Blue Sky Dreaming

Earth Report Special

Posted: 5 June 2008

In a Special Programme for World Environment Day, TVE's Earth Report goes to New Zealand to investigate the country's plans to go carbon neutral.

New Zealand, host of this year's World Environment Day, (5 June) plans to be the first country to have a completely 'carbon neutral' economy, with Prime Minister Helen Clark pushing ambitious government policies for radical reductions of greenhouse gas emissions through a big increase in renewable energy and a switch to sustainable transport like electric cars.

Geothermal energy New Zealand
Geothermal energy New Zealand
Geothermal energy has a big potential in New Zealand. Photo © TVE
But half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from its enormous farming industry - and finding a solution to emissions from sheep and cattle is the biggest challenge.

The New Zealand government's targets include:

  • Energy - 90 per cent to come from renewable sources by 2025. This is achievable as New Zealand has plentiful hydro-electricity, wind and geothermal potential, and already generates 70 per cent of its energy from renewable sources.

  • Transport - 50 per cent cuts in emissions by 2040, achievable only through a massive switch to hybrid and electric vehicles. While New Zealand's huge renewable energy resources mean it has the capability of powering all road vehicles from renewable fuels, in practice its showcase electric vehicle project has still to import a single electric car.
But reducing New Zealand's emissions from its vast agriculture sector are likely to be by far its biggest challenge. These emissions are partly from methane released from grazing animals' stomachs. But one-third of livestock emissions are derived from the release of animal urine into the soil, forming nitrous oxide which - like methane - is a potent greenhouse gas.

To date New Zealand's agricultural scientists have developed one solution to the problem of farm emissions - a commercial product which can be sprayed onto pasture twice a year to inhibit the formation of nitrous oxide gas.

The other answer is to offset future decades of farm emissions. But to do this, New Zealand faces a tough challenge to plant enough trees - perhaps as many as two million hectares. In other sectors the country already boasts the world's first carbon-neutral winery. And the government is leading by example, setting six lead government agencies the goal of becoming carbon neutral in only four years.

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