Emissions reduction in New Zealand schools and kura

The Government is committed to Aotearoa becoming a world leader in climate change action and education has an important role to play. In addition to understanding our impact on the environment and reducing our emissions, the education system and the New Zealand curriculum play an important role in shaping lifelong learning around transitioning to a sustainable future.

The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa are evolving so that all ākonga experience rich and responsive learning from early learning through to secondary school. As part of this, we are thinking about how the national curriculum and our supports can better enable kaiako and teachers to equip our tamariki and young people to be part of positively contributing to a low-emissions society, regardless of their life and career journeys. The goal is a system that can deliver lifelong learning and empowers people to thrive in the transition to a low emissions society. We need to work collectively in our response to climate change. It needs to reach into every corner of our education system and the communities schools and kura serve. With the right support, the network of schools and kura can be leaders in Aotearoa's journey to a low-carbon future and empower the leaders of tomorrow to shape a low-emissions society.

Our Environment Ecosystem infographic

Click here to enlarge the Ecosystem Infographic [PDF, 282 KB]

Carbon Neutral Government Programme

The Carbon Neutral Government Programme(external link) (GNCP) aims to accelerate emissions reduction in the public sector. It requires public sector organisations, including state schools and kura, to:

  • measure and report their emissions annually;
  • set emissions reduction targets in line with a 1.5-degree global warming pathway;
  • introduce emissions reduction plans; and
  • offset any remaining Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from 2025.

To reduce the administrative burden on state schools and kura, we have undertaken to do this mahi on their behalf.

To demonstrate leadership to the sector and reflect the emissions of the full state school system, we extended its reporting scope for state schools and kura to include all our funded school activities. This portfolio-level picture of schools' annual GHG emissions is based on centrally held data. 

The emissions inventory report provides an overview of our emissions at all schools and kura, and allows us to look across the breadth of emissions in the state school system and respond accordingly.

See our CNGP reporting submission for the FY22/23:

Te Tahuhu Emissions Reduction Plan [PDF, 1.3 MB]

Te Tahuhu Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory [PDF, 1.4 MB]

Understanding our emissions

The first step to building a carbon footprint is to identify activities undertaken by the Ministry and by schools and kura over a one-year period. We start by looking at what we spend our money on and add to that list activities that result from the functioning of the school, like how our ākonga and kaiako commute. This includes fuel use, electricity use, water use, waste to landfill, transport, construction and purchased good and services, including the Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School Lunches programme. For the first year of reporting, we focused on those activities that we could report on without requesting any additional information from schools and kura.

Following this step, we apply an emission factor to those activities. Emission factors combine climate science with accounting principles to establish a carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2-e) emitted within that period for all the activities we are reporting on. This information highlights where emissions come from and allows us to think about ways in which we can realistically reduce them.

All data collected is then aggregated to school typologies and extrapolated to a national level. No individual school can be identified.

The GHG inventory [PDF, 423 KB] tells us that our highest emitting activities on an annual basis are transport, construction, and purchased goods and services, which includes food.

Now that we understand where the biggest opportunities to reduce our emissions are, we will be working with schools and kura to set emission reduction targets and initiatives to meet them.

Reducing our emissions

We're committed to exploring ways in which we can continue to deliver equitable and excellent outcomes for ākonga in a less carbon intensive way, and what we can do to support schools and kura to do the same.

We've looked at how initiatives and actions in schools and kura are helping reduce emissions. While they may not always be obvious, emissions reductions are happening in schools across the motu everyday - from reducing waste, transitioning to cleaner energy solutions, rethinking what is purchased, selecting low emission materials in what we build, and self-supplying water and electricity.

Activities delivered in schools and by schools with ākonga, kaiako, and community are all working to reduce the impact we have on the planet. We have quantified the emission savings as a result of these actions, and explored the impact of these activities being implemented across all state schools and kura. This infographic shows potential carbon savings per year.

Carbon emissions snapshot infographic [PDF, 136 KB]

Pilot programme

Before we can set targets on behalf of 2,139 state schools and kura, we plan to test emission reductions opportunities through pilots in schools and engage School Boards, principals, kaiako, and ākonga in that process.

School pilots will allow us to learn and gain feedback on what targets are feasible and how reductions can be scaled across the sector. The first of those pilots focuses on school transport, working with about 180 schools and kura.  

Focus on Transport 

Transport is a significant contributor to our emissions footprint, with almost 17% of greenhouse gas emissions coming from transport. Our transition to a lower carbon society will require us to change the way we do things. We all have role to play in planning, developing, and operating a transport system that keeps everyone moving. 

Our Transport Pilot Programme is a journey of discovery to create transport systems that suit the needs of those who use them. Through the pilot we will support staff and students to consider the future of transport for schools by exploring the choices available to them, the tools to determine the best options for their community, and the required steps to bring their vision to life. 

The Transport Pilot will include:   

  • A Ministry-funded within school Carbon Neutral School Lead  
  • Age & subject specific curriculum resources that map climate literacy across learning areas, localising learning through transport data 
  • School specific carbon footprints   
  • Access to the Accelerate2zero a carbon emissions tool which will allow schools to view, track and set targets over their transport emissions  

How can state schools and kura get involved?

We know that many schools and kura are already engaged in their own environmental projects and we want to recognise and celebrate these initiatives. The work that we are undertaking is in addition to these initiatives and aims to identify other changes that we can make. 

If you or your school or kura is already working on climate change initiatives, we'd love to hear from you. We will be going out to schools and kura around the motu to talk about options for realistic emissions targets and plans. If you are interested in staying up to date with the programme, or would like to understand more about your school's emission profile, please get in touch: Emissions.Reduction@education.govt.nz

Frequently asked questions

What does it mean for boards, schools and kura?

As the legal body governing a school, boards are a part of the CNGP and originally were going to have to meet the requirements themselves.

But to reduce the burden on boards, we have undertaken reporting on behalf of the state schooling sector. We have built a portfolio-level picture of schools' annual greenhouse gas emissions based on centrally held data and will continue to report in this way on an annual basis.

Are state-integrated schools included in the CNGP?

State-integrated schools are not required to measure and report their carbon emissions under the CNGP due to a difference in ownership of property and key infrastructure. State-integrated schools can still take active steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

We have produced a guidance document,'Me, growing a thriving world: A guidance booklet', which includes information about how schools can start to reduce their emissions.

Me, growing a thriving world: A guidance booklet [PDF, 7.8 MB]

What is the Ministry reporting on our behalf?

We are reporting on a wide range of emissions including those associated with coal, gas and electricity use, water consumption and waste, transport, construction and purchased goods and services.

These emissions sources make up a significant proportion of overall emissions in the sector.

What type of information will be collected?

To minimise burden on individual schools, kura and boards, we will use data which we already have access to, as well as information that we can access without making demands of schools and kura. For example, we are gathering information from electricity suppliers.

Additional data will be modelled using industry accepted methodologies to help create a full picture of sector-wide emissions.

My school wants to do more, what can we do?

Nothing that we are doing at a sector-wide level precludes any individual school or kura from developing their own picture of their specific emissions or from thinking about ways that they can reduce their carbon footprint.

We have produced a guidance document, 'Me, growing a thriving world: A guidance booklet', which includes information about how schools can start to reduce their emissions.

Me, growing a thriving world: A guidance booklet [PDF, 7.8 MB]

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