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  • Rights: Crown Copyright 2020, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
    Published 15 October 2020 Referencing Hub media

    Drew Bingham from the Ministry for the Environment discusses two approaches for looking at greenhouse gas emissions: production and consumption.

    Notes: When Drew talks about energy, he is referring to the energy we use to create goods or fuel our vehicles – for example, electricity and fossil fuels. This differs from the energy that humans add to the atmosphere via greenhouse gas emissions.

    Drew also talks about GDP, which stands for gross domestic product. GDP is the total value of goods and services produced in a country during a specific time period, normally a year. GDP is used as an economic indicator to show the economic health of a country.

    Questions for discussion:

    • What is the most common way of reporting New Zealand’s emissions?
    • Who do you think should be responsible for greenhouse gas emissions – the country that makes the goods or the people who use them? Why?
    • Why do you think that New Zealand’s carbon dioxide emissions are increasing even though technology is creating more fuel-efficient vehicles?



    Economic activity has been one of the main drivers of the increasing emissions in New Zealand and around the world. So our emissions are also driven by a couple of other high-level forces – our energy intensity of our economy, so how much energy are we using to create the goods and products that we use every day, and it’s also being driven by the carbon intensity of our economy, so how much carbon dioxide are we releasing to create that energy that we use.

    In New Zealand, our energy intensity and carbon intensity have been decreasing, but that’s been offset by our increasing economic activity. Globally, the decreases in energy intensity and carbon intensity haven’t been enough to offset the increased growth from GDP, and the increasing population, and that’s why global emissions are continuing to increase.

    There’s two different ways of looking at our greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand. The more common way is to look at all the emissions that come from within our borders. We just total up everything that comes from our farms, from our cars, from our industry, and that’s the number we use to report for our international reporting obligations and for our carbon reduction targets.

    The other way of looking at our emissions is in what’s called a consumption-based approach, and that’s more like looking at your carbon footprint. And it incorporates emissions that come into New Zealand through our imports. So, for example, we might import a car, and that car was manufactured in a factory, which produces emissions. In this approach, those emissions would count as New Zealand emissions, because the product is being used in New Zealand by New Zealanders.

    The consumption-based approach contains all the emissions that are embodied in all the products that we use every day – to make them and to ship them – no matter where they’re made. A lot of the products that we use every day – for example, electronic products, our clothes – are made overseas and imported.

    Globally, most of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is from burning fossil fuels. Most of the world gets its electricity from fossil fuels, in particular coal. In New Zealand most of our carbon dioxide emissions are from our transport, so the cars that we drive. There’s been a couple of things that have been contributing to this. One of them is a changing preference in New Zealand for larger vehicles that emit more carbon dioxide. So there’s been more 4x4s and utes and pickup trucks being sold and used. We also have an increasing population and one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world.

    Drew Bingham, Ministry for the Environment
    Woman on smartphone, Kong Yuen Sing, released under CC BY 3.0
    Shopping mall and Queen Street footage, Jeck Nuqui, released under CC BY 3.0
    Sneaker shop display, AroundU, released under CC BY 3.0
    Car production at factory, VIP public, released under CC BY 3.0
    Logistics footage, TOLL Netherlands, released under CC BY 3.0
    Smartphone manufacture, Technical Buddy Ajju, released under CC BY-NC 3.0
    Garment manufacture, Chengdu, China, Dylan Cawthorne, released under CC BY-NC 3.0
    Robert W. Scherer Power Plant, Georgia, USA. Desiree Kane, released under CC BY-NC 3.0
    Footage of traffic in suburban streets, LEARNZ, released under CC BY-NC 3.0


    This resource has been produced with the support of the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ. (c) Crown Copyright.

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