The emissions released by motor vehicles on the road can be both harmful to the environment and human health, particularly in areas where there are high traffic and congestion rates.

The 2012 Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) report(external link) found that harmful emissions from vehicles cause 256 premature deaths (with social costs of $934 million) annually in New Zealand. Find out more about the health effects of air pollution.

Find out more about what the Government is doing to reduce emissions from the transport sector.

Government work to reduce vehicle emissions

Vehicle emissions standards

The Government has progressively introduced measures to reduce the health and environmental impacts of vehicle emissions in New Zealand.

The Government’s primary tool for reducing the release of harmful emissions from vehicles in New Zealand is the Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Exhaust Emissions 2007 (the Rule). The Rule established progressively lower (more stringent) vehicle emissions standards depending on the date of entry into service, the date of manufacture, the type of fuel used (petrol or diesel), weight (less than or greater than 3.5 tonnes) and whether the vehicle is imported as a new or used vehicle. For example, light diesel vehicles imported new and manufactured on or after 1 January 2010 are required to have a particulate matter emissions level of 0.005 g/km, compared with the particulate matter requirement of 0.05 g/km for vehicles manufactured before 2008. Proposed amendments to the Rule will introduce requirements for Euro 6 for new light and heavy vehicles in line with the most current international standards in Europe, once decisions are made on timing of these standards in Australia. Changes to relevant standards for used vehicles will also be considered at that time (more information in the paragraph below ‘Planned review of vehicle emissions standards in New Zealand’).

The steady introduction of more stringent emission standards has contributed towards decreasing emissions of most pollutants, especially particulate matter emissions, from transport sources.

The Ministry for the Environment’s Environment Aotearoa 2015 report(external link) found that between 2001 and 2013, estimated emissions for five key pollutants from road vehicles fell between 26 and 52 percent, due to improvements to fuel, and stricter emission limits on new vehicles. Specifically, carbon monoxide emissions from transport have declined by 46 percent since 2001.

Studies carried out in the United Kingdom and Germany suggests emission standards are among the most cost-effective measures aimed at reducing emissions.

See more information about the changes to the Vehicle Exhaust Emissions Rule since 2003.

Research on further options to address harmful emissions

In 2014, the Ministry commissioned the consulting firm Covec to prepare a study identifying 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.

This research focused on options that could be applied regionally, such in Auckland city, where the 2012 Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) report(external link) identified that vehicle emissions are the largest contributor to poor air quality. This new research looked at what international policies, other than emissions standards for vehicles entering the fleet, might be cost-effective in New Zealand. 

The research identified and then examined a large number of policy options put in place overseas, including where studies had been published showing the costs and the effects of policy options. The options looked at included introducing localised emission standards, emission charges, low emission zones, road pricing, emissions testing, fuel switching and increases in fuel and road user charges. The report then presents a detailed analysis of options shown to be effective in other countries, and that can be applied to a specific region (Auckland in this case). The options considered in detail were Low Emission Zones (LEZs), regional emissions testing and road pricing. The study included a detailed cost benefit analysis of each of the selected options. 

The results of the research concluded that none of the options considered would ensure that cost effective reductions in emissions would be achieved. Therefore, the Ministry has not recommended any of the options for further consideration by Government at this time.

Read the final Covec report on the research’s findings here. [PDF, 3.3 MB]

Tampering with vehicle emissions equipment controls

Since late 2014, the Ministry has been investigating the issue of tampering with vehicle emissions control equipment by New Zealand vehicle owners, and options to address the issue.

This work was initiated because of concerns raised by the vehicle and vehicle-related industries and other government organisations.

Tampering with, or the fitting of devices intended to bypass emissions controls (in order to reduce running costs), is counter to the intent of the current vehicle emissions requirements in New Zealand. Tampering can lead to an increase in the levels of harmful emissions released by a vehicle, such as particulates and NOx (oxides of nitrogen) from diesel vehicles.

The results of this investigation found the extent to which tampering is occurring in New Zealand is unknown. However, the investigation found that tampering is likely to be occurring in both light and heavy vehicles in New Zealand. It is potentially increasing with modern diesel vehicles (particularly heavy diesel vehicles) as more of these vehicles enter the fleet.

The investigation identified and reviewed several options to address tampering in New Zealand, and the Ministry will be investigating how legislation (and related operational processes) can be strengthened to prohibit the act of tampering. This work will begin in 2016 and will involve consultation with the vehicle and vehicle related industries and inspection organisations.

Planned review of vehicle emissions standards in New Zealand

The Land Transport (Vehicle Exhaust Emissions) Rule 2007 was last reviewed and updated in 2012. A planned review of the need for the adoption of any further new vehicle exhaust emissions standards for both new and used vehicles, previously announced by the Minister of Transport in 2012(external link), was deferred until 2016. This review of exhaust emission standards is yet to take place.

Although Australia began public consultation in 2013 on implementing further emissions standards (especially the Euro 6 standard  — the most stringent standard available), the process has been delayed. In late October  2015, the Australian Government announced it would review its requirements for further European emissions standards in 2016(external link) However, there have been no recent announcements requiring higher standards. Standards in Australia are important for New Zealand, as a large number of new vehicles entering New Zealand are built to Australian standards. Changing the timing of New Zealand’s review means this can be carried out once Australia have confirmed their plans regarding the update of new standards and testing requirements. The review will include new Euro and equivalent Australian standards for new vehicles, and an update to the standards for used vehicles.

Studies of vehicle emissions

In 2005 two large studies of the emissions from New Zealand vehicles were carried out. The results of these studies were published in the Pilot Project reports completed in 2006.

In 2006, Japan Export Vehicle Inspection Company (JEVIC) carried out simple emissions tests of several thousand Japanese used vehicles before they entered the New Zealand fleet. View the October 2006 report: Results of testing emissions of Japanese used vehicles.

The National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) in partnership with various other organisations (including the former Auckland Regional Council, the Auckland Council, the NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry of Transport), has been carrying out regular studies of the changes in rates of emissions from vehicles in the Auckland region since 2003. These studies measure emissions of large numbers of vehicles using remote sensing devices. They show the changes in vehicle emissions over time and are evidence of the effectiveness of the Government’s policies to reduce vehicles emissions.

View the results of the 2009 trial on the NZ Transport Agency's website(external link)

The results of the 2011 trial are available on the Auckland Council's website(external link)

The Ministry’s quarterly vehicle fleet statistics also contains data about the changing patterns of emissions standards of vehicles entering the fleet.

See tables 4b–4f in the Quarterly fleet statistics.

The New Zealand Transport Agency carries out an assessment of vehicle emissions from the state highway network. This assessment uses data gathered from selected sites using passive samplers to measure nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as a surrogate.

Find out more on the NZ Transport Agency website(external link).

Vehicle scrappage trial

Read about the Ministry's 2007 and 2009 vehicle scrappage trials.

Aging of New Zealand's light vehicle fleet

Vehicle age is a useful proxy for a number of important variables about the vehicle fleet, including vehicle safety and the level of harmful emissions. In 2011 the Ministry of Transport undertook a piece of analytical work to investigate the causes and possible effects of the aging of the vehicle fleet.

Read more about the Aging of New Zealand's light vehicle fleet.