Climate change and our energy use

Climate change is directly caused by our energy choices. In New Zealand, our energy use makes up around 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Those emissions are created when we burn fossil fuels – driving a petrol car or diesel truck, travelling by plane, burning gas for manufacturing or burning coal to create electricity.

Climate change is the most urgent global environmental challenge of our time. We must be bold and accelerate decarbonisation to leave future generations a healthy, stable planet.

A snapshot of New Zealand's emissions

Illustrated statistics: New Zealand has the 4th highest emissions per capita in the OECD, 32% The increase in energy-related emissions since 1990, 62% The increase in transport emissions since 1990..

How New Zealand is tracking

Our targets

New Zealand has a commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is a legislated target, which means it is set in New Zealand law.

We've also committed to reducing net emissions to 50% below gross 2005 levels by 2030. This target is our first target under the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty that New Zealand signed onto in 2015 along with 194 other countries.

While emissions are projected to decrease between now and 2050, we need to ramp up our climate response to meet the 2050 target.

Our gross and net emissions over time

Line graph showing New Zealand's gross and net emissions over time.
Source: Ministry for the Environment – Time series emissions data 1990-2021 from New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory published in 2023.

Net vs gross emissions 

  • Gross emissions are our total greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.  
  • Net emissions include any removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through land use and forestry. 

To reach net zero, we need to significantly reduce our GHG emissions, and offset any remaining emissions through removal of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  

Biogenic methane is not included in our net zero target – we have a separate target for these emissions. Biogenic methane is produced by animals in agriculture, and from organic waste breaking down in landfill. Methane has a separate target because it breaks down more quickly in the atmosphere, which means there is a level of methane emissions that does not lead to global warming.

The language of climate change

Climate change itself is complicated, and the language used to talk about it is no different. We've put together a guide to help explain some of the words and phrases around climate change, from greenhouse gases and carbon offsetting, to the Paris Agreement.

The breakdown of our emissions

Around 40% of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector, including light vehicles, manufacturing and construction, other transport, and electricity generation. The rest of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, waste, and industrial processes. 

Donut graph showing the breakdown of New Zealand's energy-related emissions as percentages..

Climate change and the electricity grid

Get a better understanding of New Zealand's mostly-renewable electricity system, and why the time of day we use electricity makes a difference.

Helpful resources

There's a lot of great information out there on climate change, whether you want to learn more about the science, learn how it’s impacting us, find out what the government is doing, or discover what you can do.

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