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New Zealand must reduce emissions by 60 per cent to meet 2030 net zero goal

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New Zealand’s transport sector must decarbonise by 2030 if the country is to meet the Paris Agreement target to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, argues a new report, How to decarbonise New Zealand’s transport sector.

According to analysis by not-for-profit group 1point5 Project, New Zealand needs to reduce emissions by 60 per cent to contribute to the global effort to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

Road transport emissions in New Zealand doubled between 1990 and 2018, due in part to an increase in population and the rise in popularity of SUVs. 1point5 Project argues that to offset agriculture, which accounts for 48 per cent of emissions in New Zealand, the nation must decarbonise road transportation by 2030.

Report co-author Paul Callister believes the hope that the development and uptake of low-emissions vehicles will meaningfully reduce emissions is misplaced. “We don’t believe the EV fleet is going to come in fast enough,” he says.

At 86 per cent, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world. Full decarbonisation by 2030 requires the uptake of nearly 4.7 million electric vehicles at a cost to the public of more than $230 billion.

Decarbonisation measures

Callister says the biggest reductions are found in reducing car travel in big cities, particularly Auckland. “Car dependence – including high car ownership, biased regulations, unhealthy streets prioritised for vehicles, and sprawling development patterns – is at the root of Auckland’s high transport emissions,” Callister and co-author Heidi O’Callahan write in their report.

Reducing sprawl is central to reducing emissions, argue Callister and O’Callahan. “Sprawl and road-building reduce our longer-term resilience, push our emissions up, and cost billions of dollars in public money. The alternative to sprawl – intensification – is a key decarbonisation element, reducing emissions initially by at least 9 per cent, and significantly more over the long term.”

Low and zero-emission transport options must replace car travel, says Callister. “If you’re going to have less driving, you have to have better public transport, and you have to have low traffic neighbourhoods, so people feel safe to bike and walk.”

Callister and O’Callahan cite the example of Seville, which transformed into a city of cyclists after the construction of a 180-kilometre network of cycling lanes and an accompanying public bike-share system. The result was a 452 per cent increase in workday cycling trips in three years.

Callister believes that to be successful, decarbonisation efforts require strong leadership at all levels of government, such as that demonstrated by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who built 260 kilometres of cycle routes in his first term. In February 2021, cycle flows around the city rose by more than 200 per cent. 

“It’s got to be both top down and bottom up,” says Callister.