The Ministry for the Environment released the first public update on progress to slash emissions from core government agencies on Tuesday, as part of the Government’s mission to reach carbon neutrality by mid-2025.

As part of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme, 39 departments and agencies will provide regular updates on their greenhouse gas pollution. Collectively, the core public sector has pledged to cut gross emissions by 22 percent by the middle of the decade and 42 percent by 2030.

Any emissions that remain from 2025 onwards will have to be offset. The mechanism for doing this hasn’t yet been sorted out, though Newsroom reported in April 2022 that officials were looking into planting trees on Crown land as part of the effort.

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The progress dashboard shows the Government is well on its way to meeting the target, with agencies having slashed emissions by 19 percent from their respective base years as of mid-2022.

However, more than half of the reduction came from a decline in air travel due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said this wasn’t expected to last in next year’s reporting.

“I think you’re going to see that bounce back up a wee bit, but I do know that agencies are looking at the lessons that they have been able to take from the Covid shutdown periods and see what they can do to change their operations because I think it did open up new avenues for them that they might not have considered possible otherwise.”

Some of the reductions that will stick include the replacement of coal boilers in hospitals and schools, the electrification of vehicle fleets and energy efficiency measures. The only major risk identified in the report was the replacement of a coal boiler at Burnham Military Camp, which is set to run “significantly over budget”.

“[The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority] and NZDF are working to resolve this given the commitment to remove all coal boilers from the state sector by 2025.”

However, the Defence Force did see gross emissions fall 20 percent between 2016/17 and 2021/22, largely due to less transport demand during Covid-19. It is the largest emitter of the agencies that reported their emissions on Tuesday, but the education and health sectors were excluded. The second and third largest emitters, police and the Department of Corrections, saw reductions of just 2 and 4 percent, respectively.

Shaw wouldn’t guarantee the public sector would meet the 22 and 42 percent targets, particularly with just two years to go until the first one is due.

“It is going to be tough to meet and they’ve been advising us that it’s tough to meet. But we’re working very hard on it and you saw us the other day announce that we’re going to be taking all of the last remaining coal boilers out of our hospitals and out of our tertiary institutions,” he said.

“We’ve got now very good pickup in the EV fleet after a bit of a slow start. So we are making progress.”

As of December 2022, battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids make up more than one in 10 government cars – up from 4.4 percent a year prior and 1.6 percent when the carbon neutral public sector pledge was made. By mid-2025, 41.4 percent of the fleet is projected to be electric.

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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