Breathing clean air is critical to protecting our health. Human activities release chemicals into the atmosphere in the form of gases and small particulate matter that may damage human health and ecosystems. Pollution can sometimes be observed in the form of a brown haze that occasionally shrouds the city or by the presence of unpleasant odours.
Auckland’s main sources of air pollution are transport, home heating, and industrial processes. These emissions are largely produced by burning fuels such as diesel, petrol, wood, gas and oil. There are also natural sources of particulate matter and gas in the air that has come from the surrounding oceans and land, such as sea salt or volcanic eruptions and overseas bushfires.
Across Auckland, particles smaller than 10 microns in diameter (known as PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) have occasionally exceeded air quality standards. Over the years, the concentrations have generally stabilised or even reduced. However, concern remains with research suggesting that persistent exposure to even relatively low levels of air pollutants can contribute to or exacerbate health problems.
Auckland’s rapid population growth and increasing population density in the Auckland city centre exposes more of the population, young and old, to potentially hazardous air pollutants.
Auckland Council monitors air quality at locations across the region. Some of our data sets date back to the 1960s and we hold one of the most comprehensive air quality data sets in New Zealand. Data from our monitoring network is used to assess compliance with the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NES-AQ).
Our monitoring programme includes the following parameters:
Our permanent monitoring sites are distributed throughout the region to gain a representative picture of the range of pressures on air quality. We also monitor in areas where we expect high concentrations, to gain an idea of the worst case scenario, and in rural areas to assess background concentrations. We estimate emissions from various human activities, including transport, home heating and industry, and their trends. The results, air emissions inventories, tell us what the major causes of our air problems are.
Auckland’s main causes of air pollution are home heating, transport and industrial processes. Most emissions come from burning fuels such as diesel, petrol, wood, gas and oil.
Our climate is changing with rising temperature mainly due to increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere from human activities. We must reduce emissions in order to limit temperature rise and harmful impacts of associated risks such as accelerated sea-level rise and more frequent extreme weather events. The Auckland Plan lays out an aspirational target to achieve reductions of 10 to 20 per cent by 2020, 40 per cent by 2040 and 50 per cent by 2050 (based on 1990 levels). The Auckland Low Carbon Action Plan sets out the pathways and actions to achieve the target. Auckland Council monitors emissions and reports the GHG inventory that identifies and quantifies the sources and sinks of GHGs in Auckland. This is essential to inform and evaluate our progress.
Measuring carbon emissions
Data on a range of activities which are responsible for producing emissions, such as the volume of fuel used by cars and electricity consumption, is collected to quantify their associated carbon emissions. Emissions are calculated by multiplying activity data by an emission factor (the amount of carbon emissions relative to a unit of activity). The Auckland’s GHG inventory complies with the international standard – the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC).
In 2015, Auckland’s GHG emissions were 10,581 ktCO2e (kilo-tonnes of CO2e, net emissions accounting for CO2 removed by forests) or 11,551 ktCO2e (gross emissions excluding CO2 removed by forests). Transport and non-transport energy sectors dominated emissions, accounting for 69.8 per cent of gross emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) contributed 83.5 per cent, 10.3 per cent and 1.6 of gross emissions, respectively. Other GHGs contributed 4.6 per cent.
Between 2009 and 2015, emissions increased by 3.5 per cent for net emissions and 7.4 per cent for gross emissions, respectively. The increase was mainly driven by transport, and industrial processes and product use (IPPU) sectors.
2009 is the base year for carbon emissions in the Auckland Low Carbon Action Plan and 2015 is the most recent year that data is available for emissions calculation.
Over this timeframe, population increased by 10.4 per cent and GDP increased by 16.2 per cent. Subsequently, the net emission intensity decreased from 7.2 to 6.7 tCO2e per capita, from 147 to 131 tCO2e per million $NZ (2009/2010 price). Similarly, the gross emission intensity decreased from 7.6 to 7.4 tCO2e per capita, from 154 to 143 tCO2e per million $NZ (2009/2010 price). In other words, the emissions didn’t increase at the rate of population and economic growth.
Meeting reduction targets
Without intervention, our GHG emissions are projected to increase. To reduce emissions and achieve reduction targets, Auckland must transform from a fossil fuel-dependent, high energy-using, high-waste society to a mobile, quality, compact city – a city typified by sustainable resource use and a prosperous eco-economy, and powered by efficient, affordable clean energy. The successful implementation of the Low Carbon Action Plan is critical for the transformation.
Air quality monitoring camera, live
Real time images from Auckland Council's air quality monitoring camera on the roof top of the Spencer on Byron Hotel, Byron Street, Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand.
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