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In brief

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

Economy wide

1.5°C compatible pathways for New Zealand require a 46% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels excluding LULUCF (or 44 MtCO₂e/yr in 2030). New Zealand could meet its current NDC target following current policy projections, however, a Paris Agreement compatible NDC 2030 target would require more ambitious climate policies.

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 NDC

In 2020, New Zealand submitted an updated NDC but did not increase the target ambition. The Climate Change Commission’s recent advice to government does 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.1

While the recommended emissions budgets are respectively 5%, 12% and 14% higher than the higher bound of the 1.5°C compatible range, the government is set to draw an emissions reduction strategy before end of 2021.18 It will need to consider more stringent emissions reduction to be compatible with the 1.5°C temperature limit.

New Zealand’s NDC target is a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels including LULUCF, estimated to be a 17% reduction excluding LULUCF from 2005 levels (or 67 MtCO₂e/yr by 2030).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 Climate Action Tracker. New Zealand | Climate Action Target Update Tracker. (2020).

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

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

14 Government of New Zealand. Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill. Parliamentary Counsel Office. (2019).

15 Daalder, M. Climate Lawyers: Commission Doesn’t Go Far Enough. Newsroom. (2021).

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

17 A fair 2030 target for Aotearoa. Oxfam. (2020).

18 Assessment made on emissions budgets expressed in AR4 from the Climate Change Commission recent advice.

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

20 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.

21 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.

22 A study by Oxfam found a fair share range (including LULUCF) would require no less than 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2030, and when considering historical responsibility the fair share would be at least 90% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030.19

23 Methane from agriculture and waste sectors.

Fair share

A fair share contribution to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions compatible with the Paris Agreement would require New Zealand to go further than its domestic target, and provide substantial support for emission reductions to developing countries on top of its domestic reductions.

Net zero

New Zealand has legislated its ‘net zero’ emissions goal by 2050 in its Zero Carbon Act. However, the goal is not truly net zero as it exempts methane emissions, significantly weakening the target, particularly when considering its agricultural sector is its largest source of emissions. The target translates to 49-68 MtCO₂e/yr by 2050 excluding LULUCF, which is only a reduction of 16-40% compared to 2005 levels, and could be achievable without additional effort.19

2050 Ambition

In contrast, Paris Agreement compatible pathway shows that New Zealand’s remaining emissions (excluding LULUCF) by 2050 should be around 22 MtCO₂e/yr (12-26 MtCO₂e/yr), which is less than half the country’s target and translates to 73% (68-85%) below 2005 levels. When considering projected LULUCF sinks, net zero GHG could be reached before 2040.20,21 New Zealand has a higher than average residual level of greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 due to the high proportion of agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions.



Key policies that would be required to accelerate the transition to net zero emissions in the power sector include phasing out coal and gas from the sector within the next few years. New Zealand needs to reduce its power emissions intensity by 92% from 2017 levels by 2030 reaching 10g CO₂/kWh by 2030.

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To be consistent with a 1.5°C compatible pathway, New Zealand needs to transition to 100% renewable energy in the power sector by around 2030. This would require bringing forward the current 2035 target of 100% renewable electricity generation.

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New Zealand’s power mix was 68% renewable in 2017, mainly met through hydro power. Ramping up and diversifying its share of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures, while accelerating the electrification of other sectors, will be key to reaching 100% renewable generation.

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