Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when

Like it or not, climate change is going to drive significant changes with energy use, transport, travel and food. In other words, to the way we live.

Newshub – Climate Change: What New Zealanders have to change and when

Newshub Nation explores what will be different about how we get our energy, how we get around, how we shop, how we travel and what we eat.


The Government has set a target of being 100 percent renewable by 2035. Currently, 82 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources – mainly hydropower.

“We’ve obviously got lots of wood lying around and the problems we had in Tolaga Bay – you can imagine that would have been much better used as a source of energy if we’d had the supply chain set up,” says James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change.

Another potential solution to the storage problem is using renewable sources to produce hydrogen gas, which acts a bit like a battery.

“Hydrogen plants can make a lot of energy at short notice, and that’s a really key capability that we need to push the last bit of coal and gas off the grid and get to 100 percent renewable,” says Katherine Errington, Helen Clark Foundation executive director.


Transport accounts for 19 percent of the country’s emissions, mainly because New Zealanders love their cars.

We imported 319,662 light vehicles in 2018. Of that total, just 5,542 or 1.7 percent were electric or hybrid cars according to the Ministry of Transport.

This needs to change and fast. By 2030, the Productivity Commission says 80 percent of NZ vehicle imports need to be electric and by 2050, nearly every vehicle will need to be electric. As at March 2019, electric vehicles (EVs) made up just 0.3 percent of our fleet.

Drive Electric’s Mark Gilbert says the quickest way to get more EVs into the market would be through adjusting the fringe benefit tax, to incentivise businesses to transition their company fleets.

For trucks, trains, ships and planes, green hydrogen offers a potential climate-friendly solution.

Air Travel:

Aviation is one of the trickiest areas to reduce emissions. It currently produces about 859 million tonnes of carbon each year or around two percent of global emissions. However, by 2050 it is expected to emit more than any other sector.

solution put forward by the UK Climate Commission is having industries like aviation pay to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere. It estimates the cost of this at $20b-$40b in the year 2050, with that cost likely passed on to consumers. This means the price of flights will start to increase from 2035 as emission removals are predicted to scale up.


Online shopping can actually be better for the environment than traditional shopping, because it means people aren’t driving their cars to and from the store.

However, US research found online shopping is only better when consumers choose regular delivery rather than express shipping, which creates nearly 30 percent more emissions.


This is probably the most controversial area to make changes, but with the world’s food system accounting for nearly a quarter of all emissions it is one of the areas we need to adapt.

In New Zealand, agriculture makes up half of our emissions – mainly from livestock burping methane. This gas breaks down in the atmosphere after 12 years, unlike carbon, which can hang around for hundreds of years. However while it is shorter lived, methane is 25 times stronger than carbon when it comes to warming.

“There are ways to try and reduce methane which are being researched – what you feed the animal on, how you breed the animals to produce less methane,” says Ralph Sims.

“But if we can increase the productivity [e.g. more milk from each cow] then that’s a better alternative than having to reduce stock numbers.”

Sims also says that the potential of vegetable protein is something that New Zealand’s agricultural sector should keep an eye on.

The world may change significantly as a result of climate change.

I think there is no doubt how people live will change significantly regardless. Climate change as well as population, resource depletion and pollution will all at least need to be adapted to, one way or another.

More communication, less travel

Communications has changed radically via the Internet and smart phones. Has this and will this have a significant effect on how much people travel?

In his ODT column today Colin James writes:

If all cars are electric by 2030 and relatively cheap to maintain and run, might not there be more demand for roads, not less? Rail is nearly two centuries old. What will “public” transport be in 2025?

The Ministry of Transport (MoT) has been grappling with these sorts of questions, looking out 10 to 30 years. It has found the future is unlikely to be a projection from the past through the present.

When MoT looked at future demand for personal mobility, it found vehicle kilometres travelled flattened in the mid-2000s at around 40 billion kilometres a year and only recently have picked up again (perhaps reflecting record net immigration?).

Young people are far less likely to get a driving licence or buy a car than their elders. They have other, digital, ways of linking with friends or getting entertained.

I hadn’t thought of that. Back when I was young the Internet didn’t exist and phones were used far less than now.

We used to find friends and socialise by travelling, and many of us did this by car. I booked for my drivers license as soon as I turned 15 and had my license 2 weeks later. I owned my first car when I was 16, and travelled to communicate and socialise.

We used to cruise to find fun.

From what I hear many young people don’t bother getting licenses let alone cars now. They can save travel by organising what they are doing in advance.

It may be that a lot of socialising has moved from in person to electronic, cutting the necessity to travel.

We can see the sights of the country and the world (and the solar system and universe) from the comfort of our homes. While this may encourage some people to get out and travel to see things for themselves it may also reduce the need for others.

I can now communicate with family who are overseas by video phone so the pressure and need to travel to see them is reduced.

In the early days of working in Information Technology (I’ve worked in IT since before it was called that) I had to travel to customers to work.

Now much of that travel is unnecessary because I can work remotely -from a desk in an office in Dunedin I can be working in Auckland, Sydney and New York virtually at the same time (and have to be careful which client window I do things in).

I think it’s impossible to predict how travel will be affected in 10 or 20 years, it’s a complex issue. But the necessity to travel is certainly reducing in some ways.