What you need to know
Transport is responsible for two thirds of the harm estimated to be caused by human-made air pollution. Each year in New Zealand harmful emissions result in:
- the premature deaths of more than 2,200 adult New Zealanders,
- more than 9,200 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac illnesses,
- over 13,200 cases of childhood asthma, and
- social costs of $10.5 billion.
Both petrol and diesel vehicles release pollution harmful to our health. However, while diesel vehicles make up a small part (23 percent) of our vehicle fleet, they produce most (82 percent) of the harm, because their engines produce higher levels of nitrogen oxides and particulate pollution. Exposure to nitrogen oxides causes respiratory and cardiovascular damage and can contribute to smog. Particulates can cause lung cancer, and both forms of pollution contribute to asthma.
Since the early 2000s, the Government has progressively introduced stronger exhaust emission requirements on vehicles to reduce the harm on human health. Despite improvements to vehicles, the growth in the vehicle numbers (especially diesel vehicles) and an increase in the number of people exposed to air pollution means health effects and social costs have increased over time.
The Government is proposing to follow other countries by imposing stronger requirements progressively from 2024 to 2028 to significantly reduce health harm to New Zealanders. This will bring our emissions standards in line with those that have been in place for many years in Europe, Japan, North America, China, and most developed countries. The Government is seeking feedback on proposals by mid-2023 and, depending on the feedback received, may implement new requirements soon after.
The work to date
Stronger emissions standards proposed from 2024
On 11 May 2023, the Ministry of Transport opened consultation proposing stronger harmful emission standards for vehicles entering New Zealand.
European Commission report on Euro 6 pollution reductions
Late in 2022, the European Commission published a comprehensive study demonstrating how the Euro 6 (light vehicles) and Euro VI (heavy vehicles) standards significantly reduced the emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulates, carbon monoxide, and other harmful vehicle exhaust pollutants. The report by the European Commission and a summary by the Ministry of Transport outline the pollution reductions of adopting these vehicle standards.
Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) 3.0 report released
The HAPINZ 3.0 report was released in July 2022. The report highlights the harmful impacts of air pollution in New Zealand, with motor vehicles and domestic fires the biggest factors.
The base year for the HAPINZ 3.0 assessment was 2016, with data typically averaged over 2015-2017. 2016 was selected because it was the most recent year for which we had a complete set of suitable air quality, population and health data.
Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) report in progress
The original HAPINZ study was published in 2007 and updated in 2012. The 2012 report found that harmful emissions from vehicles cause 256 premature deaths every year in New Zealand, with social costs of NZD$934 million. The report also identified that diesel vehicle emissions were the largest contributor to poor air quality in Auckland City.
Environment Aotearoa report published and updated
First published in 2015 by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, the updated Environment Aotearoa report noted that New Zealand’s air quality is good in most places and at most times of the year. However, vehicle emissions contributed to poor air quality in places, particularly for nitrogen dioxide pollution, which can cause serious health problems.
Preliminary investigation into addressing tampering with emissions controls
We undertook a preliminary investigation into the potential scale of vehicle owners tampering with emissions control equipment and how to address this. We began this work after hearing concerns from the vehicle-related industries and other government organisations.
Study to identify vehicle emissions options published
We commissioned Covec to prepare a study that identified options, other than implementing vehicle emissions standards when vehicles enter the fleet, to address harmful emissions from vehicles already on the road in New Zealand, particularly in Auckland.
Vehicle Exhaust Emissions Rule reviewed and updated
In 2012 the Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Exhaust Emissions 2007 was amended to make changes to the requirements relating to exhaust emissions standards for new and imported used vehicles operating on New Zealand roads. Several minor technical amendments were also made.
Vehicle emissions assessment undertaken
In 2007, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency began a national monitoring programme to assess vehicle emissions across the state highway network. This assessment used data gathered from selected sites using passive samplers to measure nitrogen dioxide as a proxy for vehicle-related air pollution.
Vehicle Exhaust Emissions Rule consulted on and amended
As part of a package of measures being developed to improve air quality, Cabinet agreed to raise the emission standards in order to reduce emissions of vehicles being imported into New Zealand.
Visible smoke check Rule amendment
In late 2004 and early 2005, we carried out public consultation on proposals for in-service emissions testing as part of Warrant and Certificate of Fitness requirements for all vehicles on New Zealand roads.
Vehicle Exhaust Emissions Rule came into effect
The Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Exhaust Emissions 2003 was the first Rule to set emissions standards for vehicles entering New Zealand.