WELLINGTON, New Zealand - New Zealand, one of the first countries to pledge a carbon-neutral future, is the main host of today's celebration of World Environment Day 2008. The theme this year, "Kick the CO2 Habit," is meant to inspire and encourage actions to eliminate the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2, a main contributor to global warming.The challenge of climate change and threats to polar regions and beyond were spotlighted in Norway as part of World Environment Day 2007.
The focus of the global 2008 celebrations hosted in New Zealand is on the solutions and the opportunities for countries, companies and communities to "kick the habit" and de-carbonize their economies and their lifestyles.
"As part of New Zealand's drive for greater environmental sustainability, we've made a commitment to reduce our emissions," said Prime Minister Helen Clark. "But to overcome the challenge of climate change, kicking the carbon habit must be a truly global goal."
At least one New Zealand company is having some success in reducing its emissions.
Air New Zealand announced Wednesday that its fuel savings initiative program is on track to see the airline reduce its carbon emissions by more than 100,000 tons annually and save $43 million a year as well.
General Manager Airline Operations Captain David Morgan says the airline has been a world leader in examining every aspect of its flight operations to reduce carbon emissions by saving fuel.
"Air New Zealand has been at the forefront of finding ways to minimize our environmental impact and so far our flight operations program has delivered 91,000 tons in reduced carbon emissions in just over three years. We had a goal of topping 100,000 tons annually within five years and we look like beating that by almost two years," Captain Morgan says.
"Our initiatives range from reducing weight on aircraft to more accurate fuel loadings so we are not flying with excess fuel weight, optimizing flight speeds, better use of ground power when aircraft are at the airport gate and improved descent profiles," he said.
Air New Zealand announced today that it expects to use at least one million barrels of environmentally sustainable fuel annually by 2013.
Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe says the airline is growing increasingly confident that commercial quantities of environmentally sustainable fuels that meet all the airline's stringent criteria will become available over the next few years.
Air New Zealand plans the world's first flight test on a large passenger aircraft using fuel sourced from the plant jatropha.
The Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 Rolls Royce powered test flight is expected to take place in Auckland in the last quarter of this year subject to final regulatory approvals and fuel testing by the engine manufacturer.
Jatropha is a plant that grows three meters (10 feet) high and produces seeds that contain inedible oil used to produce fuel. Each seed produces between 30 and 40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and non-arable areas.
Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and UNEP executive director, said, "New Zealand is among a pioneer group of countries committed to accelerating a transition to a low carbon and carbon-neutral economy. We are therefore delighted to be holding the main World Environment Day 2008 celebrations in Wellington and in communities across this South Pacific nation."
"What we need is action to slow, stop and then to reverse the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions. A transition to a low carbon economy is essential to achieving this," said Steiner.
New Zealand Environment Minister Trevor Mallard said, "While New Zealand's capital city Wellington will play host to the main UN World Environment Day events, local communities are undertaking their own environmental activities throughout the country through more than 120 community and school-based events.
"There are huge numbers of New Zealanders involved in celebrations, and this is a fantastic indication of this country's drive towards sustainability and reducing the impacts of climate change," Mallard said.
The Clark government is moving the country towards becoming carbon neutral, and achieving that goal is going to take work, said Mallard.
"As we work towards carbon neutrality, our program involves a goal of generating 90 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and halving our per capita transport emissions by 2040," the environment minister said.
"To incentivize climate-friendly behavior we are introducing an emissions trading scheme, which includes all sectors and all gases, an energy strategy, and also tackling climate change at the household, business and science and research levels."
Mallard said methane from livestock accounts for about half of New Zealand's greenhouse emissions. "We are now turning our expertise towards research to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
World Environment Day was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of the UN Environment Programme.
World Environment Day is commemorated each year on June 5 in a different city as one of the vehicles the United Nations employs to stimulate worldwide awareness of the environment and enhance political attention and action.
© Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008