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Greenhouse gas emissions rise, but at a slower pace than economic growth

New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 24 percent in the past 25 years, but grew more slowly than the economy in general, Stats NZ said.

The first report of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts shows the impact of what we are doing to the natural environment and what is being done to protect it, as well as the importance of natural resources to the economy.

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 in 2015, the latest available period. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere compared with carbon dioxide. New Zealand’s emissions from economic activity (excluding emissions and removals from land-use change and the forestry sector) hit a peak in 2005, declined until 2009, and rose moderately after that.

The rate of increase in greenhouse gas emissions however, 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 amount to about 0.17 percent of the world’s total.

Agriculture, transport and storage, and electricity, gas, water and waste services accounted for 76.5 percent of industry emissions in 2015. Greenhouse gas intensity declined for all these industries over the 1990–2015 period. The agriculture industry’s carbon dioxide equivalent emissions increased 0.6 percent a year, while its GDP increased 1.4 percent 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 shows that primary industries, such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining, accounted for 57.1 percent of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2015. Goods-producing industries’ share was 24.8 percent, and service industries 11.1 percent. Households accounted for 6.9 percent.

Emissions intensity varies significantly across the three broad industry groups.

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

Primary industries accounted for only 7.4 percent of economic activity, but 61.4 percent of industry emissions, which was mainly due to methane emissions from agriculture. This shows 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 percent of economic activity and 26.7 percent of industry emissions, respectively.

Natural capital

Natural capital is 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,” Ms 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 $38.9 billion. Fish, timber, minerals, and renewable energy contributed $2 billion to the economy, up 25 percent since 2007.

Spending by general government (local and central) on environmental protection reached about $2 billion in 2016, increasing 17 percent from 2009. This represents government spending on goods and services to benefit individuals and communities. It includes 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 percent to 10 percent 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 percent of environmental taxes in 2016, up from 7 percent in 1999. Over the same period the percentage paid by industry dropped from 93 percent to 87 percent.

Source: Stats NZ

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