policy decisions.
  • International targets are targets that New Zealand accepted as part of international climate change agreements.

Domestic targets under the Climate Change Response Act (CCRA)

  • Net zero emissions of all GHG other than biogenic methane by 2050
  • 24 to 47 per cent reduction below 2017 biogenic methane emissions by 2050, including 10 per cent reduction below 2017 biogenic methane emissions by 2030.

International targets

2020 Target (2013-2020)

  • Our net emissions will be 5 per cent below 1990 gross greenhouse gas (GHG) levels for the period 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2020. This target is under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

2030 Target (2021-2030)

  • Our net emissions will be 30 per cent below 2005 (or 11 per cent below 1990) gross emissions for the period 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2030. This target is New Zealand’s first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.

In 2015 New Zealand met a previous target under the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. It did this by submitting its True-up Report to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Reporting on progress towards our domestic targets

A domestic long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction target is an important part of ensuring that New Zealand can make a smooth transition to a low-emissions future.

In 2019, the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act set into law a new domestic 2050 target:

  • net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases other than biogenic methane by 2050
  • 24 to 47 per cent below 2017 biogenic methane emissions by 2050, including 10 per cent below 2017 biogenic methane emissions by 2030.

It updates our former domestic 2050 target, which was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50 per cent below 1990 gross GHG levels by 2050.

The domestic targets under the Climate Change Response Act are point year targets. This means they are goals that we must meet in a specific year.

We will use emissions budgets as ‘stepping stones’ to guide us towards the 2050 domestic targets. These budgets will be set by the Government, with the first, covering the 2022-2025 period, to be set in late 2021. After this, budgets will cover five-year periods.

The Climate Change Commission is tasked with advising the Government on emissions budgets.

Reporting on progress towards our international targets

2020 target

Although New Zealand chose to take its 2020 target under the UNFCCC rather than the Kyoto Protocol, we decided to apply the Kyoto Protocol rules in our target accounting to ensure transparency and consistency.

To report on progress towards the 2020 target, we apply the target accounting approach which uses only a subset of all emissions and removals from the LULUCF sector that include forests planted post-1989, changes in emissions and removals in pre-1990 forests that result from changes in forest management practices, and deforestation.

We report progress towards the 2020 target in the net position report.

New Zealand is on track to meet this target.

For more information on target accounting see the Emissions, reporting and accounting text box below.

Target accounting guidelines

To show progress towards our international targets, we use the accounting guidelines developed and agreed by the UNFCCC for the relevant target. Each target period has its own set of rules/guidelines, and we follow these as appropriate for the target period.

These guidelines ensure our approach has credibility and integrity.

More detail can be found at Transparency and reporting [UNFCCC website].

Emissions reporting and accounting

Gross emissions include emissions from all sectors of the New Zealand economy, except for land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). This information can be found in the National Inventory Report submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Net reporting emissions represents emissions and removals from all sectors of the New Zealand economy, including the LULUCF sector. This information can be found in the National Inventory Report submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Net reporting emissions provide information on what emissions and removals the atmosphere sees in any given year as the result of all human activities in New Zealand. However, we do not use all of the removals included in net reporting to account towards our emission targets.

Target accounting emissions include all of our gross emissions, but only a subset of emissions and removals in the LULUCF sector – namely emissions and removals that are the result of recent and future activities. This is used to measure progress towards our international targets. Target accounting is designed to incentivise emissions reduction and to avoid relying on actions that occurred before 1990 (such as forest planting in the 1970s and 1980s) that continue to result in removals today. These are the accounting methods agreed internationally under the UNFCCC to ensure consistency of approaches between countries.

2030 target

This target is our commitment to the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement aims to:

  • limit the global temperature increase to well below 2°C and
  • ideally only 1.5° above pre-industrial levels, and
  • to reach globally net zero greenhouse gas emissions during the second half of the 21st

Each Party to the Paris Agreement is to have a nationally determined contribution (NDC) representing its highest possible ambition. New Zealand’s first nationally determined contribution (NDC1) contains a 2030 target and covers the period 2021 to 2030. 

We express our 2030 target against 2005 emissions levels, as this is similar to what some of our trading partners have done. We have provided the 1990 equivalent for ease of comparison with previous targets.

For the 2030 target, we use modified target accounting rules (see the Emissions, reporting and accounting text box above). These rules are the same as target accounting but also introduce what is called ‘averaging’ for plantation forestry. Averaging means including removals from afforestation only up to the long-term average carbon stock.

This approach does not account for the additional carbon that is stored in forests just before they are harvested, but also does not include emissions from harvesting as long as the forest is replanted. Forestry undergoes rapid periods of growth before harvesting, which lead to large fluctuations in emissions and removals. Averaging reflects the long-term trend in removals from our plantation forestry rather than a series of peaks and troughs that come with maturing and harvesting of each forest (see the Forestry text box below).

Multi-year emissions budgets

New Zealand uses a multi-year ‘emission budget’ approach to measuring progress towards our international targets. This means progress towards any emissions target is not measured by looking at emissions in a single year but by looking at the sum of emissions in all the years across each target period (2008–12, 2013–20 and 2021–30). This approach was required by countries that took a target under the Kyoto Protocol and New Zealand chose to use that approach in principle for its subsequent international targets (2020 and 2030) as well.

New Zealand will formally confirm details of the 2021-2030 emissions budget calculations to account for its 2030 target, together with any other accounting parameters, as part of its first biennial transparency report we are required to submit under the Paris Agreement in 2024.

Gross-net accounting

Our international emission targets are “gross-net” targets. This means our base year is measured in gross emissions but our target is for net emissions. We can achieve a gross-net emissions target by reducing our gross emissions as well as by removing CO2 from the atmosphere through forestry. On average, we have been actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere through planting additional forests, and hence our net emissions are lower than our gross emissions.

For example, our 2013-2020 target under the UNFCCC is 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. The base (or reference) year (1990) is described in gross emissions. We can meet the target using reductions in gross emissions together with forestry removals.

Responsibility targets

Our international targets are responsibility targets, meaning they can be met not only by reductions in our domestic net emissions, but also (if needed) by using international units (emissions reductions occurring offshore but paid for by New Zealand).

For the 2013-2020 target, we can also use carryover units from overachievement on our 2008-2012 target (first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol). The Government has said it will not use any carryover units from the 2013-2020 period towards the 2021-2030 target under the Paris Agreement.

Our emissions data

We report our emissions and removals for two different purposes:

  • to compile a National Inventory Report of all of our domestic emissions and removals which we submit annually in April to the UNFCCC (see New Zealand’s national greenhouse gas inventory)
  • to show progress towards our emissions reduction targets (see the Target accounting guidelines text box further up the page). Information on removals based on target accounting is included in our National Inventory report.

Forestry

Forestry and other land-use emissions are included in New Zealand’s national greenhouse gas inventory under the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) category. While under the LULUCF category we report on the human-caused changes in carbon stored in all of our land area, most of the impact from LULUCF in New Zealand is due to forests.

Accounting for forestry is complex because:

  • trees can both remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (as they grow) and then emit this to the atmosphere again (when/if they are cut down)
  • a choice has to be made about what vegetation to count as forest, since it is impractical to track the planting and removal of every single tree and shrub
  • there are different accounting rules for forests which existed before 1990 compared to those established in or after 1990. This distinction was created in the international accounting rules of the Kyoto Protocol (which apply until 2020). We currently intend to use a modified version of the Kyoto rules for accounting for forestry towards our 2030 target (under the Paris Agreement). The detailed explanation is on the NDC Registry website.

Other information on our greenhouse gas emissions

Other government publications also provide information on New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. In each case, the National Inventory Report submitted to the UNFCCC is the ‘source of truth’ for production emissions.

Our atmosphere and climate environmental report

Stats NZ and the Ministry for the Environment report on the state of different aspects of our environment every six months, and our environment as a whole every three years. Environmental reporting is divided into five domains: air, atmosphere and climate, freshwater, land, and marine. The reporting helps us understand our environment, track impacts of human activities over time and identify environmental challenges.

Our atmosphere and climate 2020 is the latest environmental report in this series that provides information on greenhouse gas emissions and removals. This report relies on data from the National Inventory Report and reports produced by Stats New Zealand on consumption-based emissions (see below). It uses this data, along with relevant economic activities and emission targets, to provide key insights into our emissions and trends.

Our atmosphere and climate 2020

Reports produced by Stats NZ on consumption-based emissions

Environmental-economic accounts

Stats NZ produces a range of emissions series as part of their environmental-economic accounting work programme. The environmental-economic accounting approach can inform discussions around climate change by linking environmental, economic, and social data. It brings together economic and environmental information, enabling conversations about the environment in the same language as economics. This is particularly important as New Zealand transitions to a low-emissions economy.

Stats NZ’s emissions data are consistent with the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) Central Framework. While these statistics are not designed to report against national policy targets or are reported to UNFCCC, they are used for international comparisons by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 

Environmental economic accounts [Stats NZ website]

Approaches to measuring New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions [Stats NZ website]

Quarterly Estimates of New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Stats NZ provides timely quarterly estimates of emissions produced by New Zealand residents, which can be used to track emissions in relation to economic activity (GDP) and other economic statistics.

The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) production-based emissions estimates transforms the Greenhouse Gas Inventory data to be consistent with economic classifications and concepts by changing the unit of analysis (from process to industry) and applying the residency principle (as opposed to the Inventory, which uses the territory principle).

While the Stats NZ experimental quarterly estimates are provisional only, trends can be derived earlier than the release of the Inventory (which has a 15-month lag period). The quarterly estimates are released with a 3-4 month lag. 

Quarterly estimates of emissions [Stats NZ website]

Annual production-based emissions

Stats NZ’s includes estimates for 114 industries and households and tourism as a cross-cutting industry. The release shows the production of greenhouse gases on a standard industrial classification basis and is designed to enable emissions data to be compared to economic statistics, such as GDP or employment. This series is suited to showing changes in greenhouse gas intensity or decoupling.

Stats NZ’s emissions data includes emissions from resident New Zealand industries and households, regardless of where the emission occurs. Meanwhile the Ministry for the Environment’s data in New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory records emissions on the domestic territory only. Stats NZ estimates are on average 2-3 percent higher than the Inventory because of these adjustments.

Annual consumption-based emissions

Since August 2020, Stats NZ started publishing estimates of consumption-based emissions, which associate emissions from production processes, foreign and domestic, throughout the entire supply chain, with the final consumer. Emissions are reported by the domestic final consumption groups. Consumption-based emissions are often referred to as a nation’s carbon footprint.

Consumption-based emissions are lower than production-based emissions, as New Zealand emissions embodied in exports exceed emissions embodied in imports.  Consumption-based emissions by New Zealand residents adjust production-based emissions for emissions associated with imports and exports.

Consumption-based emissions [Stats NZ website]

Annual regional emissions

The estimates of greenhouse gas emissions for 15 regions by main industries and households compile emissions on the same basis as that used to measure GDP and other economic statistics. This is for a comparable understanding of regions' emissions in relation to their economic performance.

These statistics are presented on a residency, rather than territory, basis meaning regional estimates may include those from residents undertaking activities in other regions. Regional estimates are based on the production approach to measuring emissions. This approach allows for comparisons to GDP and employment statistics. Indirect emissions, such as from purchased electricity, are excluded.

Estimates of greenhouse gas emissions for 15 regions [Stats NZ website]