Today, children are striking, and demanding of us, “If you won’t act like adults, we will.”
Their letter says poignantly:
Soon we will inherit the consequences of this inaction, and we are scared. Will we have a planet worth passing on to our children? Will we face global conflicts because of resource scarcity?…
A worthy petition, indeed, and I hope readers will step up to sign it.
At the other end of the age spectrum, we have also seen this week:
NZ First is slowing progress on the Government’s proposed climate change legislation… NZ First MPs were not keen to see a non-political Climate Change Commission given Reserve Bank-like powers to independently set carbon budgets. The party’s MPs … want to make the law credible but not set agricultural emissions targets to the level preferred by the Green Party. The source described NZ First as essentially to the right of the National Party on the issue.
What a juxtaposition.
If steps we need to take now mean the economy will take a hit, let’s take that hit like adults, instead of leaving it to our children to try to direct change later, when they’re also having to cope with more consequences of climate change, and their costs. In the process, we’ll be setting them up for the most economic success, because:
- innovators of low-carbon solutions will have the best chance of success if they are not having to compete with subsidised polluters offering a cheaper product, and
- places such as Europe will increasingly (where it suits them) be favouring trade partners who have taken the same sort of commitment to combating climate change that they have.
The students ask for transparency, and I second that: Adults are more likely to change their behaviour, and vote responsibly for our children’s future, if we are given good data about the carbon emissions trends due to our behaviour, uncomplicated by sector exemptions, forestry harvests, cross-sector mitigation, and carbon credit purchases.
To cut through the complexity, I believe we should present the data for each sector in turn, while simultaneously understanding the relative contribution of each sector. And this is because in a couple of decades’ time, success would look like this:
- we will be living low carbon lifestyles, made easier by
- built infrastructure that supports low carbon lifestyles, and
- low-carbon business, farming, industrial, municipal and transport practices.
There’s no place in that vision for sluggishness. Any sector whose emissions are hidden needs exposure. Policies need to be altered now to get those emissions on track, and the necessary changes in behaviour, infrastructure and planning happening. There’s plenty that can be said of agriculture and land-use in general, but for now I’d like to hone in on transport. Where does it sit in the overall emissions picture?
The next three graphs are from the New Zealands Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990 – 2016. New figures for 2017 will be released in April 2019. Excluding the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), the inventory shows that the absolute change in emissions for the broad categories since 1990 are:
(IPPU = Industrial Processes and Product Use.)
Clearly the energy sector is a huge contributor. Put as gross emissions, this is:
How does it compare with our commitments? The 2017 briefing to the incoming Minister for the Environment, James Shaw said:
New Zealand ratified the Paris Agreement in October 2016 and it is now in force. The Agreement requires New Zealand to take on progressively more ambitious targets as milestones on a transition to a low emissions economy. New Zealand has communicated its first target under the Agreement, to reduce emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 (corresponding to approximately 11 per cent reduction on 1990 levels). New Zealand also has a target, set in 2011, to reduce emissions to 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.
If energy was to take its share of this reduction, this means:
By 2030, our energy sector emissions will need to be down to about 21000 kt CO2-e
By 2050, our energy sector emissions will need to be down to about 12000 kt CO2-e.
Have a look at where those figures sit on the graph above. Is this possible simply with conversion to sustainable energy production? To understand if we could get on track, we need to understand the contribution from each sector within energy. The inventory says:
Emissions from road transport, which are included in the Energy sector, make up 17.3 per cent of gross emissions.
Yet look at how transport’s emissions have grown:
This growth in emissions is primarily from Road transportation, which increased by 6,137.3 kt CO 2 -e (82.1 per cent), Chemicals, which increased by 1,416.1 kt CO 2 -e (256.0 per cent), and Food processing, beverages and tobacco, which increased by 1,126.8 kt CO 2 -e (67.9 per cent). Emissions from the categories. Manufacture of solid fuels and other energy industries and Public electricity and heat production both decreased appreciably below their 1990 levels, by 1,446.1 kt CO 2 -e (−84.0 per cent) and 463.6 kt CO 2 -e (−13.2 per cent) respectively.
One glaring omission from the inventory is a graph showing the road transport emissions since 1990. In case you think the increases happened early on, and have stabilised now that we have more fuel efficient cars, think again. The jump in road transport carbon emissions between the 2014/15 year and the 2015/16 year was 2.5%. That’s not heading in the right direction, and it’s larger than population increase, too.
What the inventory does give is this chart:
So transport emissions are increasing, and compromising the results of both the overall energy sector and the fuel combustion categories . And with other industry sectors also needing to drop their emissions, it doesn’t seem possible that electrification of the fleet is getting to the core of the problem here – all these sectors will also be trying to reduce their carbon emissions through electrification.
So why is transport performing so poorly? (These emissions aren’t even including our international air travel!)
The next few graphs are from the Ministry of Transport. Here’s a chart of how our driving has increased as a country:
I don’t have these figures back to 1990, but the 2030 target is 30 per cent below 2005 levels.
If road transport was taking its share of the reductions required, and we did this by reducing our travel, we’d need to reduce our vehicle km travelled to 28 billion km by 2030. From the above graph, it appears that instead of reducing, we’re not levelling off, and the rate of increase in our vkt is increasing.
Note that our carbon commitments are not per capita, so we have to solve this on a total vkt and total emissions basis. That requires extra focus.
In future posts I’ll look at solutions for transport in different regions. But just briefly, for Auckland:
The Auckland Plan 2050 has sufficient policy around reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from transport.
Can we act like adults and make this happen?