Kiwis split on how New Zealand can be carbon neutral by 2050

23 March 2021

Nearly 70% of New Zealanders expect climate change to have a lot or a reasonable impact on their lives over the next decade but are split on the best way for the country to achieve the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, according to a new survey*.

Taken while the Climate Change Commission’s draft paper was open for submissions in February and March, the online survey for Genesis Energy examined the views of 1,000 New Zealanders on the personal impact of climate change and how best to achieve the country’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. It asked how Kiwis felt about a 100% renewable electricity system and the role of thermal fuels in the transition to renewable energy. The last two themes were also surveyed in 2020 and 2019.

Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for Genesis, Matthew Osborne, said the results underline that New Zealander’s are becoming more aware and informed in respect of some of the decisions that the country faces to combat climate change.

“There is a growing understanding about the options and choices we all face as a country. It’s a pivotal time for New Zealand and the decisions we make in the next few years will have far reaching implications. The findings suggest New Zealanders understand that,” he said.

Of those surveyed, 36% thought fundamental change was needed across the board if New Zealand is to be carbon neutral by 2050. This included changing the way individuals live, businesses operate, and the way the Government regulates. However, a third of those surveyed believed the focus should instead be on big emitting sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and transport while 22% believed tinkering around the edges, but nothing too radical, would be enough.

There is soft sentiment for the country achieving its 2050 goal with 20% believing it is very likely to be achieved, 22% thinking it’s not that likely and 48% saying it’s only somewhat likely.

On a personal level, 23% of respondents thought climate change would impact how they live and work a lot over the next decade, 45% said it would cause reasonable change and 22% thought it would not cause much impact to them at all. Asked if they had the information needed to reduce their personal/household carbon footprint 41% said no and 37% said they did. A further 17% said they not only don’t have the information to change their footprint, they are also unsure where to find that information.

100% renewable electricity – not so fast
When it came to the generation of the country’s electricity, respondents had an eye on price and a preference for a staged transition to 100% renewable electricity. Just under half said the priority should be on reducing emissions in carbon intensive sectors, a drop of 3% on 2020 and 5% on 2019. Prioritising renewable electricity was favoured by 31%, a 1% rise on 2020 and 5% on 2019.

Forty-one percent said they would not be willing to pay more for 100% renewable electricity, 1% up on 2020. Only 28% said they would be happy to pay more, a 3% drop on 2020. Reinforcing that, 55% said the level of renewable electricity a company generates has no influence in deciding who they buy their power from. Thirty-seven percent said it was a factor for them.

Transitioning from thermal generation
Forty-five per cent preferred using some thermal fuels to ensure stable prices and security of supply, down 1% on 2020, while 24%, said they wanted completely renewable power even if it means higher prices and the risk of power cuts, down 4% on 2020.

There was also an understanding that the weather plays a big role in generating the country’s electricity and the back-up role thermal fuels play after long, dry periods. While a drop of 7% on 2020, 45% thought thermal generation should remain for the medium term while renewables are developed and 20% preferred gas as a thermal fuel, up 8% on 2020.

The favoured timeframes to achieve a transition to 100% renewable sources was split relatively evenly with 29% opting for 10-20 years and 28% for five-10 years.

FACTBOX – By the numbers

Personal impact of climate change over next decade
23% lot of impact
45% reasonable impact
22% not much impact

Have the information needed to change your personal/household carbon footprint
41% No
37% Yes
17% Don’t have the information and unsure where to find it

Best way for NZ to be carbon neutral by 2050
36% Fundamental change across the board
33% Focus on big emitting sectors

How likely NZ will be carbon neutral by 2050
20% very likely
48% somewhat likely
22% not that likely

Views on 100% renewable generation for electricity:

100% focus on renewable electricity or high emitting sectors
49% electricity generation stay as is and focus on bid emitting sectors
31% move to 100% renewable electricity generation asap

Pay higher prices for 100% renewable electricity
41% - No
28% - Yes
30% Maybe

Does the level of renewable electricity factor in choice of energy company?
55% - No
37% - Yes

Timeframe to transition to 100% renewables
14% in the next five years
28% five -10 years
29% 10-20 years

*Methodology: Online survey, n=1,000 nationally representative sample of New Zealanders 18 years and older, conducted by UMR Research between 23 February and 2 March 2021.

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