New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions have been growing – but at a pace slower than that of our economy.

That was one of the headline findings of a major report released this morning by Stats NZ, looking at what impact we are having on our environment and what's being done to protect it.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said while it was pleasing to see economic growth out-paced emissions rates, the fact remained that New Zealand had produced 24 per cent more greenhouse gases in the space of just 25 years.

Economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions increased from 1990 to 2015 from 61 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 1990, to about 76 million tonnes.

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Carbon dioxide equivalent was a way of comparing how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere compared with carbon dioxide.

At the same time, New Zealand's emissions from economic activity hit a peak in 2005, declined until 2009, and rose moderately after that.

However, that didn't account for emissions and removals from land-use change and the forestry sector.

The rate of increase in greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and methane from agriculture, was slower than the rate of increase in GDP leading to a decline in greenhouse gas intensity.

"New Zealand is producing more greenhouse gases, but is being much more efficient in doing so," environmental-economic statistics senior manager Michele Lloyd said.

New Zealand's emissions amounted to about 0.17 per cent of the world's total.

However, despite holding just 0.06 per cent of the world's population, New Zealand's gross emissions per person were now fifth highest out of the 41 countries which set reduction targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol - and our net emissions were the 14th highest.

Agriculture, transport and storage, and electricity, gas, water and waste services accounted for 76.5 per cent of industry emissions in 2015.

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Greenhouse gas intensity declined for all these industries over the 1990 to 2015 period.

The agriculture industry's carbon dioxide equivalent emissions increased 0.6 per cent a year, while its GDP increased 1.4 per cent a year.

Greenhouse gas intensity increased for forestry; total manufacturing; food, beverage and tobacco product manufacturing; petroleum, chemical, polymer and rubber product manufacturing; and metal product manufacturing.

The report showed that primary industries, such as agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining, accounted for 57.1 per cent of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2015.

Goods-producing industries' share was 24.8 per cent, and service industries' 11.1 per cent.

Households accounted for 6.9 per cent.

Emissions intensity varied significantly across the three broad industry groups.

In 2015, service industries accounted for 69.1 per cent of economic activity, but only 11.9 per cent of industry emissions, implying a low amount of emissions per unit of GDP.

Primary industries accounted for only 7.4 per cent of economic activity - but 61.4 per cent of industry emissions, which was mainly due to methane emissions from agriculture.

This showed a much higher amount of emissions per unit of GDP.

The contribution of goods-producing industries to both the economy and emissions was broadly similar, accounting for 23.5 per cent of economic activity and 26.7 per cent of industry emissions, respectively.

Under its Paris Agreement climate change commitments, New Zealand has pledged to slash its emissions, by 2030, to 11 per cent below 1990 levels and 30 per cent below 2005 levels.

More recently, the new coalition Government has moved to introduce a Zero Carbon Act – aiming for a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050 – and a new independent Climate Commission to oversee efforts.

The report also looked at "natural capital" – or the stock of New Zealand's natural assets such as soil, air, water and living things.

"We've seen a strong increase in demand for information on the importance of natural capital so decision-makers can consider the environment alongside economic and social outcomes," Lloyd said.

"We are starting to collect data to meet these critical needs, including the stocks of natural resources, what we are doing to the environment, and what we are doing to protect it."

In 2016, fish, timber and renewable energy stocks were valued at $38.9b.

Fish, timber, minerals and renewable energy contributed $2b to the economy, up 25 per cent since 2007.

Spending by general government - local and central - on environmental protection reached about $2b in 2016, increasing 17 per cent from 2009.

That included the management of wastewater or pests and the wages and salaries of staff engaged in these activities.

General government investment expenditure on environmental protection declined from about 15 per cent to 10 per cent of total investment from 2009 to 2016.

Investment expenditure is the net change in the physical assets used for environmental protection, such as for wastewater removal or flood protection.

The average household paid $380 in environmental taxes in 2016.

Households paid 13 per cent of environmental taxes in 2016, up from 7 per cent in 1999.

Over the same period the percentage paid by industry dropped from 93 per cent to 87 per cent.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the new environmental economic data would help explore whether we are sustaining our environmental assets for future generations.

"This is a crucial step in gathering together the kind of information government, business and the primary industries sectors need for good decision-making around sustainable low emissions ways of operating," Shaw said.

"While it's pleasing to see that New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions have risen more slowly than general economic growth over the past 25 years, our emissions have still increased by 24 per cent, and that demonstrates part of the challenge we face if we are to reach our net zero emissions target by 2050.

"And there are gaps in the data; in the area of waste, for instance, but officials are working with stakeholders to fill in those gaps for future environmental economic accounts."

Our natural capital: five key areas

EMISSIONS

• Emissions increased at a faster rate than GDP for forestry; food, beverage and tobacco product manufacturing; petroleum, chemical, polymer and rubber product manufacturing; metal product manufacturing; and total manufacturing. Greenhouse gas intensity has increased for these industries.

• Agriculture, transport and storage, and electricity, gas, water and waste services accounted for 76.5 per cent of industry emissions in 2015. Emissions from all these industries increased but at a slower rate than their GDP, therefore "showing relative decoupling", the report found. The agriculture industry's carbon dioxide equivalent emissions increased 0.6 per cent a year, while its GDP, in real terms, increased by 1.4 per cent a year.

• Primary industries accounted for 57.1 per cent of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2015, goods-producing industries 24.8 per cent, and service industries 11.1 per cent. Households accounted for 6.9 per cent.

• From 1990 to 2015, total economy real GDP increased at a rate of 3.1 per cent a year while carbon dioxide equivalent emissions increased 0.9 per cent a year, driving a decline in greenhouse gas intensity. Emissions growth was 0.5 per cent a year for primary industries, 1.2 per cent for goods-producing industries, and 2.2 per cent a year for service industries.

FORESTRY

• Between 1995 and 2016, total cultivated (exotic) timber resources increased 90 per cent, driven by new planting in the 1980s and 1990s and natural growth.

• In 2016, total timber stocks fell slightly as cultivated timber planted in the 1990s started to reach harvesting age.

• The flow of carbon sequestration services was strongly linked to the real GDP of the forestry and logging industry. As cultivated timber reached maturity over the next decade, GDP for the forestry and logging industry was expected to rise while carbon sequestration services provided by forestry is expected to fall.

• Between 1995 and 2016, total natural (indigenous) timber resources decreased slightly by 0.2 per cent (10,546 hectares or 3,802 thousand cubic metres).

LAND COVER

• From 1996 to 2012, 2.3 per cent of New Zealand's land cover changed classes. Tree-covered areas increased 199,547 hectares (2.2 per cent), while grassland cover decreased 214,581 hectares (1.6 per cent).

• Artificial surfaces increased 24,220 hectares (10.9 per cent). The increase in tree-covered areas was driven by changes from grassland (82 per cent of the change) while a further 20 per cent was due to changes from shrub-covered areas.

• In 2012, grassland accounted for 49.1 per cent of New Zealand's land and tree covered areas.

RENEWABLES

• Electricity generated from renewables accounted for 82 per cent of total electricity generation. Returns to electricity operators from the use of all renewables (resource rent) reached $818m, $574m of which was from hydroelectricity.

• In 2016 the resource rent from geothermal reached $173m (up 9.5 per cent a year from 2007); for wind it was $56m.

• In 2014, water abstraction for hydroelectricity generation was 153,989 million cubic metres. This amounts to an estimated 93 cubic metres per person per day.

FISHERIES

• The value of New Zealand's commercial fish resource was $7.2b in 2016 - up 163 per cent since 1996.

• Rock lobster, with an asset value of $2.4b, contributed 34 per cent of the total value of New Zealand's fish resource.

• The total value of seafood exports increased 12 percent from September 2015 to $1.9b. The number of species included in the quota management system increased from 26 in 1986 to 98 in 2016.

• This did affect the total allowable commercial catch, and catch species and asset value of New Zealand's fish resources. The asset value for the original 26 QMS species increased 60 per cent while the total allowable commercial catch for these species reduced 29 per cent.