5 Things You Need to Know About Getting to Zero

Today a new report from Vivid Economics has been released which sets out a number of different pathways or scenarios that New Zealand could use to get our carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050. This research is the start of an important discussion that will hopefully lead to a plan that all political parties can agree to. So what does the report tell us?


Image Copyright: rudall30 / 123RF Stock Photo

1. It is doable

The first point is that the goal of net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 is achievable with existing technologies, or those that are already in development. However, it won’t be easy, and it won’t mean all our climate emissions get to zero by that date.

2. There are low hanging fruit

The second point is that there are lots of things that we could get on with right now that are low cost or might even save us money. Things like improving energy efficiency are a total no brainer because they can save us money by cutting our power or fuel bills, and reduce emissions at the same time. The challenges are a lot bigger than simply improving home insulation as the Government has been doing up until now. Houses and small businesses need a huge amount of help to do to get up to speed with the energy efficiency that is seen overseas in new homes, cars, machinery and appliances.

A strong focus on energy efficiency is exactly what was proposed in TOP’s Climate Policy, released a couple of weeks ago. This is how we would reinvest the revenue gained by having a higher price on carbon in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

3. But that won’t be enough to get us there

We should get stuck into those low hanging fruit as soon as we can, because we need to do a lot more to get us to our target by 2050. The Vivid Economics report suggests that New Zealand has two broad strategies for getting to net zero carbon dioxide; massive changes in the way that we use our land and/or rapid technological change. Neither of these is straightforward, and they both present some costs. Most likely we will need to do a bit of both.

4. Land use change will be needed

New Zealand has plenty of land, so changing the way we use that land to emit less greenhouse gases or ideally store carbon is a massive opportunity for us. Does that mean we need to start shooting cows as Federated Farmers sometimes claim? No, there are low hanging fruit here too; the 1.1m hectares of low productivity, erosion prone land that we have in this country. This needs to be planted in permanent forest as soon as possible, which again is part of TOP’s climate plan.

After that the choices will get a lot more difficult, but we can help matters by taking action now on improving water quality as proposed in TOP’s environmental policy. This would help stabilise our climate emissions from agriculture at the same time. Whether or not we should be aiming to stabilise agricultural emissions (particularly methane) or get them to zero is the subject of some debate internationally as we discussed in our climate policy.

5. Technology will also play a big role

We will certainly need to make use of new technologies to get us over the line with our target of zero emissions by 2050. Much of that technology already exists and is getting cheaper, such as electric vehicles and gadgets that can help us reduce our home electricity use (especially at peak times). The bigger challenge will be transforming the way some of our large businesses operate – such as the coal-powered operations at Fonterra and NZ Steel.

As set out in the TOP plan we need to limit the amount of carbon permits traded in the Emissions Trading Scheme and allow the market to bid up the price of carbon. Meanwhile we get on with picking the low hanging fruit, while we work up the detail of how we are going to deliver the harder stuff. 

Showing 15 reactions

  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-03-26 09:39:59 +1300
    “shouldn’t NZ ‘pay’ for the carbon content of the imported goods we consume like cars, TV’s etc. " yes we should, all we have done is really export our manufacturing to the developing world whee they burn carbon on our behalf. Can this be made to happen however? as Steve Cox says how a) do you work it out? b) how do you stop cheating? c) how do you reduce the impact on the poorer in NZ but still making them change their ways? Price is a good way of doing such a thing but its a highly regressive tax to do so.
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-03-26 09:36:04 +1300
    @ray “Surely it is the final consumption that is the issue.” agree on 2 levels. a) Some years ago european butter manufacturers tried to claim using only airmiles costs that their EU made butter was better than NZ butter as it wasnt shipped around the world, conveniently ignoring that because their livestock was all barn fed their total emissions was actually worse than NZ’s grass grown produce. Of course NZ farmers now import palm kernels to boost production when the price of milk solids justifies it the damn things should be banned from NZ! b) Consumption is down to population so less population means less consumption but no party wants to have that conversation with voters, yet we are on a finite planet.
  • Steve Cox
    commented 2017-03-26 08:33:15 +1300
    Hi Ray
    I’m in agreement with your general idea, but the devil is in the detail.
    Just because India want to make steel using NZ coal then Solid Energy shouldn’t be paying a carbon tax on that exported coal.
    Fletcher Building then import that steel. How do you assign a carbon tax value to that steel? Do you have a rate for steel regardless of origin, or a country by country rate depending on their average carbon emissions, or go to the individual “We only use 100% recycled energy” rate. That last option being open to rampant lying, misrepresentation and corruption.
    I’d prefer an international agreement where each country was given an independent rating and that was applied as the basis for taxing carbon emissions on imports and exports, but good luck on getting the US and China to agree to something like that.
  • Ray McKeown
    commented 2017-03-24 20:48:12 +1300
    Why do we target the cost of carbon usage at production or a national level. Surely it is the final consumption that is the issue. If we can produce the lowest carbon wine, meat etc shouldn’t the world favour ours over other higher carbon producers? Under the current approach we could end up reducing our production of goods and end up with a net global increase in emissions. Similarly shouldn’t NZ ‘pay’ for the carbon content of the imported goods we consume like cars, TV’s etc.
    I’d like to see NZ chasing after an economy where our consumption of carbon was net zero not necessarily our production.
  • James P Barton
    followed this page 2017-03-24 16:23:31 +1300
  • Steven jones
    commented 2017-03-24 15:10:41 +1300
    We are at peak oil (ie max production per day) now and by 2050 there will effectively none left in our economy anyway. The problem is once we drop off the oil production plateau the economic effects will be like a GFC on steroids out until 2050. So while some might thing its laudable to be off oil, its not optional, we will be off oil because we cant afford in increasing amounts to pay for extracting what is left.
  • Kate Tyson
    followed this page 2017-03-22 21:51:40 +1300
  • Steve Cox
    commented 2017-03-22 14:24:13 +1300
    Hi Megan and Oliver
    My preference would be for a do-it-yourself WOF system for rental properties.
    Have the Tenancy Tribunal, Landlords Assn and Tenants Assn produce a standardised checklist that would be filled out by the landlord, signed and dated.
    That checklist would form part of the tenancy agreement and be conclusive proof against the landlord if it wasn’t correct. No checklist would be the worst offence: – rent-free (maybe back-dated) until one is produced.
    The checklist couldn’t be more than two years old so long-term tenants would be covered, but a new tenant means a new checklist.
    This would save the landlord money as they wouldn’t need to pay a new industry of Rental WOF Inspectors.
    But whether its a WOF or checklist there are still going to be problems around things such as that mouldy back bedroom. Is it mouldy but just cleaned up before the new tenant moves in or is it the tenant doing something wrong?
    And finally any completed checklist would be a public document; no trying to keep it secret.
  • Oliver Krollmann
    commented 2017-03-22 10:54:18 +1300
    Megan, most electric vehicles can be trickle-charged from a standard household power outlet, so unless there was no power outlet in the carport or garage at all, you (or the landlord) shouldn’t have to do anything.
    Even if it was one of the few vehicles that require a 15A (campervan) outlet it won’t cost the world to put that in, and it should be a no-brainer for the landlord to agree to that, or even do it for you, as it improves the property.
    If the landlord didn’t agree to any required upgrades to support an EV you’d have to seriously question their business acumen.
    Being compatible with and ready for EVs should also be part of a future rental property WOF.
  • John Hyndman
    commented 2017-03-22 10:53:56 +1300
    I have just read Prof Jim Flynn’s book on climate change. Prof Flynn is Prof Emeritus from Otago University and his book is well written (he is a philosopher and not a climate scientist). He has done intensive research and visited researchers at Oxford University and in the USA so has the very latest research at his disposal. He states that the potential melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice has been seriously underestimated in sea level rise projections. The general opinion is that sea level will rise around 1 metre by 2100. However he believes this may be a serious underestimate and 5 – 8 metres is more likely. These suggestions have been strongly disputed by NZ climate change academics. If Jim Flynn is correct then we can say goodbye to places such as South Dunedin, Christchurch, Invercargill and Blenheim to name a few.
    Even if Jim is only partially correct, the value of coastal real estate will plummet when sea level begins to rise significantly. This will have major consequences for the NZ economy and I do not think the NZ public has any idea of how serious this threat is. We can guarantee a rise of 2 degrees temperature and the likelihood is 2-4 degrees. The changes to the ice melt are probably irreversible now but if not they certainly will be by 2030 unless substantial changes are made immediately to mitigate the rise in greenhouse gases.
  • Oliver Krollmann
    followed this page 2017-03-22 10:43:26 +1300
  • Steve Cox
    followed this page 2017-03-22 07:20:13 +1300
  • Megan Elizabeth Owen
    commented 2017-03-21 23:02:46 +1300
    Your rental policy and climate change policy have a synergy you may not be aware of. As a tenant it is difficult to make the investment in an electric vehicle because I need to pay for power to be installed to the carport (my landlord won’t pay which is fair enough). But what if I do this and have to leave my flat? I may have to pay for new wiring every time I move house… that is a huge risk in a finely balanced decision. Or what if my landlord refused permission? If I knew I could stay put, and had the right to improve my rental home in any way that didn’t require a building or resource consent, then I could readily invest in an electric vehicle. And that bodes well for climate change.
    You should support the Greens WOF for housing as it improves energy efficiency and health outcomes. Good ideas don’t just have to come from TOP 😊
  • Patrick J. O'Dea
    commented 2017-03-21 21:46:18 +1300
    It is my opinion that conservative politicians need to support at least one iconic supply side policy to be taken seriously as wanting to act on climate change.

    In the US, conservative Republican climate change politicians need to come out strongly against the XL pipeline.

    In NZ, the TOP party and other conservative politicians need to come out strongly against Deep Sea Oil drilling.

    That the TOP party did not do this at their climate policy launch in South Dunedin, is in my opinion where TOP climate policy fell down.
    By refusing to challenge the fossil fuel producers, the oil and coal companies, and essentially offering nothing new, the TOP climate change policy launch failed to capture the public and the media’s attention, barely leaving a ripple.
  • Gary Hayman
    commented 2017-03-21 14:30:58 +1300
    If we were to change the farming principles to where the focus is upon soil improvement such as Savory Institute advocate we would actually achieve carbon sink. Look at Soil Carbon Cowboys video on Vimeo – links of my environment page on my website [email protected]