Aotearoa sets course to net-zero with first three emissions budgets

Climate Change

Climate Change Minister James Shaw today announced New Zealand’s first three emissions budgets, another milestone on of the journey toward a zero-carbon future.

“Today’s announcement means our net-zero future is closer than ever before. There’s much more to do, but having these binding budgets in place is a critical part of our strategy to rapidly cut out the pollution that causes climate change.

“Meeting the budgets will help to create new industries and high-value jobs; lower household energy bills; a more climate-friendly agriculture sector; warmer, drier homes; exciting new technologies; the protection of native species and eco-systems; cost savings for businesses; and greater resilience in the face of increasing global uncertainty,” James Shaw said.

An emissions budget is the total amount of greenhouse gases that can be put into the atmosphere over a period of time. The three emissions budgets announced today set out the total amount of emissions New Zealand must cut over the next 14 years. The Zero Carbon Act requires that emissions budgets are met through domestic action alone.

“In the last term of Government we passed legislation that enshrined in law a long-term target to reach net-zero by 2050. To keep all future Governments on track towards meeting the net-zero goal, the Zero Carbon Act established a system of five-yearly emissions budgets that would act as stepping stones towards the 2050 target.

“The first three emissions budgets that I am announcing today will ensure New Zealand is playing its part fully in the worldwide effort to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees,” James Shaw said.

The Emissions Reduction Plan, which Minister Shaw today confirmed will be released on Monday 16 May, will set out exactly how the Government plans to deliver on the first emissions budget. The Minister of Finance will also outline the first investments from the Climate Emergency Response Fund on the same day.

“The actions taken by our Government over the last four and a half years have already reduced the trajectory of our future emissions. But we know there is much more we must do to really bend the curve downwards until we hit net-zero.

“That is why the Emissions Reduction Plan I will publish next week is so important – because it requires nearly every part of Government to act to reduce emissions right across the country and to ensure all New Zealanders benefit from the transition.

“The Emissions Reduction Plan will be a blueprint for a more equitable, more prosperous, and more innovative future – and all within planetary limits,” said James Shaw.

In its advice to the Government, the Climate Change Commission recommended a special Parliamentary debate on the first three emissions budgets, prior to the publication of the Emissions Reduction Plan itself. That debate will happen this coming Thursday. 

Further Information

Cabinet has agreed that the first three emissions budgets will be:

  • Emissions Budget 1 (2022–2025): 290 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gasses (72.4 megatonnes per year)
  • Emissions Budget 2 (2026–2030): 305 megatones (averages 61 megatonnes per year) [in principle]
  • Emissions Budget 3 (2031–2035): 240 megatonnes (48 megatonnes per year) [in principle]

Emissions budget 1 averages out at 72.4 megatonnes per year. That equates to two megatonnes per year less than the five-year average leading up to this point (2017-2021), and 3.1 megatonnes less than projected emissions for 2022 to 2025.

Emissions budget 2 averages out at 61 megatonnes per year. That equates to an average of 13.4 megattones per annum, nearly twenty percent below average annual emissions from 2017 to 2021.

Emissions budget 3 averages out at 48 megatonnes per year, which equates to an average of 26.4 megatonnes per annum, or about thirty-five per cent, less than the average annual emissions from 2017 to 2021.

Rather than setting a target for emissions to reach a certain level in a single year, an emissions budget represents a multi-year target. The budget-based approach the Government established through the Zero Carbon Act is better for the climate, as it is not only emissions in a single year that impact climate outcomes.

The emissions budgets announced today are not the same as New Zealand’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, which is also managed as a multi-year emissions budget (from 2021 to 2030).

The Zero Carbon Act requires there to be three consecutive emissions budgets (one current and two prospective), in place at any one time. The law requires that these budgets be met through domestic alone.

The Paris Agreement, on the other hand, recognises that while countries need to take action at home, they can also work with other nations to cut emissions. That is why New Zealand’s new NDC goes beyond the domestic emissions budgets Cabinet has agreed.