The latest greenhouse gas emission projections show New Zealand making small progress but still falling woefully short of international commitments.

It comes after the latest international climate change meeting, Conference of Parties (COP) 25, in Madrid was slammed widely as a failure for a lack of ambition from major emitters.

Climate change threatens to bring more frequent and extreme storms, drought and wildfire, reef-killing ocean acidification, and higher seas that could help swamp low-lying coastal communities here and around the planet.

Two-thirds of Kiwis live in areas already prone to flooding, and hundreds of billions of dollars of property and infrastructure are at risk.


Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, designed to keep global warming well below 2C, New Zealand pledged to reduce its emissions 30 per cent by 2030 on 2005 levels.

This would be based on keeping emissions over the 2021-2030 period within a "carbon budget" of 601 million tonnes.

While the targets could also be met by offsetting emissions through methods including carbon sinks and trading, New Zealand aims to reduce the vast majority domestically.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says while emissions projections are falling much more work is to be done. Photo / File
Climate Change Minister James Shaw says while emissions projections are falling much more work is to be done. Photo / File

But in the Fourth Biennial Report released today, under the Government's own projections New Zealand was on track for just a 9 per cent reduction in gross emissions by 2030 on 2005 levels.

New Zealand had also pledged to reduce its emissions in 2020 5 per cent below 1990 levels (for the period 2013-2020). While net emissions were forecast to surpass this target, New Zealand could meet it by using surplus units after meeting a previous target.

The projected gross emissions to 2030 were 2.6 per cent lower, and net emissions - taking into account forestry and land use change - 9.7 per cent lower, than those projected in the last biennial report in 2017.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said those reductions showed the Government's policies had made an impact, such as the One Billion Trees policy, but there was much more work to be done.

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"Even with our new policies we will not reach our 2030 commitment, and this tells us we need to go further and faster with our climate change programme.

"Our children and grandchildren will look back on reports like this and rightly tell us
that we knew exactly what needed to be done to help solve climate change.

"The question we must ask ourselves, then, is how we do things differently; how we create clean, safe and healthy communities for ourselves, our loved ones and future

The global Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2C, and ideally below 1.5C.

A 2018 report, issued by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), found that to keep warming below 1.5C, CO2 emissions would need to be halved over the next decade, while other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide would also need to be forced down.

Without climate action, the world was heading for 4.5C of warming by 2100.

Current pledges, if fully realised, would see a rise of 2.8C.

According to Climate Action Tracker New Zealand's 2030 target was "insufficient", and was consistent with warming between 2C and 3C.

But Shaw disputed this, and said it would be role of the recently-appointed independent climate change commissioners to ensure New Zealand's targets were consistent with 1.5C, as per the Zero Carbon Act which came into force in November.

Despite a lack of ambition shown from some major emitters at COP25, Shaw said New Zealand was committed to its target, and focus on reducing domestic emissions rather than offsetting them through carbon credits.

"Our target has not changed, but the intention to increase the proportion of domestic reductions has, and is more ambitious. We do not intend on using get out jail free international carbon credits, and rather focus on decreasing domestic emissions."

The report showed New Zealand's gross emissions had increased 23.1 per cent since 1990, at an average growth of 0.8 per cent annually.

Projections showed gross emissions increasing slightly next year and levelling out, before decreasing from about 2025.

Methane from dairy cattle digestive systems and carbon dioxide from road transport were cited as contributing the most to the increase.

The largest contributors were agriculture at 48.1 per cent, and transport 40.7 per cent, in 2017.

Agricultural emissions growth was mainly due to an 89.6 per cent increase in the size of the national dairy herd since 1990, and the use of nitrogen-containing synthetic fertiliser which had increased about 650 per cent.

The Zero Carbon Act pledged to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases except biogenic methane to net zero by 2050.

Biogenic methane would need to be reduced within the range of 24 per cent to 47 per cent by 2050, with an interim target to cut gross emissions of biogenic methane by 10 per cent below 2017 levels by 2030.

The independent Climate Change Commission - unveiled this week - would advise the Government on how to get to those targets and produce an emissions "budget" every five years saying how many emissions would be allowed in that period.