Improvement by New Zealand’s sheep, beef and deer farmers in their greenhouse gas emissions intensity contributed to a fall in Kiwi household emissions in the years between 2006 and 2012.
According to a report from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, which updates a November 2015 paper, the average New Zealand household’s emissions fell by 11 percent between 2006 and 2012, mostly because of some high-emissions good creating fewer greenhouse gases. This represents a fall of around 2.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (t-CO2e) for a two person household with $80,000 of expenditure.
The research has shown that improvements in carbon intensity were made in milk, cheese and eggs, meat and poultry, air travel and electricity.
“For example emissions intensity of meat fell nearly 10 percent because of how farmers now produce their beef and lamb,” says Dr Suzi Kerr, a senior fellow at Motu.
A comparison of carbon intensities of selected expenditure categories over time shows that carbon intensity for meat and poultry fell by 9.72 percent over the period, measured as emissions produced per dollar of output, to 2.843 kg of CO2e per dollar of output.
“So it’s not that people are eating less meat, because they’re not. Instead our farmers have done a lot through pastoral grazing systems and efficiency measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she says.
“Despite the improvements, however, it’s clear that further cuts in our agricultural emissions by both producers and consumers are needed if we want to stay below two degrees of global warming,” says Dr Kerr. “Many policies, possibly including bringing agriculture into our emissions trading scheme could facilitate this.”
Food (particularly red meat and dairy), household utilities (particularly electricity and gas) and transport account for 89 percent of emissions for the average household.
The relative importance of the different categories changes with a household’s income. According to Motu, food emissions make up roughly 40 percent of emissions no matter the household income. Utilities contribute about 30 percent of emissions for poorer households but just over 20 percent for the wealthiest households. The importance of transport emissions increases as households become wealthier, with the share rising from about 20 percent to about 25 percent.
“However, it’s not just the level of expenditure that is important in determining emissions; the choices households make about what goods to consume also have large impacts,” says Dr Kerr.
For example, if you compare the top and bottom 10 percent of emitters at each income level, emissions from meat and dairy are 251 percent higher in the most emitting households than the lowest emitting households, while emissions from petrol and diesel are 377 percent higher.
A recent academic paper by Dr Kerr and Corey Allan outlines this issue in more depth: “Who’s Going Green? Decomposing the Change in Household Consumption Emissions 2006-2012” and is now available on the Motu website.