Part 4: Activities to reduce and manage greenhouse gas emissions

Local government: Results of the 2009/10 audits.

In this Part, we report on:

  • the extent to which local authorities measured, reduced, and off set greenhouse gas emissions from their activities in the year ended 30 June 2010; and
  • the extent to which local authorities have taken a broader approach and developed plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their geographical areas, rather than just reducing emissions from their own activities.

We start with background information about the applicable requirements before discussing the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), then set out the findings of our review of local authorities’ activities. We end with a discussion of the next steps that local authorities might take and our intentions for monitoring and reporting on local authorities’ activities to reduce and manage emissions.

We have included examples of local authorities’ approaches to reducing emissions.


Of the 77 local authorities that we reviewed, about 25% were measuring, reducing, or off setting their emissions. A further 10 local authorities had plans to do so or were carrying out related activities. Of those managing or reducing emissions, the larger city councils were most advanced. The Communities for Climate Protection New Zealand (CCP-NZ) programme, which provided a structured approach for reducing emissions from a local authority’s corporate activities (corporate emissions) and district-wide emissions (community emissions) no longer operates. However, some local authorities were still using action plans introduced under that programme.

We expected that the ETS would provide an incentive for local authorities to begin measuring and reducing emissions, given fuel and electricity price increases. The ETS should encourage greater focus on waste minimisation when further costs based on waste disposed of at landfills are introduced. The effect of the ETS is not yet apparent, but we will continue to monitor this.


The Local Government Act 2002 requires local authorities to take a sustainable approach and to promote environmental well-being. There is no explicit requirement for local authorities to measure or reduce the environmental effects of their activities. However, some councils have chosen to measure the greenhouse gas emissions from their activities and consider their waste management practices, and act to mitigate the environmental effects of those activities where it makes business sense to do so.

The three aspects to managing and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions are:

  • measurement;
  • reduction; and
  • off setting (for unavoidable emissions).

It is generally accepted that the best approach is to reduce emissions, rather than off set them.

Measuring emissions involves collecting baseline information on matters such as fuel use, mileage, electricity/gas consumption, and use of raw materials. This data can then be converted into carbon dioxide equivalents using conversion and emission factors available from agencies such as Landcare Research New Zealand Limited or the Ministry for the Environment.

Some entities in the public sector have used the Greenhouse Gas Protocol5 to categorise and measure emissions. The Protocol categorises emissions as:

  • Scope 1: direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources the entity owns or controls, such as boilers owned or controlled by the entity, and the entity’s vehicle fleet (including private use if at the entity’s expense);
  • Scope 2: indirect emissions from energy that another party supplies to the entity; and
  • Scope 3: other indirect greenhouse gas emissions by entities not owned or controlled by the public entity that occur as a result of the public entity’s activities – these include emissions from staff use of public transport and by contractors.

Local authorities that had begun measuring and reporting were focusing on Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Many entities also report on waste management practices and the volume of waste sent to landfill.

Those local authorities often report on their emission-reduction activities in their annual reports. This information is sometimes accompanied by some form of independent assurance.

Local authorities and emissions reduction activities

Several local authorities took part in the voluntary CCP-NZ programme, which ran from July 2004 until June 2009. The CCP-NZ programme aimed to help local authorities to reduce their own and their communities’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The CCP-NZ programme provided a strategic framework for local authorities to use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The programme aimed to reduce emissions from each local authority’s operations and influence reductions in their wider communities.

The CCP-NZ programme helped councils to identify measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as:

  • saving energy and promoting sustainable energy;
  • increasing sustainable transport;
  • enhancing urban design;
  • reducing emissions from landfills; and
  • supporting the adoption of low-carbon technology.

After a local authority became a CCP-NZ participant, it would carry out five milestone tasks:

  • conduct a greenhouse gas emissions inventory, analysis, and forecast;
  • set emission-reduction goals;
  • develop a local action plan to achieve these goals;
  • implement and quantify the benefits of policies and measures in the action plan; and
  • monitor progress towards the reduction goal.

The five milestones provided a framework that could accommodate district, city, and regional councils.

Although the programme ended in June 2009, some councils still use action plans developed under the programme.

New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme

Aspects of the ETS are relevant to local authorities. As well as price increases for fuel and energy, some local authorities and their council-controlled organisations will be participants in the scheme because of forestry interests or their operation of landfills.

We intend to assess whether the ETS will lead to greater efforts by local authorities to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to focus more on waste minimisation practices to mitigate cost increases arising from the ETS.

Our review of local authorities

As part of the 2009/10 audits of local authorities, we asked our auditors to discuss with each local authority whether it was measuring, reducing, or off setting greenhouse gas emissions from its activities and for details of what it was doing. We report the results of these activities below.

For the reasons noted in paragraph 2.11, we considered data for 77 local authorities but not the former local authorities in Auckland or the new Auckland Council.

How many local authorities are measuring greenhouse gas emissions?

For the year ended 30 June 2010, of the 77 local authorities:

  • 18 local authorities were actively measuring greenhouse gas emissions;
  • five local authorities that had previously measured emissions were no longer doing so;
  • 13 local authorities were not measuring emissions but planned to start, or were taking some related steps; and
  • 41 local authorities had done nothing about emissions and had no plans to.

Of the 18 local authorities measuring emissions, six were city councils, four were regional councils, and eight were district councils. Several of the active local authorities had taken part in the CCP-NZ programme. Some had reached the third milestone (see paragraph 4.16) of the programme by developing action plans for corporate and community emissions.

The five councils that had stopped measuring their emissions did so when the CCP-NZ programme ended and funding was withdrawn.

What greenhouse gas generating activities are councils measuring?

Some of the local authorities that measure emissions focus on their corporate activities and measure emissions from fuel used in local authority vehicles and from electricity and gas consumption in council buildings and facilities in the district. Others take a broader approach and also measure emissions from council-provided services such as water and wastewater treatment (pumping stations and treatment plants) and lighting (street lights, park lights, and traffic lights), as well as air travel and how staff travel to and from work.

The more advanced local authorities consider emissions by businesses and residents of their districts as well as their own activities.

Local authorities that were taking initial steps to reduce emissions focused on their vehicle fleets (for example, car size, fuel efficiency) and energy use.

Planning, strategy, and policy

The approach of the CCP-NZ programme was for local authorities to prepare action plans to measure and reduce their corporate emissions and for community emissions.

We asked local authorities whether they planned to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions – 28 councils had a plan or a draft plan.

Some plans were focused on reducing emissions from the local authority’s activities, and some had a wider focus on reducing emissions within the district. We describe some of the plans in paragraphs 4.32 to 4.40.

Southland District Council joined the CCP-NZ programme in September 2005 and committed to completing the programme’s five milestones. Since 2006, the Council has monitored emissions from its electricity use. It is still implementing its CCP-NZ programme action plan. A company collects and analyses data for the Council. It measures the energy consumption of all activities that the Council pays the electricity bill for, including area offices, libraries, halls, other property, water and sewage treatment plants, and street lights.

Grey District Council has contracted an energy and technical services data collection company to measure the Council’s power, fuel, and coal use. The company is to benchmark the Council’s energy use over time, and also use historical data from the Council’s energy supplier. Relevant managers and staff can access and view the energy-use data, which they review for excessive energy use and reduction opportunities.

Kapiti Coast District Council has an energy policy to fast-track energy-saving projects and has implemented several initiatives. Examples include a wood boiler for drying sewage sludge, and insulation upgrades and solar water heating for its pensioner housing units. The Council also supports emission-reduction activities in the wider community, through an eco-design advisor service, a free low-energy-use light bulb off er, a sustainable home and garden show, and a Greenest Street Competition. The Council’s long-term plan identifies climate change as a key issue/risk for the future.

Environment Waikato has a draft corporate sustainability strategy. It has completed an energy audit of the Council building and an efficiency audit of the vehicle fleet. It is implementing various efficiency measures as a result. A new vehicle-procurement policy with environmental criteria is being prepared, and a staff travel plan has been adopted. The Council has begun an energy audit of its flood pumps, which make up half of its corporate "footprint".

Hamilton City Council put in place a local action plan to reduce emissions from the Council’s corporate activities and those of the community. In June 2010, the Council reaffirmed its commitment to carbon monitoring despite the CCP-NZ programme ending in June 2009. The Council’s emission-reduction activities include implementing environmental management systems at major facilities, an internal smart water use campaign, energy-efficient street-lighting trials, and a Council-wide energy management programme. Reduction projects include heat recovery from boiler flues, office lighting upgrades, installation of solar hot water, modifications to car park lighting controls, and building management systems. Regular audits are carried out and generate additional reduction opportunities. The Council has a full-time energy manager. It has bought software to monitor and report on electricity and natural gas consumption across all Council-owned and operated facilities. The Council encourages community emission reductions through sustainability-focused programmes in the areas of households, urban design, transport, community planting, and gully restoration.

In June 2008, Nelson City Council adopted a sustainability policy that defines sustainability as the wise use and management of all resources. The Council monitors fuel, electricity, and water use to establish baseline information on resource use and to assess performance over time. The Council also has a climate-change action plan, which is to be integrated with the existing sustainability policy. The Council has integrated sustainability considerations into other policies and plans. It has a sustainable procurement policy. The chief executive leads an internal sustainability working group. The Council also has a sustainability checklist for staff to use when making decisions about procurement, travel, waste minimisation activities, and project design. The Council is to consider taking a whole-of-community approach to sustainability issues, rather than the current corporate focus.

Palmerston North City Council has measured greenhouse gas emissions from its activities since 2006. The Council aims to reduce emissions from its own activities and other activities within the district under a two-part strategy. Part 1 is a corporate action plan that focuses on emissions from Council operations in the city, including truck and equipment use, street and traffic lights, buildings, water and wastewater, vehicle fleet, corporate travel, and how employees get to and from work. It also identifies priority areas for reduction. Part 2 is still being written and will focus on community-wide emissions. It will build on the Council’s existing sustainable city strategy.

Porirua City Council continued to measure its emissions after the CCP-NZ programme ended. It is focused on reducing the emissions from corporate activities. Initiatives carried out include a zero-waste programme, quarterly reporting on energy consumption, and recycling. The Council’s action plan encourages considering emissions when making major decisions and implementing actions aimed at reducing corporate waste. Long-term climate change-related objectives centre on educating staff and elected members, and providing a culture that fosters an understanding of energy efficiency.

Wellington City Council has published a plan with a dual focus of climate-change adaptation and mitigation. It is the foundation for a more ambitious programme to be developed when the Council next reviews its long-term plan. The plan introduces the Council’s wider stance on climate change, encompassing corporate and community activities. The Council has conducted studies to help understand the risks involved with climate change, and the likely responses that can be employed to both reduce risks and prepare for negative effects to safeguard the community. The Council intends to promote a co-ordinated approach through sharing information, ensuring consistency in approach, and promoting joint research projects and policy developments.

Do local authorities have targets for reducing emissions and is this information reported internally or externally?

A plan to reduce emissions needs targets to work towards and measures to assess and report progress against.

The CCP-NZ programme required local authorities to set targets to reduce corporate and community emissions. The local authorities that were members of that scheme set targets, some of which were ambitious. In some instances, the targets were global reduction targets for the local authority or the district. In other instances, targets were set by sector (for example, to reduce transport emissions by a certain percentage over time).

We asked whether local authorities with emission-reduction plans had targets for reducing emissions and related performance measures. We also asked whether local authorities were reporting on progress against targets, internally or externally, and whether any external assurance was provided over this information.

We found that 18 local authorities had targets for reducing emissions. Others had a target of not increasing emissions, but no reduction target. The targets were set against emissions measured in a baseline year, and were often expressed as a percentage reduction from the baseline year, to be achieved by a specified future year.

The local authorities had various reporting mechanisms, from internal reports to more explicit reporting in annual plans, long-term plans, and annual reports. It was generally easier for local authorities to report on progress on reducing their own emissions than on community emissions. Several local authorities were aiming for improved and more transparent reporting.

Are local authorities off setting their greenhouse gas emissions?

For the year ended 30 June 2010, six local authorities had calculated the capacity of their forestry holdings to off set emissions or had methods to off set their emissions such as planting trees on council land to off set emissions from staff air travel, reserve and gully restoration and other biodiversity projects, or a "trees for travellers" scheme (where visitors to the district pay for a native tree to be planted on reserve land).

Given their interests in forestry, parks, and reserve land, it is not likely to be difficult for local authorities to identify off setting opportunities.

Does the local authority monitor and report on production and disposal of waste?

Our auditors asked local authorities about monitoring and reporting on production and disposal of waste generated by the local authority or in the district. We expected that local authorities that operate landfills would be monitoring and reporting, and that regional councils might be monitoring, their own waste.

The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 and the ETS provide incentives to landfill operators to minimise the amount of waste sent to landfills. The Waste Minimisation Act requires landfill operators to pay a levy based on waste tonnage. The ETS will impose costs on landfill operators from 2013.

The ETS provides a further incentive for territorial authorities to consider landfill gas capture or diversion of organic waste, to reduce methane emissions and resultant liabilities.

For the year ended 30 June 2010, 19 councils were monitoring and reporting on waste they generated and disposed of, and 58 were not. Of those councils that were monitoring and reporting, six were city councils, four were regional councils, and nine were district councils.

We set out some examples of approaches to monitoring and reporting on waste in paragraphs 4.53 to 4.56.

Porirua City Council has a "zero waste" co-ordinator who reports on emissions arising from waste generated in the Council’s administration building and has who initiated diversion processes. The Council’s existing zero waste policy is to be extended to include corporate waste audit procedures and more regular reporting of progress.

Northland Regional Council reports on waste sent to landfill and has an active recycling programme for organic and inorganic waste. These recycling programmes aim to minimise waste going to landfill. The Council also offers a service to ratepayers to collect, store, and dispose of hazardous substances. The service includes monitoring contaminated sites.

Wellington City Council has carried out occasional surveys on waste generated from its activities. The Council’s annual report includes figures for the amount of paper used and materials recycled. The Council runs a garden-waste composting operation for the city’s organic waste, and a household recycling programme. Through a collaborative regional approach, the Council will be working on new and innovative projects to reduce the waste going into the landfills.

Hamilton City Council has long monitored and reported on the waste produced out of its main building. Targets and actual results for waste reduction were included in its annual report. The programme for measurement and diversion is being expanded to cover other Council facilities as each facility puts an environmental management system in place.

Next steps

Local authorities have used several strategies successfully to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. These strategies include:

  • working with staff to build an understanding of sustainability issues and encourage appropriate workplace behaviour, such as energy efficiency and good waste management;
  • visible commitment from senior staff and elected members;
  • thinking broadly about how environmental sustainability considerations affect other strategies, policies, and plans and integrating those considerations into other plans;
  • establishing baseline information about energy consumption or waste management and carrying out audits to monitor progress;
  • developing targets and measures to implement plans, and to report on progress in achieving these in internal documents and in public documents such as annual reports; and
  • reporting on activities that are easy to measure and to understand, such as reducing energy consumption in office buildings.

We intend to continue to monitor and report on the activities of local authorities in managing and reducing emissions during the next few years, using the year ended 30 June 2010 as a baseline, with a view to reporting to Parliament on:

  • the nature and extent of commitment by local authorities to these activities; and
  • the effects of the ETS on these activities.

5: See

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