Part 6: Reducing and managing greenhouse gas emissions

Local government: Results of the 2011/12 audits.

This Part reports on the extent to which local authorities have:

  • measured, reduced, and offset greenhouse gas emissions from their activities in the year ended 30 June 2012; and
  • taken a broader approach to, and drawn up plans for, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their territories.

This is the third time we have reported on these matters. Where possible, we have compared the 2011/12 results with those of 2010/11. We have been doing this work to see whether local authorities consider the environmental effects of what they do and whether the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (the ETS) is making a difference to this.


In late 2012, the amendments to the Local Government Act 2002 removed the requirement for local authorities to promote the four aspects of well-being, including environmental well-being. The Local Government Act 2002 now requires local authorities to take a sustainable approach, which includes taking into account the need to maintain and enhance the quality of the environment and the needs of future generations. Although there is no explicit requirement for local authorities to measure or reduce the environmental effects of their activities, some have chosen to measure the greenhouse gas emissions for their activities, 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:

  • measuring;
  • reducing; and
  • offsetting (for unavoidable emissions).

Most local authorities accept that it is better to reduce emissions than to offset them.

To measure emissions, local authorities must collect information about matters such as fuel use, mileage, electricity/gas consumption, and use of raw materials. Data can then be converted into carbon dioxide equivalents using conversion and emission factors available from agencies such as Landcare Research New Zealand Limited and the Ministry for the Environment.

The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme

In August 2011, we published information on the ETS. Our guidance, The Emissions Trading Scheme – summary information for public entities and auditors, provides background information about the scheme and gives public entities and auditors our views on how to account for and audit ETS matters.21

The ETS is relevant to local authorities. As well as bearing price increases for fuel and energy, some local authorities and their CCOs are taking part in the scheme because of forestry interests or because they operate landfills.

Waste and the Emissions Trading Scheme

Waste processing entered the ETS from 1 January 2013, so many local authorities have become participants because they operate waste disposal facilities. (Under the Climate Change Response Act 2002, the operator of a waste disposal facility must take part in the ETS. Most, if not all, solid waste disposal facilities that local authorities operate meet this definition.)

In October 2012, small and remote landfills were granted an exemption from all surrender and reporting obligations under the ETS. The exemption is available for all landfills in operation since before 1 January 2012 that meet one of the three criteria based on tonnes of waste disposed and distance from the nearest landfill.22 The exempt landfills will not be required to report emissions or surrender emission units for 2012.

Operators of waste disposal facilities had to register as ETS participants by 1 January 2012 and are required to pay a cost for every tonne of methane emitted from January 2013.23 As a result, local authorities might have increased charges for users and investigated ways to reduce their liability, such as focusing more on minimising waste.

The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 requires waste disposal operators to report their waste tonnage to the Ministry for the Environment to work out the waste disposal levy. Therefore, further compliance costs to meet the reporting requirements of the ETS should be minimal.

Monitoring and reporting on how local authorities generate and dispose of waste

We note that, in 2011/12, 37 local authorities monitored and reported on the production and disposal of waste that they or their communities generate. In 2010/11, 24 local authorities did so.

Measuring greenhouse gas emissions

In 2011/12, 27 local authorities measured their greenhouse gas emissions.

Most of the local authorities that measure emissions focus on waste, vehicles, air travel, and electricity.

Many of the local authorities that do not measure their emissions did not consider their emissions to be significant and saw no need to measure them. Other local authorities had not considered the matter.

Some local authorities took part in the voluntary Communities for Climate Protection New Zealand, which provided a structured approach to reducing corporate and community emissions. However, some local authorities use action plans that the former Communities for Climate Protection New Zealand introduced.

A few local authorities use the information about their greenhouse gas emissions to report on sustainability in their annual report. For example, Palmerston North City Council reports on emissions using the "Cities Climate Register", a global initiative.24 Environment Canterbury measures and reports emissions from its vehicle fleet, office electricity, and waste to the landfill, and includes this information in its annual plan and annual report.

Christchurch City Council has a "climate smart strategy" and a sustainable energy strategy. The "climate smart strategy" addresses community and council emissions. Christchurch City Council describes energy projects on its website and supports the Christchurch Agency for Energy, which has specific targets for slowing energy consumption in Christchurch and encouraging the use of renewable fuels.25

Auckland Council uses an "ecoPortal" to measure, monitor, and reduce use of water, gas, electricity, and other resources, with the aim of measurably reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the targets in the Auckland Plan.26

Plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

In 2011/12, 23 local authorities had a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a similar number to the previous year.

Taranaki Regional Council said it always seeks ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Taranaki Regional Council replaces its modern vehicle fleet every three years and maintains it regularly to ensure fuel efficiency, uses diesel vehicles where possible, and tracks use of fuel. Taranaki Regional Council regularly carries out energy reviews and waste minimisation audits to work out how to use energy more efficiently and generate less waste. After an energy audit by the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority, Taranaki Regional Council began to use Eco bulbs and ensure that computer screens were switched off when not in use.

Tasman District Council plans to reduce emissions from landfill activities by diverting organic waste from landfills and collecting and destroying landfill gas. Tasman District Council is working with Nelson City Council to change how organic waste is handled. The two councils are working to measure the organic fraction of landfill waste in the next three years. Depending on the outcome of this work, Nelson City Council might build an organic processing facility in five years' time. Tasman District Council plans to install a landfill gas system as part of its capital budget for stage 3 of the landfill.

Taupo District Council identified a few options to reduce emissions and included these in its Waste Management and Minimisation Plan 2012. Some of the new initiatives include having more categories of plastic containers that can be recovered for recycling, subsidising home composting, and providing education. Taupo District Council has a target to:

… by 2018, reduce the quantity of waste (tonnes) disposed to landfill per person per year by 3% relative to an established 2010 baseline.

Targets for reducing emissions and how these are reported

A plan to reduce emissions needs targets and measures to assess and report progress. In 2011/12, we noted that 17 local authorities had targets for reducing emissions. This was an increase from 13 local authorities in 2010/11.

Most local authorities that have targets for measuring emissions report their achievements internally.

Wellington City Council reports against its targets internally and externally and has a specific entry in its long-term plan for "waste reduction and energy conservation". The target for Wellington City Council-generated emissions is a 40% reduction by 2020, and the target for city-generated emissions is a 30% reduction by 2020. Wellington City Council has included a new "our environmental impact" section in its annual report that shows emissions, fuel use, and paper consumption.

Next steps

During the last three years, we have asked our auditors to gather information from local authorities about their work to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a view to reporting to Parliament on:

  • the nature and extent of local authorities' commitment to this work; and
  • the effects of the ETS on this work.

Some local authorities have a strong commitment to environmental sustainability and are acting in line with this. But it has been difficult to discern strong trends or clearly identifiable effects of the ETS.

We are considering whether to continue to gather the base information about emissions measurement and reduction from all local authorities. Rather than collect information from all local authorities, we might focus more closely on those that are taking part in the ETS through waste and forestry activities, with a view to updating our ETS guidance for auditors and public entities.

21: The guidance is available on our website.

22: See and Climate Change (General Exemptions) Order 2009, clause 12A Exemption for operating remote disposal facilities.

23: Landfill operators that are not exempt are obliged to collect the data in order to calculate and report their greenhouse gas emissions during the calendar year, submit an emissions return by 31 March 2014, and surrender enough emission units by 31 May 2014.

24: See the Cities Climate Registry website, The Cities Climate Registry is a global mechanism that encourages local government to regularly and publicly report on their greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments, greenhouse gas emission inventories, and climate mitigation/adaptation actions.

25: See the Christchurch Agency for Energy website, The Christchurch Agency for Energy is a local charitable trust that raises awareness of energy, energy use, and energy options in Christchurch and promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy.

26: See

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