26 Jul 2021

New tool aims to give greater oversight to greenhouse gas emissions

6:51 am on 26 July 2021

New Zealanders will soon be able track how much greenhouse gas the country is emitting in almost real time.

Industrial air pollution smoke chimney.

File photo. Photo: 123RF

The research firm that made the tool, DOT Loves Data, says having up-to-date information is crucial if the country is going to fulfil its obligations to slash climate gases.

Despite being the fight of our generation, right now it is hard to tell whether the efforts to massively reduce carbon emissions are working.

The Ministry for the Environment's comprehensive Greenhouse Gas Inventory, released each April, is 15 months out of date the day it comes out - and is 27 months old by the time a new version is released.

Hannah Chorley, lead climate scientist making the tool, said this simply did not cut it.

"This out-of-date information isn't good enough. We can't make relevant policy decisions based on out-of-date information.

"The carbon tracker was born from that."

The DOT Loves Data model gathers information released daily or even hourly.

It comes from Transport Agency traffic stats, Transpower electricity use data, and is underpinned by more long-term measures like the Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

Chorley said Stats NZ has its own national tracking tool, but it has a very economic lens - expressing emissions info relative to GDP.

She said the aim for the Dot Loves Data model was for it to be as accurate as the inventory, but also present the information - by sector and eventually by region - in a way that anyone could understand.

People would be able to tell whether a policy - such as the recent subsidy announced for electric vehicles and the controversial 'ute tax' - was having an effect.

"In a few months time we might actually be able to see that this has really driven change.

"So I think while people might actually go 'oh look how this has changed our profile through time, if I do this as well, this is how I can make a difference'."

Chorley said they were looking to continue adding information into the model from other sources, with it currently accurate to between 3 and 5 percent.

DOT loves Data partner and co-founder Mike Brough said access to a more detailed version of the tool will be sold to businesses and other organisations.

"Each industry, with the Climate Change [Commission] report come out, is going to have targets to meet.

"And so [to] actually understand those targets at industry level, and how they're contributing and so forth, has really piqued the interest.

"So actually understanding what their contribution is and understanding a market view and maybe how an industry can work together to make a change, I think is changing the appetite for something like this."

Brough said the country has to massively scale back emissions quickly to meet its commitment to become carbon neutral in three decades.

"We've got such a big jump to make as a country, as individuals.

"I think if we can play a part and say, 'yeah, actually, these changes that a region is making is actually having a positive impact on reducing emissions' - I would hope that it's going to be a positive thing.

"Because in terms of the context of where we need to get to by 2050, that's only going to be one small step."

He said a couple of hundred thousand dollars have been invested in the project, with the Transpower subsidiary emsTradepoint and the Callahan Institute pitching in too.

He said a data set that he would love to get his hands on, but that isn't very well measured at the moment, was changes to how land was used to get a better sense of how much carbon was being captured.

Professor Dave Frame the Director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University, said care would be needed so politicians did not claim policy wins for emissions drops that were actually caused by something else.

"The main risk would be people not stepping through the chain of cause and effect but over time I think that sort of thing would probably get picked up."

Professor Frame said, overall, the tool sounded like a good idea.

"Making the consequences of peoples' decisions more salient will help them make more informed decisions.

"So I think if it is done well it will be really useful for a range of people."

The company is looking to release the public version for the emissions tracker in six weeks, with the commercial version to come in about six months.

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