Pandemic Travel Restrictions Subdue New Zealand’s Household Carbon Footprint

Default Profile ImageBen O'Connell
Pandemic Travel Restrictions

The carbon footprint of households, which reflects the emissions embodied in their consumption of goods and services and in their lifestyle choices, decreased by 3.8 percent (1,519 kilotonnes) in 2021, according to figures released by Stats NZ.

Households are the largest component of New Zealand’s total carbon footprint (consumption-based emissions). The decrease in household carbon footprint in 2021 contributed to New Zealand’s total carbon footprint remaining 4.5 percent below pre-COVID levels at 57,683 kilotonnes.

“The household carbon footprint remains down largely due to transport, which in 2021 was 22 percent or 3,369 kilotonnes below the pre-COVID 2019 level. Despite this decrease, transport is still the largest contributor to household carbon footprint at 31 percent,” environmental-economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley said.

Breaking Down New Zealand’s Household Transport Emissions

Household transport emissions can be broken down into indirect and direct emissions.

Indirect transport emissions are associated with the extraction, refining, and transportation of fuel and the use of other forms of transport, such as public transport and commercial air travel. In 2021, indirect emissions were down a further 2.0 percent from a time-series low in 2020 as pandemic border restrictions continued to reduce the emissions associated with international flights.

Direct transport emissions are associated with the use of private vehicles. Emissions from households’ use of private vehicles increased by 4.9 percent as domestic travel increased in 2021 from a dip in 2020.

“Of the emissions resulting from New Zealand households’ use of personal vehicles, non-tourism emissions, associated with short everyday trips, were down in 2021, likely due to people continuing to work from home, while domestic tourism emissions increased,” Oakley said.

Covid-19 and Planet Earth

The COVID-19 pandemic yielded both positive and negative repercussions for the natural environment. On a positive note, lockdowns and travel restrictions led to a large reduction in industrial activities and transportation, resulting in clearer skies and diminished air pollution in many urban areas.

Further, the temporary decline in global carbon dioxide emissions was noticeable during the early stages of the pandemic, as economic activities slowed and travel was restricted. Wildlife also seized the opportunity to explore urban spaces with reduced human activities, offering glimpses of adaptability among certain species. Water quality experienced improvements in some regions due to diminished industrial and tourism-related pollution.

However, it’s essential to acknowledge that these positive impacts were transient, and the pandemic brought about some negative consequences. The increased use of single-use plastics due to concerns about virus transmission, improper disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the diversion of resources away from environmental initiatives were notable drawbacks.

As societies recover, there exists an opportunity to integrate lessons learned into the pursuit of a more sustainable and resilient future. Achieving a balance between economic activities and environmental conservation remains a global challenge that necessitates cooperative efforts and strategic long-term planning.

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