By Robert McLachlan 05/07/2019 4

The New Zealand company Enviro-Mark Solutions, a spinoff from the Crown Research Institute Landcare, is a global pioneer is greenhouse certification. Founded in 2001, they now have hundreds of clients in seventeen countries.

Their most popular certification, CEMARS (Certified Emissions Measurement And Reduction Scheme) audits companies’ emissions and their emissions reduction plans – typically reductions of at least a few percent a year are required. Numerous large New Zealand companies are CEMARS certified and there are some amazing success stories.

A higher level is CarboNZero, which certifies that the client’s entire operation is carbon neutral. (Some residual emissions can be offset, where there is a plan to eventually eliminate them.)

Now they have a new tool that allow individuals to assess (and, if they want, offset) their emissions: the Enviro-Mark Household Calculator. It’s extremely easy to use and, unlike other calculators that I have seen, set up explicitly for New Zealand conditions.

Just trying out the calculator lets you start to get a feel for what a tonne of CO2 represents and how different sources of emissions compare. You can compare your household to the average for New Zealand: for a household of three, these are 1.4 tonnes from electricity, 5.9 tonnes from car travel, and 0.9 tonnes from waste, totalling 8.1 tonnes a year. You can see immediately the effect of switching to carbon zero electricity (discussed in a previous post), a more fuel-efficient car, or reducing your household waste. You can see that gas central heating adds about 2 tonnes a year. Taking the family to Sydney adds another 2.8 tonnes.

What I think people will find is that the steps they can take to reduce their emissions are simple and cheap. However, voluntary efforts by individuals by themselves are unlikely to cut emissions nationally. For example, land transport emissions in New Zealand rose 850,000 tonnes in just one year (2017), a trend which is still continuing. Turning that around will require hundreds of thousands of households radically cutting their transport emissions, as well as all other households cutting a little bit. That’s a bit task.

Offsetting: a sensible way forward, or rich people paying to continue polluting?

Offsetting is the second component of the calculator. Once you know your emissions you can choose to buy offsets for them, either for the whole year or for a single item such as a particular unavoidable flight. This is a controversial area. Individual offsets have been compared to the medieval custom of papal indulgences.

However, remember that we have hardly started on the full path of eliminating carbon emissions and stopping burning fossil fuels. We need everything that we’ve got to get started on that journey. Once we’re started, we will learn further as we go. The money from offsets pays for genuine carbon reduction projects, such as permanent indigenous reforestation, that might otherwise struggle to get going. The spectre of billionaires flying around in private jets with clean consciences is pretty far from reality at the moment.

One big issue that New Zealand is right on the point of facing up to is that of international transport emissions. (See the group Fly-Less Kiwis.) New Zealand may be remote, but most developed countries have similar per capita aviation emissions, and they are growing rapidly worldwide. Bringing international transport into the Emissions Trading Scheme would put a break on travel growth, support the carbon price, and fund a lot of low-emission industries that need support right now.

[PS – Don’t forget to submit on the Zero Carbon Bill! Officially known as the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon Amendment) Bill, submissions close on 16 July. OraTaiao has published a guide to preparing a submission.]

4 Responses to “A New Zealand household emissions calculator”

  • From my perspective, what I see happening is that “climate change”, whether real or not, whether real but exaggerated or not, is being used as an excuse to create a new economy. This new economy will benefit some people/institutions, i.e. those who are pushing the “climate change” message, and disadvantage traditional industry. The obvious losers will include the fossil fuel industry, who can be expected to steadily lose ground until they fade away completely. While I personally stand to gain or lose nothing, and while I have no particular reason to want one sector of industry to thrive economically over another (i.e. a rich environmentalist is no better or worse to me than a rich oil baron), I really can’t stomach the way that the “climate change” bandwagon is being rolled out particularly here in N.Z. Our contribution to global emissions is negligible. Some claim some sort of relevance of our allegedly high per capita emissions, but the actual total emissions are still negligible and per capita emissions per se are irrelevant to climate change. Even if N.Z. achieved zero emissions, it will make no significant difference to climate change. At most, it might keep local temperatures down a bit, but that is really neither here nor there. It won’t have any effect on sea level rise, even around the coast of N.Z., for that depends on melting of polar ice and not on temperatures around N.Z. So, we, as a minor contributor to global climate change, are being asked to make major changes to our way of life, in order to reduce emissions (or pay someone to offset them), when doing so will make no significant difference to climate change! The big emitters (China etc.) aren’t going to follow our lead. The onus is on them to make the first move to reduce emissions, not on us! If the big players reduce their emissions, then we, on ethical grounds, probably ought to follow, but all that is going to happen as things are is that we will make major changes to the way that we do things, making certain new sectors of industry rich and disadvantaging others, and it will make no significant difference to climate change! This is the inconvenient truth!

  • Sorry Stephen, but just try replacing the climate change words in your post with words from a different concept – say, over-fishing, ivory trading, democracy, gender equality, or economic freedom (just to choose a few).

    Any of those things in their own right are reasonable and rational things to support and drive toward regardless of what China or other big players may or may not do. Waiting for someone else who has a vested interest to move first is not necessarily to way to create change.

    I get that our changes are effectively symbolic, but symbolism is a very real and useful thing – something those big players understand well.

  • @Ashton

    There is a bit more to it than that! The problem is that the, in your own terms, “effectively symbolic” changes by the likes of NZ simply aren’t going to move the big players. All that is going to happen is that a new sector of industry in NZ will get rich, and many in the old sectors will lose ground, i.e. the only actual result will be a shift of economic wealth, done in the name of “saving the planet”, but really, let’s be honest, that is just an excuse being touted by those who stand to gain. It won’t make any significant difference to climate change (as you say, just “effectively symbolic”). It is a bit different to the other examples you offered. Fishing quotas around NZ do make a significant difference to local fish stocks. A ban on ivory doesn’t have much of an impact on our way of life here in NZ. Democracy directly affects the country regardless of whatever other countries are doing. Gender equality does make a significant difference to NZ, etc. However, reducing emissions is enormously disruptive to the way we live in NZ, and makes no significant difference to the problem that it is intended to help solve. Those with vested interests will, of course, be talking it up.

  • Well it looks like the media has brain washed an entire generation of Millennials, with one sided bias in favor of a carbon tax, to have them wagging school.
    However in the interests of free thinking we have a report from Finnish scientists have argued low cloud cover due to a weakening magnetic field and subsequent bombardment from cosmic rays, is having a bigger effect on climate than anthropogenic causes. Japanese scientists seem to agree.
    No more taxes for the common man stop the carbon tax madness.
    ““The IPCC climate sensitivity is about one order of magnitude (i.e. 10 times) too high, because a strong negative feedback of the clouds is missing in climate models. If we pay attention to the fact that only a small part of the increased CO2 concentration is anthropogenic, we have to recognise that the anthropogenic climate change does not exist in practice, write Kauppinen and Malmi. “The major part of the extra CO2 is emitted from oceans, according to Henry‘s law. The low clouds practically control the global average temperature. During the last hundred years the temperature is increased about 0.1℃ because of CO2. The human contribution was about 0.01℃.”
    “In a separate study, Japanese scientists have also suggested a much more important role for low clouds cover caused by an increase in cosmic rays resulting form the weakening of the earths magnetic filed. ”
    “Prof. Masayuki Hyodo and his team Yusuke Ueno, Tianshui Yang and Shigehiro Katoh from the University of Kobe in Japan in their paper published this month in propose that the “umbrella effect” is the main factor behind climate change. ”
    “When galactic cosmic rays increased during the Earth’s last geomagnetic reversal transition 780,000 years ago, the umbrella effect of low-cloud cover led to high atmospheric pressure in Siberia, causing the East Asian winter monsoon to become stronger. This is evidence that galactic cosmic rays influence changes in the Earth’s climate.”

    “The Intergovernmental IPCC has discussed the impact of cloud cover on climate in their evaluations, but this phenomenon has never been considered in climate predictions due to the insufficient physical understanding of it”, comments Professor Hyodo. “This study provides an opportunity to rethink the impact of clouds on climate. When galactic cosmic rays increase, so do low clouds, and when cosmic rays decrease clouds do as well, so climate warming may be caused by an opposite-umbrella effect. The umbrella effect caused by galactic cosmic rays is important when thinking about current global warming as well as the warm period of the medieval era.”