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What is New Zealand's Carbon Footprint? (and Should You Be Concerned?)

New Zealand Carbon Emissions Green Footprints

New Zealand is clean and green, or so we might think. When it comes to our carbon footprint, we’re way over-sized...

New Zealand’s total share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions may be small on a global scale, but our emissions are disproportionately high.

So yes, you should be concerned.

If we are to keep warming to an acceptable level, we have to act now.

So, understanding your carbon footprint and it's impact is critical, but the terms are confusing and when it comes to figuring footprints out, it can be hard to know where to even begin.

Not to worry. Here, we’ll break NZ’s carbon footprint down and explain how your organisation can measure it's own footprint to start making a change.


First, Carbon... What Actually Is It?

Carbon is a chemical element that can be found nearly everywhere, in pure forms or combined with other elements to form molecules.

Some greenhouse gases are made of carbon-based molecules (e.g. Carbon dioxide and methane), as are fossil fuels, which are largely made up of hydrocarbons, molecules with hydrogen and carbon.

When it comes to climate change, you’ll hear the word ‘carbon’ thrown around a lot. It can get confusing with all the different terms, so here are the main two you need to know:

Carbon Dioxide

When you hear someone talking about ‘carbon emissions’, they will likely be referring to Carbon Dioxide emissions, rather than actual carbon in its pure form.

Carbon Dioxide, or CO2, is created when an atom of carbon combines with two atoms of oxygen. There are both natural and human sources of CO2 emissions. Human CO2 sources come from activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels.

CO2 is considered to be one of the most important greenhouse gases released by humans.

Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint (or inventory) is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the activities of a particular individual, organisation or even an entire country.

CO2 Footprint Cartoon

The name can be misleading, as a carbon footprint is not, in fact, limited to carbon emissions. Instead, it can encompass a variety of greenhouse gases (GHGs), evaluating their collective warming impact.

These GHGs can be expressed in terms of CO2 by using CO2-equivalents (CO2e), based on their relative global warming potential (GWP).

To put it more simply, CO2e allows for other GHG emissions to be “translated” to CO2 units for the purpose of measuring overall emissions’ impact.

This collated set of emissions from a certain activity, individual or organisation is called a carbon footprint.


Where Do New Zealand's Emissions Come From?

The government is working to reduce our impact, through their involvement in the United Nations’ Paris Agreement, the Zero Carbon Bill and other global and national initiatives.

Energy and Agriculture account for a significant percentage of emissions, sitting at 40.5% and 47.8% respectively. These are followed by Industrial Processes and Product Use (6.5%) and Waste (5.1%).

Diagram of New Zealand Carbon Emissions

Above: New Zealand’s emissions profile in 2018

Source: New Zealand Ministry for the Environment (April 2020)

“Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry” or LULUCF is expressed as a negative number because the sector removes more GHGs from the atmosphere than it emits.

Tokelau is an overseas dependent territory.

We’ve included a short breakdown below, but for more information on New Zealand’s emissions by sector, you can click here for the MFE’s interactive emissions tracker.


Energy includes road transport and electricity production, including fuel combustion from construction, manufacturing, and transport.

Manufacturing and Construction industries under the “Energy” sector include a variety of different materials, from Chemicals (1.6% gross) to Food processing, beverages, and tobacco (3.7% gross). This sector accounts for 8.1% of gross emissions in New Zealand.

The big one, however, is transport. Transport includes domestic aviation, railways and road transportation and represents about 20 percent of the country’s total GHG emissions each year.

Traffic Jam Emissions

Some organisations within the transport industry are already making efforts to reduce their carbon footprints. Air New Zealand, for example, has the goal of “stabilising emissions through carbon neutral growth post 2020”. They have implemented multiple initiatives to achieve this, including their “FlyNeutral” carbon offset programme, which allows customers to offset their individual emissions of air travel.

The government has also committed to several initiatives to reduce the emissions from the transport sector.

The Electric Vehicle Programme, which aims to increase the number of electric vehicles on New Zealand roads by 2021, is an example of this.


When it comes to agriculture, on the other hand, it’s a bit more complicated…

Agriculture’s main categories are livestock (37.5% gross) and agricultural soils (8.9% gross). Within the livestock category, “Enteric Fermentation” accounts for a whopping 35.4% of all New Zealand emissions.

Agriculture Emissions Sheep New Zealand

Enteric Fermentation is the digestive process in livestock animals that breaks down food and produces a gas called methane as a result, otherwise known as cow burps.

Methane is particularly problematic when we’re talking about global warming. Despite breaking down in the atmosphere much quicker than CO2, it traps far more heat in the short-term, contributing to rapid warming.

So, what’s being done about it?

Well, the government introduced its Zero Carbon Bill in 2019, setting the lofty target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, there were separate targets set for agriculture. These were set with the goal to reduce biogenic methane 24%-47% by 2050.

There’s a big range when it comes to the target for methane, but one that is in line with the latest IPCC report and should allow the agricultural industry to survive.


Measuring Your Organisation's Carbon Footprint

Like any other footprint, a carbon footprint offers valuable information about what we leave behind. Measuring your organisation’s carbon footprint is a great way of understanding your impact on the earth and from there, reducing it.

When measuring your carbon footprint, it is important to have a solid understanding of your organisation’s data. Energy use, gas, water, and travel (staff commuting, for example) are all factors that are included and having reliable measurements of these is crucial.

The emissions of each of these areas are then calculated and added together to understand the total output of greenhouse gases caused by your organisation. From there, this can be tracked and consequently, managed.

Many organisations are unaware of their carbon footprint/impact because no data is collected or evaluated. While simple data like energy usage can be obtained through invoices or bills, it can take a little more to understand your organisation’s whole impact.

This is where it can be useful to work with a consultant or adopt a carbon reporting software to measure and manage your organisation’s impact.

Calculating your carbon footprint isn’t the finish line. A consultant can help you look at your current footprint as a benchmark and get you working towards improvement.

Carbon EES: Towards Zero

E-Bench Sustainability Logo

Our energy management software solution, e-Bench®, is here to help with your organisation’s carbon footprint.

Managing your organisation’s impact with our e-Bench® software is a great way to start reducing your carbon footprint, differentiating your organisation as sustainable and conscious.

e-Bench® provides easy-to interpret reports that can support informed management decisions when it comes to your footprint. Alongside this, we at Carbon EES provide insights that help you when reducing your emissions and provide support to suit your organisation’s needs.

To learn more about how e-Bench® can help you calculate your carbon footprint and monitor your organisation’s impact, book a time to chat with us at Carbon EES.


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