Page last updated at 21:27 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 22:27 UK

Attempting to 'kick the carbon habit'

A geyser on New Zealand's North Island (Image: BBC)
Geothermal energy offers the nation a continuous supply of renewable

The stunning natural landscape defines the national character of New Zealand, so to the average inhabitant climate change must seem like a remote concern.

But Prime Minister, Helen Clark, is urging them to "kick the carbon habit" and reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

"If the world does not tackle this problem comprehensively, we're not going to be bequeathing much of a planet to future generations," she explained.

The government's targets include:

  • 90% of energy must come from renewable sources by 2025
  • Cut transport emissions by 50% by 2040
  • Curb emissions of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from agriculture

In the heart of the nation's wine country, a local firm called Grove Mill has embraced this call for action when it became the first company in the world to have a product certified as carbon neutral.

David Pearce, chief wine maker at Grove Mill, said there was not a simple answer to why they did it.

The big challenge for us is the 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions that comes from our agricultural sectors because that is the backbone of our economy
Helen Clark,
New Zealand's Prime Minister

"We did it for a range of reasons," he told the Television Trust for the Environment's (TVE) Earth Report programme.

"We were very environmentally conscious anyway, and we still are.

"We used to fly helicopters over this vineyard for frost protection, but that's extremely high in carbon dioxide emissions."

He added that cutting out this practice probably cuts emissions by about 90%.

The company also made their wine bottles lighter, which meant less energy was needed to make glass and transport the bottles.

It also managed to cut emissions further by insulating the wine cellar rather than using air conditioning.

However, it was not possible for the company to eliminate emissions from lorries and ships used to transport the wine.

The firm decided to offset these emissions by planting trees and shrubs, which would absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Feel the heat

Nature has given New Zealand a head start as far as meeting its renewable energy target is concerned.

Nissan electric car (Image: Nissan)
Officials hope electric cars will replace the nation's ageing fleet of vehicles

By tapping into underground volcanic heat, geothermal plants can generate almost limitless clean power.

Rivers, rapids and waterfalls are another natural feature of the nation's natural landscape that can be tapped as a source for hydro-electricity plants.

Currently, about 70% of the country's electricity is generated from these renewable sources.

The government plans to use wind power to make up the remaining 20% in order to meet the target of 90% by 2025.

One of the biggest hurdles that has to be overcome is emissions from transport. Most of the nation's cars are bought second-hand and imported from Japan.

"New Zealand has the oldest, dirtiest and least efficient car fleet in the whole of the developed world," said Jeannette Fitzsimons, co-leader of the Green Party, which is a member of the coalition government.

Environment Minister Trevor Mallard said achieving the goal of halving emissions from transport by 2040 would be a "major exercise".

"That will mean that the fleet will be modernised. We have to make a lot of progress, for example, towards electric cars."

K J Wells, leader of the electric vehicle programme of state-owned Meridian Energy, said the sector was not as clean and green as they would like.

"If we look at all the countries around the world, New Zealand is the second highest in the world for car ownership," he said.

"We've got almost one car for every man, woman and child - we think there is room for improvement."

Meridian Energy is focusing its efforts on electric cars from Japan.

"One of the things that makes New Zealand the best place in the world for electric vehicles is the fact that we have an abundance of renewable energy," he explained.

However, Meridian Energy has yet to import any electric cars, while the second-hand fossil fuel models continue to arrive from Japan.

Smell of success

Another big challenge facing New Zealand is curbing emissions from its booming agriculture industry, which is the nation's main pollution source.

"The big challenge for us is the 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions that comes from our agricultural sectors because that is the backbone of our economy," observes Helen Clark.

Sheep (Image: TVE)
The truth is that we are only just starting to nail the science of how to measure the amount of methane and nitrous oxide from agricultural production
Dr Nick Smith,

As a result, ministers are investing money into research on emissions from cows.

Scientists at Lincoln University are looking at ways to reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a gas that has a global warming potential 310 times greater than carbon dioxide.

"Over half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and of that, one-third is nitrous oxide," explained soil scientist Professor Keith Cameron.

"It comes predominantly from animal urine deposits on the pasture and on the soil."

Dr Harry Clark, an animal scientist for Ag Research, says it is a myth that flatulence from cattle and sheep is the nation's main source of methane emissions.

"They produce methane which comes from the animals' breath; and, despite the popular myth, it is not coming out of their rear ends. About 99% of the methane comes from the breath."

The scientists say that research into cutting emissions from livestock is still at an early stage.

Dr Nick Smith, the environment spokesman for the National Party of New Zealand, agreed that there was still a long way to go.

"The truth is that we are only just starting to nail the science of how to measure the amount of methane and nitrous oxide from agricultural production.

"I think it is a matter of decades rather than years before there'll be the sort of breakthroughs that enable us to bring those emissions down."

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