The Spinoff: “Our Inconvenient Truth: New Zealand’s Climate Change Shame”

New Zealand’s carbon emissions have grown, transport is the worst offender

New Zealand likes to call itself clean, green, 100% pure. But, the better informed among us know this lacks a basis in reality.

A few years ago the then Prime Minister likened the 100% pure catch-phrase to a McDonald’s advertising campaign and said it wasn’t to be taken seriously. Yet, the country’s tourism industry is still using it, and New Zealanders have absorbed this kool-aid into their DNA.

Meme from Greenpeace NZ

Now the has written a piece for Climate Change Week, further taking down the myth.

The article, written by Paul Young, starts by comparing the net greenhouse gas emissions for the UK and NZ, saying they were in “stark contrast” and compiled graphs for the two countries based on UNFCCC data. Most of the increase in New Zealand is from energy and industry. Furthermore, New Zealand’s forestry carbon sink has been depleted as deforestation increased and new plantings declined:

A tale of two countries
Outgoing Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright’s final report last month highlighted the stark contrast between the UK and New Zealand. There, net greenhouse gas emissions fell by 38% from 1990 to 2015 (with most of that decrease occurring in the last decade). Here, net emissions grew by 64% in the same time period.

100% pure? Try absolutely, positively dirty

Paul Young then observes that the UK’s emissions for every sector except transport reduced significantly since 1990.

A comparison is made between the sectors, showing that New Zealand’s increase in emissions has been caused by transport, other energy, industrial processes and agriculture.

What is immediately evident is that New Zealand has made very little reduction in any of its sectors – there’s a slight drop for power, and a whisker for waste, but these are dwarfed by the huge reductions made by the UK, especially in waste and energy.

Perhaps 100% pure should be changed to absolutely, positively dirty?

Next, New Zealand’s carbon emission performance is compared with other developed countries, using emissions per capita and per unit of GDP. “New Zealand is one of the most emissions-intensive countries by either measure”.

Sweden, Switzerland, Chile, France, and Spain are way ahead of New Zealand, but what is startling is that New Zealand’s non carbon dioxide GHG emissions are far and beyond the highest in the developed world…

As you can see, New Zealand is one of a small handful of developed countries whose emissions have grown since 2010. Chile (which only just meets the World Bank’s ‘high-income’ threshold and has low per capita emissions) and Japan (whose emissions increase was due to increased reliance on coal and gas following the Fukushima disaster) can arguably make excuses. South Korea, Canada and New Zealand will struggle to come up with justifications…

…it is possible that New Zealand has had the highest growth in net emissions in the developed world since 2010.

New Zealand’s inconvenient truth

The article ends with the stark summary that New Zealand is doing very poorly at reducing its emissions and is one of the developed world’s highest emitters per capita and per unit of GDP.

In-line with other observations has been making about kool-aid, myths, and excuses, the author states:

We continue to rely on excuses (or myths), rather than look at the real reasons for our poor performance, like our weak and ineffective laws and policies.

I suspect most New Zealanders are unaware of this information, and many will be shocked. If we want to be true to the values we espouse and the stories we tell about our nation, we need to stop kidding ourselves with soothing platitudes, and get to work.

New Zealand needs to do the hard yards

Its time for New Zealand to put aside its slick, misleading marketing, and actually do the hard yards with reducing its carbon emissions, rather than relying on ad campaigns to do the job.

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5 thoughts on “The Spinoff: “Our Inconvenient Truth: New Zealand’s Climate Change Shame”

  1. Once upon a time people used to car pool (where I am from anyway). Neighbours and workmates actually communicated with one another back then. Nowadays it’s one person per car. Despite all the environmental pressures on the planet – kiwis have become even more car dependent than ever. Public transport is piecemeal outside the cities or just plain non-existent. Kiwis are in general are very dismissive when it comes to public transport (they almost look down on it). The kiwi attitude is “if you can’t take your own car and park outside the door – then it can’t be worth going!” 4WDs are nowadays a kiwi obsession. Once upon a time they were the preserve of the farming and forestry sectors. Today they cannibalise parking spaces and are parked 10 deep outside the school gates – as mothers ferry their offspring to and from the classroom. It kind’a makes you realise why New Zealand has such an obesity epidemic – as well as air quality issues… Common sense would dictate it is not healthy by any means! What’s more it is hard to believe such attitudes and behaviour exist in 2017 and that this culture of ignorance continues to grow. It is certainly something to be wary of if you are coming to New Zealand (to live) and have strong environmental convictions.

  2. I left NZ in 2016 and returned home to Europe and when I recently visited Iceland I wondered once again WHY power is so ridiculously expensive in NZ. Iceland and NZ are both small countries on remote islands, both have volcanism due to their location. Well, Iceland’s energy is 65%geothermal energy, 20% hydro energy and the rest comes from Wind Energy and fossil fuels. Energy is cheap and renewable (read: environmental friendly) and Iceland really is 100%pure, such a clean country ( which also happens to be the most peaceful one). WHY can’t NZ do the same? They do have the same prerequisites after all and it’s a small Country, it can’t be that hard to implement change, right?!?!

  3. The magnitude of electrical power supply in NZ is generally weather dependent and can change form year to year on the flip of a coin. During dry years when there is less water in all the small NZ (never had pumped) hydro lakes, and when the Huntly coal/gas plant kicks in, the short term positive trend will flip. So maybe next year, NZ will be shitting itself in the power sector too. Also, there are no more good hydro lakes that can come into use without damaging areas of natural beauty. They are trying… believe me. But crappy little lakes on DOC land is a drop in the ocean and pointless. Need something BIG. That is going to piss a lot of people off eventually.

    Believe it or not, economically viable geothermal also has limited room to expand into the medium-term future. People do not seem to realize that.

    And one day the gas will be gone… They keep selling it off at export prices!

    Kiwi’s hate wind power (think of the property prices). How much more money, time and social chaos just to get a few hundred MW consented…

    A 100 MW in NZ is big 🙂

    The uptake rate of small-scale distributed generation in NZ is a bad joke. Again, think of the property prices next door to my little garden turbine. Then there is the Kiwi rip off pricing of the seconds-rated solar equipment and half arsed installation that will corrode on your roof/fail within ten years before I even get close to recouping my investment. Not viable.

    Your electricity co will buy back your excess distributed power at the same retail prices they charge you? Yeah RIGHT! Wholesale prices, minus tax. Or shove it up your backside.

    Back to coal in the future then. That is why they refuse to close Huntly? *

    I have to say, the UK is looking pretty progressive vs. NZ. Really progressive given the original starting point. Having left many years ago because things were looking shit there (socially and environmentally), I am surprised. Wow!

    The Kiwi’s have had all the opportunities, and the best starting point in the world given all the green power development during the 20th Century when NZ was relatively wealthy and genuinely progressive. Look at all those hydro canals down on the south island!!! When I saw it, I couldn’t believe this system was built by Kiwis. Where are those Kiwis now? Dead, retired, gone.

    Now they build gas power plants, cos it is easier and currently cheaper. The future? Not their problem.

    Kiwi denial rules.

    * You may remember Huntly, from that outrageous racist attack by Megan Walton on those non-white ladies passing through the area. Last I heard, a warrant was issued for her arrest because she ran away and could not bother to appear in court for sentencing – cannot find ANY updates on this in the NZ ‘press’ – what it is she doing now? Did the police even get close to finding her?

    • The recycling outfit in my local town is a good example of modern day kiwi environmental protection.Theres a solid wall with slots in it and customers spend hours separating green glass from clear glass from brown glass and then inserting them through the appropriate hole ,sounds good the flaw in the system is that then they take it all and dump it all into one big skip bin and crush it together,depending on demand it gets mixed with roading materials or buried in landfill.

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