Emissions policy and immigration policy

A month or so ago I ran a couple of posts on New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions in international context.  Readers may recall that New Zealand now has the second highest emissions per unit of GDP of any OECD country, having moved up from sixth in 1990.

emissions per GDP

As part of the Paris climate change accord process, New Zealand has made ambitious promises to reduce its total emissions substantially.   This was the wording from the terms of reference for the new Productivity Commission inquiry into how best the economy might adjust given the climate targets

New Zealand has recently formalised its first Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement to reduce its emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Paris Agreement envisages all countries taking progressively ambitious emissions reduction targets beyond 2030. Countries are invited to formulate and communicate long-term low emission development strategies before 2020. The Government has previously notified a target for a 50 per cent reduction in New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

At present, total emissions are still above 1990 levels, not a common outcome for OECD countries.

One of the reasons for that is that we have had much faster population growth than most advanced countries.    Indeed, in their recent report on emissions etc, the Ministry for the Environment even listed population growth as first among the various constraints or challenges New Zealand faces.

Some of the challenges New Zealand faces when reducing emissions include:

  • a growing population
  • almost half our emissions are from agriculture where there are fewer economically viable options currently available to reduce emissions
  • an electricity sector that is already 80.8 per cent renewable (meaning that we have fewer ‘easy wins’ available to us compared to other countries who can more easily make significant emissions reductions  by switching to renewable sources of electricity).

As I noted in my earlier post, I was pleasantly surprised to find the population issue listed so prominently.

It is hard to disagree with them  But it does leave one wondering what advice or research/analysis they have done, and provided to Ministers –  including when the target was being adopted –  about the implications of New Zealand’s immigration policy.  Our non-citizen immigration policy pushes up the population by almost 1 per cent per annum (against an, admittedly unrealistic, benchmark of zero inward migration of non-citizens).  Have they analysed the potential costs and benefits from lowering the non-citizen immigration target relative to other possible abatement (or compensation) mechanisms?  Perhaps there is credible modelling that suggests the overall abatement costs to New Zealanders would be lower through other plausible mechanisms.  But given that population increases appear first, and without further commentary, on their lists of “challenges” it would be good to know if they have done the work.

On reflection, I think I will lodge an Official Information Act request to find out.

And so I did, writing thus to the Ministry for the Environment

I was interested to read in the snapshot emissions document released this morning that the Ministry regards increasing population as one of the top challenges New Zealand faces in meeting its emissions reductions target.

Accordingly, I request copies of all advice to the Minister for the Environment or ministers responsible for climate change policy, any and all internal research or analysis documents, and any advice to MBIE or the Mnister of Immigration, on the implications of New Zealand’s immigration policy for (a) the setting of, or (b) the successful pursuit of, or (c) costs of pursuing New Zealand’s emissions reduction target.   Among my interests is in any material on the relative costs of various options for achieving the target, including whether any research and modelling has been done on the costs of cutting the immigration targets relative to other abatement methods/policies.

This request covers all material since the start of 2014.

I deliberately went back to the start of 2014 to encompass both the period leading up to the adoption of New Zealand’s emissions reductions commitments, and the period since then, when presumably officials had to think hard about how policy might assist in minimising the costs to the economy of meeting the target the government had committed us to.

A short time ago, I received a full and comprehensive reply from the Ministry for the Environment, the ministry which has the lead responsibility for official advice on climate change and emissions related issues.

After quoting my request back to me, Roger Lincoln, Director Climate Change, replied

“No documents were found within the scope of your request. For this reason, your request is being refused under the grounds of 18(e) – the document that contains the information requested does not exist or can’t be found.”

I wasn’t really expecting there would be much.  But nothing at all, not a shred, whether before the government entered into these commitments, or subsequently, or even just before they openly listed the growing population first in the list of challenges New Zealand faces in reducing emissions?   That did take me by surprise.   So complete is the absence of material, that it is almost as if they were determined not to consider the issue, or (say) point it out to MBIE, the government’s leading immigration policy advisors.  Whether that was because senior officials internally discouraged them looking at the issue, or whether one or other of their ministers issued such guidance, we don’t know.

But MfE is clearly aware enough of the issue to put it top of their recently-published list of challenges.  And yet has done no research, no analysis, and provided no advice on the interaction between immigration policy and the costs of meeting our climate change commitments.

Not long enough, Stephen Toplis incurred the wrath of a senior public official for suggesting that, in his view, if the Reserve Bank did not adopt a particular line, it could be considered “negligent” –  ie not doing its job properly.   And that was just a conditional statement about something that hadn’t happened yet.      When the Ministry for the Enviroment has done nothing at all on immigration policy and the additional costs it appears to impose to meet the emissions targets –  not even simply pointing out the possible connection to MBIE –  whether in providing advice on formulating commitments, or on how the country might best meet those government commitments – that looks quite a lot like actual negligence, with the potential for real economic costs to New Zealanders.

I do hope that when their Issues Paper for the emissions reduction inquiry emerges, the Productivity Commission will prove to have taken the issue rather more seriously.

15 thoughts on “Emissions policy and immigration policy

  1. I remember you mentioning $14.2billion over 10 years. That is just over $1,000 per household per year. It would be good to show it on our rates bill.

    How much of our emissions is human based and how much agriculture?

    If the immigrant population increases by say 20% (a guess extrapolation from latest figures and adding the extra children immigrants are likely to have) over the next 10 years how much extra will we be paying in carbon credits compared to a base of zero immigrants?


    • 45% emissions is agricultural based.
      Human emissions are estimated to be only 3% of total emissions.

      Most of which comes from burning carbon fuels. Since most of our electricity generation is hydro electric we do not burn carbon fuel for power.

      But of course we have also a lot of petrol heads due to our long stretches of lonely roads. Great for petrol guzzling turbo charged engines which most of us in NZ love to drive and don’t forget those thousands of boats that burn high grade carbon fuel for our regular leisure fishing activities that burns an entire tank of petrol for a days fishing adventure. Nothing really to do with migrants so not too sure why increasing population is an issue with carbon emissions as most of them just stay at home and play internet games anyway and drive brand new high end fuel efficient BMWs’ and Lexus Hybrids. I have met a few migrants recently that have just ordered their high end Tesla.


      • I would be more worried about the Green Party new refugee quota of 5,000 refugee intake a year. We can’t even look after our own poverty in NZ and we want to take in more poor people that will be severely disadvantaged and hate us for bringing them into NZ when we drop them into leaking and drafty cold boarding houses to grow up in. Not too healthy when they grow up in NZ hating us. Just bringing in a disaster waiting to happen.


      • Are the 45% agricultural based emissions mainly cows?

        What are the remaining 52% emissions? Are they loosely related to the population such as new infrastructure? I’m trying to get an understanding of what would happen if all the humans died and all the cows lived – would emissions drop to 45% or to 97%.


      • mostly energy as I understand it – cars, electricity generation (non hydro), and the like. in principle, in all the humans died, the non-agricultural bit looks as tho it should go to zero. The big issue isn’t that humans emit, but that they do stuff that involves generating emissions (and that abating that can only be done at a cost – otherwise presumably it would have happened already)


      • Most of the 55% is in energy production and industry.

        Industries most affected by the ETS are primarily those directly engaged directly in mining, manufacturing, and energy production. Unsurprisingly, nearly 70% of inputs into the Gas supply sector are from within the Energy sector, mostly within Gas supply itself, for instance. A similar pattern is seen in electricity.
        Other industries that use a lot of energy, or produce a lot of emissions through the industrial production process, include metal product manufacturing, pulp and paper, and non-metallic product manufacturing, such as bricks, glass and cement. But even in an industry like Advertising, market research and management services, around 20% of inputs come from sectors covered by the ETS. A price rise for carbon units due to a supply shortage and/or better verification of international units would likely lead to price rises in Advertising.

        The exclusion of agriculture, the country’s biggest emitter, from emissions obligations will pass the financial burden of emissions onto other businesses and households.

        This amounts to an implicit subsidy that will skew the New Zealand economy and land use toward 

        Click to access The-Paris-Agreement-February-2016.pdf


  2. Population increase seems a red herring, to me.

    When you take into account the fact that 80% of emissions are from agriculture, which sells at the highest price possible to a global market, regardless of our population numbers, and the fact that our electricity is 80% (and increasing) from renewable sources, then the impact of increasing non-native population by, say, 1% p.a. immigration, seems likely to be very small.

    So small, I would suggest, that if we could elect a government genuinely committed to reducing emissions by funding (with our ample fiscal space) the adoption of low-emission technologies e.g. electrified rail, greatly expanded public mass transit, we could quite easily decrease emissions while increasing our population.

    And remember that we need 2% population growth just to maintain our current population.

    But I agree with Michael in that there should be transparent, professional modelling to inform the debate. I would trust the EPA to do this more independently than The Treasury.


    • Luc

      According to the MfE numbers, only around half of emissions are from agriculture. But population pressures influence those as well, because the rapid population growth makes it harder for NZ to impose significant costs on agricultural emitters, in ways that might reduce output, or reduce growth of agric output. A flat population, say, would take the pressure off for growth in gross exports, would lower the exchange rate making other exports more competitive, and leave room for much tighter standards of water quality and charges etc for emissions.

      Bear in mind that 1% pa population growth, is more than 20% increase over say 20 years. Cumulatively that makes a big difference to like emissions from energy, all else equal.


      • Emissions is measured by per capita. So more people would reduce the targets.

        The $1.4 billion should be used to subsidize electricity powered cars. But talking to a Mercury Engineer that was offering me a Solar solution is that the uptake of electric cars will mean that Mercury Energy will not have sufficient power generation capacity in its hydro production. The electricity required to recharge overnight a empty electric car battery will require a consumption load increase of 10 times the usual daily need. Fortunately most of us don’t drive 300 km and need a full top up.The alternative is to go solar generation to handle the future requirements from electric cars.

        Liked by 1 person

    • If Dairy prices had not collapsed by more than 50%, the RBNZ would still have been in an aggressive upwards interest rate track causing all sorts of damage to the growing economy. The economy continues to track along a nice robust 3% growth. Clearly our economy has diversified away from dairy reliance. Population growth mainly to do with servicing the tourism and international student market. The services industry is much more demanding on increasing labour. The best service is provided by more people rather than less therefore putting.upward pressure population. Dairy frankly is not even needed to the scale that you suggest.


  3. Trouble is, Carbon emissions are not an issue and we are paying into this great scam when we shouldn’t be.


    • The Paris Agreement is based on carbon emissions. It does not include the methane gas emissions from our 10 million cows which is 39 times more potent as a green house gas and also damages the ozone layer quite severely. We have one of the highest rate of skin cancers mainly due to to the ozone depletion from methane gas emissions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A molecule of methane (CH4) surely has more carbon than a molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2)? I agree with you that it is reputedly far more potent a green house gas and your figure of 39 times seems reasonable. If CH4 is captured and burnt then it would release one molecule of CO2 and two of H2O.
        Thanks for the info about the ozone depletion. Isn’t there work being done on GM cows?


      • Methane intially reacts with ozone in a ‘chain’ reaction that ultimately produces CO2 and water vapour.

        You could summarise the reactions into:

        (3)CH4 + (4)O3 = (3)CO2 + (6)H2O

        Oxidation of methane is the main source of water vapor in the upper stratosphere


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