New Zealand bucks global pollution trend as travel slump bites

By Eloise Gibson of living room

Carbon emissions have not yet peaked in many countries, the report says.

File image.
Photo: AFP

New Zealand has reversed the global trend for carbon emissions to pre-Covid levels, but the reason is not exactly cause for celebration.

This year there will be 50 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there was before the industrial revolution. Global annual emissions have risen above the level of 2019, according to the Global Carbon Budget project.

The oceans mop up carbon dioxide and heat as fast as they can, but can only prevent some of the damage.

At current rates, the world has about nine years’ worth of carbon dioxide emissions before rising above 1.5C of warming – increasing the chances of harsh climate impacts. Deadly heat waves and events like Pakistan’s recent floods are becoming more likely with every fraction of a degree.

Not every country emits more.

The latest results of the Global Carbon Budget project show that China has reduced its carbon emissions in 2022 due to losses. Europe’s emissions also fell, while the US and India rose.

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New Zealand has a system of rapid emissions reporting, which shows that carbon pollution has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, at least as of March 2022.

“There’s a really interesting story behind why we haven’t seen a rebound,” climate scientist and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Bureau member Andy Reisinger told journalists at a carbon project briefing.

Pollution from Aotearoa’s aging and inefficient car fleet soon returned to normal after lockdowns, but emissions from service industries were a different story.

“Service industries haven’t really recovered and that’s partly a reflection of ongoing travel restrictions, renewed lockdowns and of course international travel restrictions,” Reisinger said.

While New Zealand has not yet recovered, it is too soon to say whether carbon pollution has peaked.

To see sustainable drops, the country needs safer walking and cycling, better rail and bus services, cleaner cars, energy efficient homes (with lower energy bills), more wind turbines and solar panels and more crowded housing, independent experts have advised.

Ralph Sims, Emeritus Professor of Sustainable Energy and Climate Mitigation, Massey University, said New Zealand’s emissions were likely to rebound, and questioned why exploration for new onshore oil and gas was still happening in New Zealand.

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Labor has banned oil and gas exploration offshore but still allows it onshore, while the National Party has said it would scrap the offshore ban if elected.

The global carbon survey only looks at carbon dioxide, not methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture, so it only captures about half of New Zealand’s official annual greenhouse effect.

Although carbon dioxide is the country’s largest, longest-lived contributor to future heating, Reisinger noted that methane accounted for most of New Zealand’s contribution to heating so far, according to figures from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Transport and heat – especially industrial heat – are Aotearoa’s biggest carbon dioxide polluters, although the burning of coal at Huntly power station to make electricity also increases the greenhouse effect in dry years.

Despite high per capita pollution (especially for a nation with so much renewable electricity), New Zealand has a lot of plantation forestry, which keeps the net carbon dioxide number much lower than it would be.

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Oceans, trees do not hold

By far the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide this year was fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas (in that order). Deforestation in Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo was also a major planet-warmer.

Trees are still being chopped down worldwide faster than new growth can counter, while both tropical forests and oceans are becoming less effective at absorbing carbon emissions as the planet warms.

On the plus side, 24 countries have reduced their fossil fuel consumption over the past decade while growing their economies, the Global Carbon Budget showed.

The influential – and historically conservative – International Energy Agency now projects that fossil fuels will peak in the near future, as renewable energy becomes cheaper and cheaper.

Countries are also rethinking their reliance on importing foreign oil, coal and gas from a national security perspective, Sims said.

* This article was originally published on Living room.


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