Just 15 companies – each responsible for more than a million tonnes of emissions – make up three quarters of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas profile, Marc Daalder reports

Analysis: The Fonterra cooperative is New Zealand’s worst climate polluter, reporting more than 13.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in the year to June 2021.

That makes up nearly a fifth of all emissions reported to the EPA for the past year and nearly twice as much as the next largest emitter, Z Energy.

The figures come as part of a newly-released dataset of all participants in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). This data doesn’t capture all of New Zealand’s emissions, with perhaps around 10 percent being excluded. It also says that only companies at the top of the supply chain are responsible for emissions.

That means that a taxi driver isn’t counted as responsible for the emissions from his vehicle in this dataset, and neither are the car importer who sold him his cab or the retail petrol station that filled it up with gas. Instead, the company that imported the oil in the first place would bear the burden.

Nonetheless, the information provides insight into the companies that directly emit greenhouse gases through industrial processes or the farming of livestock, that extract fossil fuels through drilling and mining, or that import fossil fuels into New Zealand.

More than 220 different companies are listed in the dataset as having reported emissions to the EPA for the 2020/2021 year. Newsroom has removed companies that reported zero emissions and, where possible, aggregated subsidiaries under the name of their parent companies.


For example, at least six subsidiaries of Austrian oil giant OMV have reported their emissions separately to the EPA, but Newsroom’s analysis consolidates them under the OMV banner alone. While the worst of the subsidiaries emitted 1.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, the company as a whole is responsible for nearly 3.5 million tonnes.

It is, in fact, one of just 15 companies in the dataset that reported more than a million tonnes of emissions to the EPA. Taken together, these 15 companies represent 77 percent of the emissions reported over the last year.

The six worst emitters – Fonterra, Z Energy, BP, Mobil, Silver Fern Farms and the Todd Corporation – together make up more than half of emissions covered by the ETS.

Two of these, Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms, don’t have to surrender emissions units to the Government for the vast bulk of their emissions. That’s because agriculture (which collectively accounted for 34 million tonnes – or 48 percent of all emissions) isn’t covered by the ETS. The Climate Change Commission is set to review whether that should change next year and a 2025 deadline has been set for putting some type of price on livestock emissions.

Fonterra did pay for some of its emissions in the past year, surrendering 770,398 units to cover the emissions from coal it imported to dry milk.

The data also provides new insights into the degree to which the Government over-subsidises emitters. Newsroom reported in July that Fletcher Building was given more carbon credits to prop up its cement production business than it actually needed. That came after the Government launched a review into its industrial allocation policy, which provides free credits to companies that compete against overseas firms, which don’t face a carbon price.

While the EPA’s data for industrial allocation is based on a January-to-December year and the emissions data is for July-to-June years, some comparisons can still be made.

In the case of Fletcher, for example, the company was given 640,351 carbon credits under the allocation policy in 2020, but its 2020/2021 emissions for cement and coal imports were just 542,167 tonnes. That means the company pocketed at least 98,184 credits in additional subsidies from the Government, worth more than $6 million based on the current market price for carbon.

The greatest over-subsidy goes to the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, which received 1.5 million credits from the Government in 2020 but which emitted just 637,000 tonnes in the year to June. Part of Tiwai’s allocation comes as a result of its massive electricity usage – major users of electricity get carbon credits to help defray the added power charges when fossil fuel generators need to purchase their own credits. But Tiwai has a unique contract paying well below the market price for its electricity, meaning it pockets nearly a million excess credits from the Government.

At current spot prices, that’s nearly $60 million in subsidies.

For similar reasons, New Zealand Steel also gets about $30 million in excess credits and pulp and paper producer Oji Fibre Solutions receives $33 million in credits above what it emits. Norske Skog Tasman, which ran the Kawerau paper mill before it closed in June, received 202,858 credits from the Government but emitted just 29,800 tonnes of greenhouse gases. The market value for the excess credits is $11 million.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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