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What you need to know

The 2 main contributors to poor air quality in New Zealand are vehicle emissions and domestic wood burners. In areas with high traffic, vehicle emissions are a significant source of pollution. The national emissions inventory indicates that in 2015 on-road vehicles were the biggest source of human-generated nitrogen oxides in New Zealand.

Diesel vehicles make up 21% of our vehicle fleet, but produce most of the pollutants of concern to human health: nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. These have multiple negative health effects, especially for children. Particulates are known to be carcinogenic, and nitrogen oxides cause respiratory and cardiovascular damage, and can contribute to smog. However, diesel vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol vehicles.

Since the early 2000s the Government has progressively introduced measures to reduce the health and environmental impacts of vehicle emissions. This has contributed towards decreasing emissions of most pollutants from transport sources — note that policies to reduce harmful emissions do not affect greenhouse gas emissions.

The Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Exhaust Emissions 2007 is the Government’s primary tool for reducing the release of harmful emissions from vehicles in New Zealand.

The work to date

Dec 2019–Present

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.

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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.

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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.

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May 2014

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.

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Oct 2012

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.

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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.

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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.

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Nov 2004–Oct 2006

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.

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Jan 2004

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.

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