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New Zealand unveils its biggest emissions reduction plan in history

Set to involve transitioning from coal to renewable electricity at the country’s major steel plant, the project will – according to the government – be equivalent to taking 300,000 cars off the road. 

As we inch closer towards the 1.5°C temperature threshold, countries across the globe are finding themselves hard-pressed to adapt, and fast.

New Zealand, which has long been considered a ‘safe haven from the climate crisis,’ has already begun to experience the effects of global heating and the coinciding extreme weather events.

According to the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, land areas have warmed by 1.1°C between 1910 and 2020. Without action, western and southern regions will be further battered by rain and floods, while those in the east and north will face drought and wildfires.

‘The report is a stark reminder of the need for adaptation,’ said Dr Nick Cradock-Henry, a senior scientist at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, at the time.

‘Adaptation will require strategic and even radical adjustments to practices, processes, capital and infrastructure in response to climate change, and must begin now.’

Taking note almost two years on, New Zealand’s government has just announced its largest emissions reduction project in history.

Climate change in New Zealand - Wikipedia

Set to involve transitioning from coal to renewable electricity at the country’s major steel plant, the ambitious move will reportedly be equivalent to taking 300,000 cars off the road.

In terms of financing, the government will spend $140m on halving the coal used at Glenbrook to recycle scrap steel, replacing that generating power with an electric-powered furnace.

Additionally, the plant will contribute $160m to the project’s cost.

‘This dwarfs anything we have done to date,’ said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins in a statement.

‘This size of this project demonstrates how serious the government is about reducing New Zealand’s emissions as fast as possible. Alone, it will eliminate 1% of the country’s total annual emissions.’

Currently, the steel company accounts for 2% of New Zealand’s total emissions, through intensive burning of coal to melt down iron-rich sands into steel products.

New Zealand Steel - Wikipedia

The new plan will install a $300m electric-powered furnace to do this instead (due to be up and running by 2027 at the latest), with the electricity to be provided via New Zealand’s national grid, which is powered by wind, hydro, and geothermal energy.

As detailed by the government, this will reduce New Zealand’s emissions by 800,000 tonnes annually, marking a significant step in its efforts to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions – as opposed to buying offsets of tree-planting.

Now, although New Zealand’s total contribution to global emissions is small, its gross emissions per capita are high.

As revealed by 2018 data, New Zealanders produce greenhouse gases equivalent to the heating power of 16.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide — more than double the per capita rate of the UK. With this in mind, the initiative is most certainly a start.

‘To understand the scale of this project, it reduces more emissions on its own than all the other 66 government-funded emissions-reduction projects we have approved to date,’ said minister of energy and resources, Megan Woods.

‘It will put New Zealand in a much better position to meet its climate target of net zero carbon by 2050.’