11 Jun 2021

Queenstown 'Lady of the Lake' under scrutiny for environmental impact

5:20 pm on 11 June 2021

A study into greenhouse gas emissions in Otago has noted the impact of the TSS Earnslaw 'Lady of the Lake' steamship, along with a catalogue of other industries and players.

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TSS Earnslaw 'The Lady of the Lake', in Queenstown. Photo: Real Journeys

The TSS Earnslaw, often called the Lady of the Lake, has been plying Lake Wakatipu since 1912, but the steamship is coming under increasing scrutiny over its environmental impact. The ship on her own contributed 1 percent of Queenstown Lakes District's transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to data released this week.

Otago Regional Council's first Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory estimated the much-loved Queenstown icon smoked out 4076 tonnes of 'carbon dioxide-equivalent' between July 2018 and June 2019.

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is a standard unit for counting greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of whether they're from carbon dioxide or another gas, such as methane.

Gross emissions for the Queenstown Lakes District were estimated at 600,895 tonnes of CO2e.

Transport was the highest emitting sector for the region, accounting for 45 percent of gross emissions. On- and off-road transport accounted for 60 percent, and aviation accounted for 38 percent of sector emissions.

The count included all international flights, while previous studies by Queenstown's own council did not.

The inventory, prepared for Otago Regional Council (ORC) by consultants Ernst & Young, made a point of highlighting the steamship's contribution.

"The coal fired TSS Earnslaw, which operates on Lake Wakatipu, is estimated to generate 4076 tonnes of CO2e, or 1 percent of total transport emissions for the district," it said.

The TSS Earnslaw was launched the same year as the RMS Titanic, and is the oldest passenger-carrying coal-powered steamship in the Southern Hemisphere.

It is owned by Real Journeys, a subsidiary of Queenstown tourism giant Wayfare, and makes the journey to Walter Peak farm, 45 minutes each way, three to four times a day, depending on the season.

The TSS Earnslaw is currently out of the water for annual maintenance, on a temporary dry dock in Kelvin Heights, from 3 May to 25 June.

Wayfare chief executive Stephen England-Hall, who was until recently the boss of Tourism NZ, said: "We're committed to ensuring she continues to offer a unique heritage experience to be enjoyed for another century or more.

"We have made a number of modifications over the years to mitigate the smoke and emissions, and are currently investigating further options as we develop our group programme to move toward becoming carbon neutral."

Dairy cows graze under irrigation system near Lauder, Central Otago (2014)

Agriculture was the biggest greenhouse gas emissions source for four out of five Otago districts between July 2018 and June 2019, the inventory said. Photo: Colin Monteath / Hedgehog House / Minden Pictures / Biosphoto

Inventory gives snapshot of emissions region-wide

Gross and net emissions for the Dunedin City District were estimated at 1,250,047 tonnes CO2e (21 percent) and 1,033,802 tonnes CO2e (32 percent) respectively.

The greenhouse gas inventory estimated that the agriculture industry, particularly sheep and beef activities, were the primary source of emissions in Otago across four of the five districts, at 3,774,184 tonnes CO2e gross.

In the 2018/19 financial year, the Queenstown Lakes economy generated $3.3 billion in GDP, about a quarter of Otago's total GDP. It was home to an estimated 44,800 people, 19 percent of Otago's population.

Yet, even with international flights and tourism, according to the data the district was responsible for only 10 percent of Otago's gross emissions of 5,821,025 tonnes CO2e.

Queenstown's net emissions, when greenhouse gas sequestration through forestry and other avenues was taken into account, were 438,591 tonnes CO2e, which was 13.7 percent of Otago's 3,180,627 tonnes CO2e net emissions.

Transport accounted for 918,438 tonnes CO2e gross across Otago, stationary energy (including electricity) 676,856 tonnes CO2e, waste (including landfills) 348,036 tonnes CO2e, and industrial process and product used 103,510.

Earlier this week, the Climate Change Commission released its final advice to the government on how New Zealand should cut its emissions over the coming years to meet climate change targets.

They recommended banning imports of all diesel and petrol cars by 2035, ideally by 2030, but the report was criticised by Greenpeace and others for giving the dairy industry a "free pass to pollute".

Transport was the biggest emissions source in Queenstown Lakes District and a significant source in Dunedin, while electricity usage made up a significant proportion of stationary energy emissions across all districts.

Stationary energy made up 11 percent of gross emissions in Queenstown and was dominated by electricity consumption. Waste contributed about 7 percent of gross emissions in the district, largely due to solid waste disposal to landfills.

ORC strategy manager Dr Anne Duncan said the inventory was prepared in collaboration with Otago's five city and district councils.

"This inventory is an important first step towards reducing emissions in Otago, as it will help us understand our footprint, mitigation options and scenarios, and it will inform discussions and engagement with our communities."

"Undertaking this kind of inventory enables us to estimate - sector by sector - where our biggest emitters are in each district. The... study used a global protocol for accounting and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, incorporating data held by the Dunedin City, Central Otago, Clutha, Waitaki, and Queenstown Lakes councils, among other sector sources.

ORC referred the report to the Otago Mayoral Forum.

Dr Duncan said the new inventory, along with the ORC's Otago Climate Change Risk Assessment (completed in March), would provide a good basis for a partnership approach to climate change in the region

- The Queenstown App / Lakes Weekly Bulletin

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