New Zealand Climate change Minister: “A pandemic is not the way”

Data from New Zealand showed that the slower activity during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a decline of greenhouse gas emissions but that becoming carbon neutral is still a long way to go.

Sheep in New Zealand

Gross greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 3.5 percent between 2019 and 2020 in New Zealand, according to the Greenhouse Gas Inventory issued on April 12 by the Ministry for the Environment. The country should meet its international 2020 emissions reduction target under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But the decline is mostly explained by the COVID-19 restrictions resulting in slower activity in road transport, manufacturing industries, domestic aviation, construction.

So after weeks of lockdowns, “clearly a pandemic is not the way to tackle climate change,” Climate Change Minister James Shaw said in a statement, with the risk to see emissions bouncing back.

Moreover, gross greenhouse gas emissions increased by 21 percent between 1990 and 2020 in New Zealand. The country pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.

We clearly have a lot to do to get on track to net-zero,” Shaw said.

The inventory shows New Zealand’s gross greenhouse emissions in 2020 were 78.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s approximately 15.4 tonnes per capita for a country of 5.1 million people.

If New Zealand was the 60th world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter according to 2018 comparative data from the Emissions database for global atmospheric research, it was also the 22nd largest emitter per capita with only 7 percent fewer emissions than a United States citizen. Each Australian usually emits 40 percent more greenhouse gas than a New Zealander though.

The major contributors in 2020 were methane from an increase in dairy cattle numbers and carbon dioxide from road transport. The agriculture and energy sectors were the two largest contributors to New Zealand’s gross emissions in 2020, at 50 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Gross emissions in 2020 comprised 43.7 percent carbon dioxide, 43.5 percent methane.

For the Climate change minister, the biggest opportunities to cut emissions lie with methane from agriculture and carbon emissions from transport.

While Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor considers reducing herd sizes would not be necessary to achieve New Zealand’s emission reduction ambitions, Shaw was more open to this solution: “Farmers are better off, they’re less in debt, they’re making more money, they’re getting better value at market and they’re reducing emissions simultaneously”.

But opposition leader Christopher Luxon from the National party considers the government may be too conservative and disagreed there was a need to reduce cattle, RNZ reports. “From my point of view we need to change our mindset a bit, stop being so negative and thinking of farmers as villains”.

In 2021, the number of sheep – approximately 26 million or 5 for every citizen – has been steady in New Zealand. However, beef cattle increased to 4 million, +4 percent to 2020, and dairy cattle to 6.3 million, +1 percent. Dairy exports account for $15.7 billion (US$10.8bn) of the country’s economy, with 40% dedicated to the Chinese market.

Luxon would rather focus efforts on transport and electric vehicles although there is a car discount as an incentive to shift to low-emission vehicles.

The government plans to release the country’s first emissions reduction plan next month. It will also include a carbon budget for the first time. The government is also expected to decide how to manage and price agricultural greenhouse gas emissions later this year.

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