Environmental-economic accounts show dairy cattle farming recorded a rise in emissions from 2007–17

Stats NZ has released its latest environmental-economic accounts report which sums up the changes to greenhouse gas emissions across industry and households between 2007-2017.

The report presents the relationships between the environment and the economy, and the stocks, and changes in stocks, of New Zealand’s natural resources.

Emissions from industry accounted for 89 per cent of all of the greenhouse gas emissions in 2017; households make up the rest.

New Zealand’s emissions decreased 0.8 per cent over the 2008-15 period, one of the smaller decreases recorded.

The report says the structure of New Zealand’s economy and its dependency on the primary sector for exports affect its emissions intensity, which was 11th highest among 31 countries in 2015.

New Zealand’s carbon dioxide intensity ranked 21st highest among 31 countries. The difference between these reflects the significant contribution of methane to New Zealand’s emissions profile.

The report contains new estimates of emissions from the agricultural industries.

Industries within agriculture include horticulture and fruit growing; sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming; dairy cattle farming; and poultry, deer, and other livestock farming.

Sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming accounted for over half of emissions from the agriculture industry and 27.1 per cent of total emissions in 2017, making it New Zealand’s largest-emitting industry.

The decline in emissions from the sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming industry was the second largest of all industries from 2007–17. While sheep and beef numbers, and their emissions, declined, increased dairy activity offset these reductions.

Dairy cattle farming was the only agriculture industry to record an increase in emissions from 2007–17, up 2.5 per cent a year, and had the largest increase in kilotonnes of all industries.

Dairy cattle farming accounted for 20.3 per cent of total emissions, similar to the proportion of emissions from the manufacturing, and electricity and gas supply industries combined.

Household emissions

Emissions from households rose 19.3 per cent from 2007–17 mainly due to road transport. Compared with industry emissions, household emissions increased at a faster rate as reflected in its contribution to total emissions, which rose from 9 per cent to 11 per cent over the period.

This increase was faster than the increase in the number of households (up 9.7 per cent over the period), which implies that households have been less efficient at managing direct emissions since 2007.

New Zealand is one of 10 (out of 38) countries that has seen production of emissions by households increase since 2008–15.

Tourism emissions

Emissions from road transport have also been increasing due to the higher number of tourists using road transport. Road transport emissions from international tourists in New Zealand rose 19.3 per cent over 2007–17, amounting to 7.8 per cent of total road transport emissions in 2017.

Tourists use mainly diesel for their fuel. Diesel has a higher emissions factor than petrol, and a higher relative contribution to emissions per dollar spent.

Total emissions from international tourists increased 20 per cent over the period. The emissions intensity of tourism (emissions in relation to tourists’ average length of stay) also increased over the period.

Industry emissions

In 2017, the main industry contributors to total emissions were sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming; dairy cattle farming; electricity and gas supply; and transport.

Total industry emissions decreased 2.9 per cent from 2007–17, driven mainly by the electricity, gas, water, and waste services industry.  This decrease was achieved while the industry’s economic activity continued to grow, and was partly attributable to increased use of renewable energy sources.

Mining and agriculture also contributed to the reduced industry emissions from 2007–17. However, much of these reductions were offset by increases from households and manufacturing, as well as services, construction, forestry, and transport.

From 2007–17, total industry emissions decreased 2.9 per cent (or 2,217 kilotonnes), with decreases coming from:

• electricity and gas supply – down 41.7 per cent (3,359 kilotonnes)
• sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming – down 11.7 per cent (2,969 kilotonnes)
• poultry, deer, and other livestock farming – down 43.6 per cent (727 kilotonnes)
• mining – down 24.6 per cent (497 kilotonnes)
• water, sewerage, drainage, and waste services – down 20.9 per cent (485 kilotonnes)
• non-metallic mineral product manufacturing – down 28.5 per cent (456 kilotonnes)
• rail, water, air, and other transport – down 8.8 per cent (437 kilotonnes)

Emissions increased for:

• dairy cattle farming– up 27.7 per cent (3,636 kilotonnes)
• petroleum, chemical, polymer, and rubber product manufacturing – up 63.1 per cent (1,069 kilotonnes)
• food, beverage, and tobacco product manufacturing – up 44.8 per cent (984 kilotonnes)
• road transport – up 16.5 per cent (548 kilotonnes)
• services excluding transport, postal, and warehousing – up 36.0 per cent (460 kilotonnes)
• construction – up 65.9 per cent (272 kilotonnes)
• forestry and logging – up 54.1 per cent (203 kilotonnes).

The Science Media Centre asked environmental economic experts to comment on the report.

* Professor Emeritus Ralph Sims, Sustainable Energy and Climate Mitigation, Massey University, comments:

“We have well understood the hugely challenging problem of climate change for many years. So it is deeply concerning that New Zealand has not been able to ‘bend the curve downwards’ in that our annual greenhouse gas emissions keep rising.

“The main reduction has been in energy emissions due to the growing shares of renewable electricity in the total mix. This has been accomplished without any government intervention because we have excellent resources – and the share will continue to rise to over 90% soon.”

“The continuing growth in transport emissions is largely due to New Zealanders’ love for the car – the bigger the better! Given that annual SUV sales continue to grow, and the life of a car is 15 to 20 years, government intervention is long overdue to encourage the purchase of low-emitting vehicles. The present policy to encourage electric vehicles is a mere token and a lot more is needed to penalise the large emitters and hence reduce demand for such vehicles. Supporting KiwiRail is a good start.

“Agricultural emissions intensity has declined slightly mainly through increasing productivity on the farm. However, it will be decades before any current research outputs to reduce methane or nitrous oxide emissions from animals will have a real impact.

“So overall we have a major problem to resolve rapidly. The pending climate change legislation (now long overdue) will be essential to start to bring our emissions down but it will need strong regulations urgently imposed to make a difference in the short term – and time is running out.

“International pressure is already growing for New Zealand to do more.

“If only we could attract greater public attention for the problem and thereby gain a high international reputation for our efforts akin to what the Black Caps have achieved in the World Cricket Cup.

“Is winning a game of cricket really more important than our children’s future?”

No conflict of interest.

*  Dr Ivan Diaz-Rainey, Associate Professor of Finance, Climate and Energy Finance Group, University of Otago, comments:

“The report shows that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have essentially flat-lined over the last decade, but some sectors have increased emissions and some have shown a decrease. Electricity and gas saw the largest decline at 41.7 per cent (a decrease of 3,359 kilotonnes) while dairy cattle farming saw the largest rise of 27.7 per cent (a rise of 3,636 kilotonnes).

“The decline in electricity and gas no doubt reflects the increased use of wind energy and geothermal power over the last decade and is definitely the good news story in all this. The rise in dairy emissions were partly offset by a decline in sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming (down 11.7 per cent – a decline of 2,969 kilotonnes). This no doubt reflects changing land use towards dairy.

“Households have also seen a large increase in emissions largely due to road transport. Tourism emissions have also risen as the number of international visitors using NZ roads has increased.

“All-in-all, this is not good news, we still have a very high greenhouse gas intensity compared to other industrialised countries (greenhouse gas emissions relative to GDP) and have performed poorly relative to countries like Denmark that have managed large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

“The report will help set sectoral carbon budgets as part of the Zero Carbon Act, but what is needed the most is policies that reverse the rising emissions trends in some sectors and encourage further declines in the ones that have been falling. Stopping dairy conversions and intensification, encouraging electrification of the light vehicle fleet, as well as product policies that ban inefficient appliances and an enhanced building code that encourages more energy efficient buildings and retrofits, must surely be at the top of the lists of policies needed.”

No conflict of interest.

* Lynn Riggs, Fellow, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, comments:

“The increase in household emissions is an interesting finding despite the fact that the data used for the analysis are limited.  As stated in the report, this finding does warrant further investigation in order to better understand the factors driving this increase.  Household emissions are the one component where people can take action and have the satisfaction that they are helping to make a difference.

“Having said that, it is just as important that people have the information and the resources that they need to affect change.  Oftentimes, efficient appliances and other goods are more expensive than those that are less efficient, and not everyone has the resources to pay that upfront cost even if the purchase will save them money down the road.

“It is also important for people to see that their contributions are making a difference, otherwise it can be easy to minimise our own small individual impact on the world.”

Conflict of interest statement: Motu has produced a household climate action tool that allows households to see the impact of their behaviour changes on their carbon footprint.  

Sources: Stats NZ; Science Media Centre 


Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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