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Ambition gap

What is New Zealandʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

1.5°C compatible pathways

New Zealand updated its NDC in November 2021 with a stronger 2030 target. The updated NDC is not Paris Agreement compatible, and it is equivalent to a 38% reduction from 2005 levels excluding LULUCF.

The Minister for Climate Change requested the Climate Change Commission to advise on a 1.5°C consistent target. The Commission did not recommend a specific target, ´but that it should be “much more than 36%” below 2005 levels by 2030, leaving the decision to policy makers.22 These recommendations informed the NDC update, which failed to achieve a 1.5°C consistent target. 1.5°C compatible pathways require New Zealand to reduce emissions by 46% below 2005 levels by 2030, equivalent to around 44 MtCO₂e in 2030 excluding LULUCF.

The target has questionable environmental integrity on two counts.1 It sets the 2030 net emissions target based on gross 2005 levels. Including the forestry carbon sink in 2005 and excluding it in 2030 creates a higher baseline. Secondly, New Zealand uses different accounting approach for forestry which effectively further lowers the target.34

New Zealand released a consultation document on the first emissions reduction plan to meet its 2022-2025 emissions budget, seeking ideas for emissions reductions, with the plan scheduled for release end of May 20222. However, the government has been clear that it will have to meet as much as two thirds – or ~100 MtCO₂e – of its target through buying international carbon offsets.4

New Zealand emissions need to immediately peak and rapidly decline and it needs to ramp up its climate policy and targets. A key focus should be agriculture, as this sector is responsible for the largest share of emissions. Other key sub sectors include transport and energy use in industry as high emissions intensive sectors.

Long term pathway

In 2019, New Zealand legislated its “net zero” emissions target into law under the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act. The target aims for net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases other than biogenic methane by 2050. The Act also targets 24-47% below 2017 biogenic methane emissions by 2050.35

Setting a more lenient target for the agriculture sector is not aligned to a Paris Agreement compatible pathway when considering the huge share of emissions produced. To align to a Paris Agreement compatible pathway, New Zealand should start reducing GHG emissions rapidly to around 22 MtCO₂e/yr by 2050 excluding LULUCF which translates in 73% below 2005 levels. In contrast, the current long term targets are estimated to reach 49 to 68 MtCO₂e/yr by 2050 excluding LULUCF, which is only a reduction of 16-40% compared to 2005 levels.23 When considering projected LULUCF sinks, net zero GHG could be reached before 2040.33,36 ,

Taking a slower pathway or delaying peaking emissions would require costly negative emissions technologies to compensate. Most of the analysed 1.5°C compatible pathways show a fully decarbonised energy sector by 2040 and contribute negative emissions thereafter. The largest share of remaining emissions by 2050 will be from agriculture. Paris Agreement compatible scenarios show agriculture emissions ranging from 11-39 MtCO₂e by 2050, mostly coming from methane, which need to be compensated by negative emissions.

1 CAT. New Zealand, CAT Climate Target Update Tracker. Climate Action Tracker. (2021).

2 Ministry for the Environment. Te hau mārohi ki anamata Transitioning to a low-emissions and climate-resilient future Have your say and shape the emissions reduction plan. (2021).

3 CAT. New Zealand – September Update. Climate Action Tracker. (2021).

4 Daalder, M. New Paris Target Might Actually Reduce Emissions, A Bit . Newsroom, (2021).

5 Gütschow, J., Jeffery, L., Gieseke, R. & Günther, A. The PRIMAP-hist national historical emissions time series (1850-2017). V.2.1. GFZ Data Serv. (2019).

6 United Nations Climate Change Secretariat. Summary Of GHG Emissions For New Zealand. 0–3 (2021).

7 Ministry for the Environment. New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2018. New Zealand Government. (2020).

8 Ministry for the Environment. New Zealand’s Fourth Biennial Report Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2019).

9 Woods, M., Parker, D. & Shaw, J. Government delivers next phase of climate action . Beehive. (2021).

10 Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment. Energy in New Zealand 20. (2020).

11 Climate Bonds Initiative. AUS & NZ Green Infrastructure list. Climate Bonds Initiative. (2018).

12 Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment. Energy strategies for New Zealand. New Zealand Government. (2021).

13 EECA. Clean and Clever Energy Progress Report. (2020).

14 He Waka Eke Noa Steering Group. He Waka Eke Noa Discussion Document, Steering Group Discussion Document to support Partnership Targeted Engagement Nov/Dec 2021. (2021).

15 Government of New Zealand. New Zealand’s Action on Climate Change. (2016).

16 New Zealand Government. Reducing government fleet emissions. New Zealand Government Procurement and Property. (2021).

17 New Zealand Government. Public sector to be carbon neutral by 2025. Beehive. (2020).

18 Ministry for Primary Industries. One Billion Trees Programme.

19 Beehive. New Zealand to phase down use of HFCs from 2020. Beehive. (2018).

20 Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment. Unlocking our energy productivity and renewable potential : New Zealand energy efficiency and conservation strategy 2017-2022. (2017).

21 Woods, M., Parker, D. & Shaw, J. Government delivers next phase of climate action. Beehive. (2021).

22 Climate Change Commission. _Ināia tonu nei : a low emissions future for Aotearoa. (2021).

23 Climate Action Tracker. New Zealand. Climate Action Tracker. (2020).

24 Woods, M. Major contract awarded to power NZ Battery investigation . Beehive. (2021).

25 New Zealand Government. A vision for hydrogen in New Zealand, Green Paper. (2019).

26 New Zealand Government. Building for climate change. Building Performance. (2021).

27 Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. Clean Car Discount overview. Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. (2021).

28 Ministry of Transport. Climate change — emissions work programme | Ministry of Transport. (2021).

29 New Zealand Parliament. Land Transport (Clean Vehicles) Amendment Bill 2021: Bills Digest 2654 . New Zealand Parliament. (2021).

30 Ministry for the Environment. New Zealand’s projected greenhouse gas emissions to 2050. (2021).

31 Including the residual methane emissions left from the separate methane target for 2050.

32 According to national projections, LULUCF emissions could reach -26 to -31 MtCO₂e by 2040. See the Government 2020 for LULUCF projection estimates.30

33 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches which developed countries will need to implement in order to counterbalance their remaining emissions and reach net zero GHG are not considered here due to data availability.

34 See CAT for full explanation.

35 Methane from agriculture and waste sectors.

36 According to national projections, LULUCF emissions could reach -36 to -41 MtCO₂e by 2040. See the Climate Action Tracker assessment on New Zealand (July 2020 update) for assumptions on LULUCF projections.


New Zealandʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
NDC target gross-net
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
2030 emissions levels
Current policy projections
NDC target gross-net
1.5°C emissions level
Ref. year 2005

Energy system transformation

New Zealand needs to decarbonise its energy sector, including industry, transport and power to bring the country in line with a 1.5°C compatible pathway. A full phase out of unabated fossil fuels is possible before 2050. Unabated fossil fuels (mainly natural gas) currently represent 59% of primary energy, and needs to contract to between zero -18% by 2030. By 2030, renewables could represent up to 83% of primary energy, and up to 98% by 2050.

A fossil fuel phase out in primary energy by 2050 would require decarbonising the power sector from 82% renewables in 2019 to near 100% renewables by 2030. New Zealand would need to bring forward its current 100% renewables target by at least five years in order to align with a 1.5°C compatible pathway. The scale up of renewables is vital to decarbonise other sectors as they become electrified.

Transport and energy use in industry could be decarbonised through electrification, sector coupling and replacing fossil fuel feedstocks with renewable hydrogen. Energy efficiency measures could also reduce the demand for energy and the reliance on fossil fuels.

Some of the analysed scenarios show the option of deploying negative emissions technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) almost immediately, and fossil fuels carbon capture and storage in future. These are highly unlikely, due to the high penetration of renewables, the unproven feasibility of BECCS, and the high costs of the technology.


New Zealandʼs primary energy mix

petajoule per year

SSP1 Low CDR reliance
SSP1 High CDR reliance
Low Energy Demand
High Energy Demand - Low CDR reliance
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS
  • Unabated fossil
  • Renewables incl. Biomass
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS

New Zealandʼs total CO₂ emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂/yr

  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible emissions benchmarks

Key emissions benchmarks of Paris compatible Pathways for New Zealand. The 1.5°C compatible range is based on the Paris Agreement compatible pathways from the IPCC SR1.5 filtered with sustainability criteria. The median (50th percentile) to 5th percentile and middle of the range are provided here. Relative reductions are provided based on the reference year.

Reference year
Reference year
Year of net zero GHG
incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
Total GHG
Megatonnes CO₂ equivalent per year
35 to 48
20 to 33
11 to 26
Relative to reference year in %
−57 to −42%
−76 to −59%
−87 to −69%
Total CO₂
13 to 18
2 to 9
−2 to 4
2046 to 2066
Relative to reference year in %
−67 to −51%
−95 to −77%
−107 to −90%