50 by 50? Yeah…nah

New Zealand’s climate change targets

Posted by Alice Baranyovits @ABaranyovits

New Zealand has a lot to be proud about, it’s an absolutely fantastic country, in fact according to the Telegraph it’s ‘the best country in the world’ and has been for the last 4 years. It’s also a bit of a world leader; in 1893 it became the first self-governing country to give women the vote, it was the first country to introduce the 8 hour working day, zorbing and bungee jumping and need I mention rugby?


New Zealand – the best country in the world

But there is another area where New Zealand is one of the world’s leaders and for once it’s a bad thing (and I’m not talking about the ridiculous house prices) and that’s in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita. In 2011, New Zealand was the fifth highest GHG emitter per capita out of 40 Annex 1 countries (listed here). New Zealand’s emissions per capita, whilst below countries such as Australia and the US, are well above most European countries, China and the world average – check out this graph. This was one of the points brought up during an excellent Royal Society talk I attended on Tuesday night at the Auckland Museum entitled ’10 things you didn’t know about climate change’.

Now I’m not going to go into everything Prof. Tim Naish and Prof. James Renwick discussed during their fascinating but somewhat depressing talk. One of the key take home messages was something I would have hoped everyone is already well aware of, and that’s climate change is happening, its human induced, and it will have impact on the way we live our lives sooner rather than later.

What I do want to talk about is something else that was mentioned during the presentation and that’s the idea of a GHG emission free New Zealand by 2050.  We will already hopefully be celebrating being Predator Free that year so why not go two for one and make it an even more momentous year by becoming GHGs free as well? Imagine the celebrations!

Unfortunately New Zealand’s current climate policy is well off that – with a proposed reduction in net emissions of 50% below 1990 levels by 2050, the ‘50 by 50’. A 5% reduction is proposed for 2020 and then an 11% reduction by 2030. Sadly, things don’t seem to be heading in the right direction; as of 2014 New Zealand’s gross GHG emissions had reached 81.1 million tonnes, that’s a 23% increase on the 1990 levels. Even if the 2050 target of a 50% reduction is reached that’s still well below the targets set by many other countries (e.g. Denmark, & the UK) and the targets proposed by the UNFCCC – an 80-95% reduction for Annex 1 countries, which includes New Zealand.

Both the Royal Society and organisations such as Generation Zero think New Zealand can and should do better. That we should be striving to be a world leader in this too and proving once and for all that New Zealand truly is clean and green. In a recent report the Royal Society highlighted the many advantages that New Zealand has, such as its wealth of renewable energy options, that leave it well placed for the move into a greener economy. They stated that to be successful, there would need to be sound policy, investments and incentives, along with the willingness of New Zealanders to make some lifestyle changes. Tackling the emissions from the agriculture sector (New Zealand’s biggest GHG contributor) will probably be the biggest challenge but not one that can be avoided – check out my previous post.

New Zealand may be small but it’s proven again and again that it can punch above its weight on the world stage and I can’t think of anything better than being a world leader in the fight against climate change – so let’s try and make 2050 a year to remember for all the right reasons.

For more information, check out Generation Zero’s ‘Zero Carbon Act’ and the Royal Society’s reports ‘Facing the future: towards a green economy for New Zealand’ and ‘Setting New Zealand’s post 2020 climate change target’.


Alice Baranyovits is a PhD student at the Centre of Biodiversity and Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. She is researching the movements of kererū in urban areas. She is supervised by Jacqueline Beggs, Mick Clout, Todd Dennis & George Perry.


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