What will a carbon neutral economy look like?

As 2019 nears the starting line, one of the issues that I have spent time wrestling with, and I am sure others have to is how will New Zealand make the transition from oil and gas to a carbon neutral state by 2050. Can we even do it?

This article examines the commentary of an opinion column by Neil Holdom on Stuff on how, or indeed whether, New Zealand can make the transition.

My responses to individual parts of the article are below:

“Unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country,” she said.

Okay, so your government might have made the decision to ban oil and gas by 2050. But there was not a plan in place – if you had said at the start of your Government, that a major decision on oil and gas might be a few years away, but that it would be backed by a substantial plan, I would have applauded you; National would have been left scrambling and your planning credentials as well as your green ones would have had a major boost.

But since then little has been written about what a net carbon zero 2050 Aotearoa will actually look like.


What is really surprising is the lack of attention being paid to some very obvious first steps, such as introducing a nation wide recycling scheme for all aluminium. This is a pretty simple, relatively easy thing to do and it would potentially have a near immediate impact if successful.

Another one would be acknowledging and assisting the growth of hybrid vehicles. Yes they might be users of petroleum, but this is a 30+ year project and filling the gap between the old gas guzzling fleet and a bunch of electric cars that among other things still have perception issues around plugging in.

New Zealand produces around 80 million tonnes of carbon annually and our forestry sector absorbs around 20 million tonnes, leaving a balance of 60 millions tonnes to be dealt with.

The article acknowledges the forestry sector and the announcement by Minister for Regional Development, Shane Jones (N.Z. First)that 1 billion trees will be planted and that steps are underway to make this happen.

Whales are also good carbon traps. A sperm whale can account for a similar level of carbon as 690 acres of forest. Protecting and encouraging whales to visit our shores could have a positive contribution to reducing carbon emissions as well as prop up the whale watch industry.

But as yet no one has talked about how to tackle the dairy sector which produces much of New Zealand’s carbon emissions. Through the biological processes of their two stomachs, cows belching put out about. In 2009 a litre of milk manufactured by Fonterra created about 940 grams of carbon dioxide, which would have made the then carbon cost of the then 15 billion litres per annum of milk, about 15 million tonnes.

Ten years later having had an explosion of dairying and becoming a $13.4 billion industry by 2017, with 21.0 billion litres of milk manufacturing 1.8 billion kilogrammes of milk solids, the growth in carbon emissions would be significant.

I find it interesting that little evidence of a co-ordinated approach exists to climate change. I do not see an effort to get the various economic sectors, Ministries of the Crown engaged. There are substantial opportunities to get a healthy green technology sector established here, but I do not see anyone having a clue of how to get started.

So, as the first full year of this Labour-Green-New Zealand First coalition comes to an end, it would appear that New Zealand First is the only party that has seriously given any thought to an increasingly urgent problem.

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