The Climate Change Commission’s 2021 report includes a number of recommendations for central and local government to work together on reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. These improvements to legislation, funding, and public engagement will be welcomed by local government, but will take time to be adopted and take effect.

In the meantime, here are some of the actions councils can take right now, from ‘Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’. This book outlines the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, and is based on research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world.

The solutions are ranked for:

  • how cost-effective they are
  • how quickly they can be implemented
  • how beneficial they are to society.

The following actions are the ones which are most relevant to New Zealand councils, and many are already being implemented around the country. However, there may be something in the list that has not yet been considered by your council.

Note: The actions with an asterix relate to solar power and solar water heating, and are most beneficial when they are displacing the use of fossil fuel, which is more often the case in other countries. The relative ranking of these solutions is likely to be lower in New Zealand due to 84% of our electricity currently being generated from renewable sources. This means it’s best to seek expert advice on the costs and benefits of solar options, taking into account the most up to date information on the Government’s renewable energy plans.

#3 – Reduced food waste

Most important is to reduce food waste before it happens, followed by reallocation of unwanted food for human consumption or another reuse.

#4 – A plant-rich diet

Eating with a lighter footprint reduces emissions, but also tends to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. (While this is not directly within the scope of council actions, this option is too easy and valuable to leave out. There may be opportunities to promote a plant-rich diet when making catering decisions, or to encourage staff to take voluntary action in this direction.)

#8 – Solar farms – floating on reservoirs*

Compared to rooftop solar, solar farms enjoy lower installation costs per watt, and their efficiency in translating sunlight into electricity is higher. They have the additional benefit of reducing evaporation.

#10 – Rooftop solar*

Solar PV has benefited from falling costs, economies of scale in manufacturing and advances in panel technology. The ability to sell power back to the electricity provider affects the level of financial benefits.

#15 – Afforestation – creating new forests where there were none before.

#26 – Electric vehicles

Range anxiety can be a barrier and this can be addressed by increasing the availability of charging points. An extra benefit of EVs is they require little maintenance due to having fewer moving parts.

#30 and #46 – Methane digesters

These were ranked as #30 for large digestors and #46 for small digesters.

They harness the power of microbes to transform scraps and sludge and produce two main products: biogas (an energy source) and solids called digestate, which is a nutrient-rich fertiliser.

Biogas can displace fossil fuels for heating and electricity generation, and digestates supplant fossil-fuel based fertiliser while improving soil health.

#31 – Insulation

This is one of the most practical and cost-effective ways to make buildings more energy efficient.

#33 and #44 – LED lighting

This was ranked as #33 for households and #44 for commercial buildings.

LEDs use 90% less energy for the same amount of light than an incandescent bulb.

LED streetlights save up to 70% of energy and LEDs can be ‘tuned’ to provide health benefits (greater alertness on highways or sleep inducement in residential areas).

#34 – Biomass energy generation

This is a ‘bridge’ solution – useful in the short term but should be phased out over time in favour or cleaner energy sources.

#36 – Alternatives to cement

Cement is a source of greenhouse gas emissions due to the process of decarbonising limestone (60%) and the high temperatures required in the process (40% energy related emissions).

#37 – Mass transit, including buses

Public transport is most successful where it is also efficient and attractive.

#38 – Forest protection

#41 – Solar water heating*

Water heating is a major energy use. Hot water for showers, laundry and washing dishes consumes a quarter of residential energy use, worldwide. In commercial buildings that number is roughly 12 percent.

However, upfront costs are higher than gas and electric boilers. Increasingly, solar water heating gets considered alongside solar photovoltaics when it comes to roof space, investment and potential synergies between the two.

#42 – Heat pumps

Heat pumps are multi-purpose – able to supply indoor heating, cooling and hot water. For every unit of electricity consumed, an equivalent of up to five units of heat energy is transferred. When paired with renewable energy sources and buildings designed for efficiency, this is a good emissions-reducing solution.

#45 – Building automation

Examples of building automation are lights that switch off when no one is around and windows that vent to improve air quality and temperature.

#47 – Using bio-plastics rather than petro-plastics

Bioplastics can reduce emissions and sequester carbon, but do need separate and appropriate processing.

#48 – Instream hydro

Smaller, in-stream turbines can capture hyper-kinetic energy (the underwater equivalent of a wind turbine).

#52 – Protecting and restoring coastal wetlands

When intact and healthy, coastal wetlands absorb and hold on to large amounts of carbon, producing carbon rich soil. When degraded, or destroyed, coastal wetlands become a potent source of emissions, releasing volumes of previously sequestered carbon.

As sea levels rise these ecosystems will need to migrate inland toward higher ground.

#54 – Walkable cities

Urban design can minimise the need to use cars, reducing emissions from driving.

#57 – Smart thermostats

#58 – Managing landfill methane

Landfills can be designed, managed and regulated with methane recovery in mind, related to organic materials.

#59 – Bike infrastructure

This includes safe, pleasant, effective environments in which to ride, city bikeshare programmes, and provision of workplace showers.

#60 – Composting

The composting process converts organic material into stable soil carbon, and makes it available to plants. It is incredibly valuable fertiliser, as it retains the water and nutrients of the original waste matter. It can aid soil carbon sequestration.

#61 – Smart glass for commercial buildings

This makes windows responsive in real time to the weather, because  changing the tint and reflectiveness is as switchable as indoor lighting. In summer they admit visible light while blocking heat (reducing the need for air conditioning), and in winter they let in both light and thermal radiation (reducing the need for heating).

Smart glass is 50% more expensive than ordinary glass, so this solution is most cost-effective in hot climates. However, prices are reducing over time, as demand increases.

#63 – Video conferencing

This reduces the need to travel for business reasons, and needs to be supported with policies around avoiding travel, and tracking and rewarding the use of this alternative.

#68 – Waste to energy

This is a ‘bridge solution’. It can help us move away from fossil fuels in the near term, but is not part of a clean energy future, as it is a one-way treatment and does not retain or return nutrients to the ecosystem.

Zero waste creation, composting and recycling are all better than this option.

#69 – Electric bikes

E-bikes are the most environmentally sound means of motorised transport in the world today. One issue is the need for clear rules about their use on roads and shared paths.

#70– Use of recycled paper

This action complements reducing paper use.

#71– Reducing water losses from the water supply distribution system

This option both saves on electricity associated with both pumping and conserves water.

Addressing leaks is the cheapest way to source new water supply and serve a growing population. This work includes use of valves within a larger system to act as a gatekeeper, and benefiting from the ongoing evolution of sensors and software in leak detection and pressure management.

#73 – Green roofs

The soil and vegetation function as living insulation. Another option is ‘cool’ roofs which are cheaper, simpler and more like conventional installations than green roofs. They consist of light-coloured metal, or shingles, or tiles, or coatings, or membranes for the purpose of reflecting solar energy back into the atmosphere, rather than absorbing it as a dark roof does.

#75 – Ridesharing

This option is difficult to promote where there is an abundance of free or cheap parking and cheap fuel, which makes it easy to travel solo.

#76 – Energy cogeneration

This involves capturing excess heat and using that thermal energy at or near the site for heating, putting otherwise wasted energy to work. Energy cogeneration is very efficient but price can be a barrier to its establishment.

#79 – Net zero buildings

This is a combination of techniques described earlier, including: smart windows; green roofs; efficient heating, cooling and water systems; better insulation; distributed energy and storage; and advanced automation.

#80 – Retrofitting

Retrofitting extends the life of a building and increases its value. It is likely to involve: installation of better insulation and lighting systems; improved heating and cooling equipment; and upgraded management systems.

You can access more climate change articles here.