July 14th, 2024

Socioeconomic inequalities in greenhouse gas emissions from household travel in New Zealand

Wealthier areas emit significantly more due to car and air travel

Socioeconomic inequalities in greenhouse gas emissions from household travel in New Zealand

A recent study published in Travel Behaviour and Society reveals significant socioeconomic inequalities in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) from household travel in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The research, conducted by Caroline Shaw and colleagues from the University of Otago Wellington and the University of Auckland, used data from the New Zealand Household Travel Survey (2015-2018) to examine the disparities in transport-related emissions across different socioeconomic groups.

Wealthy households emit significantly more greenhouse gases

The study found a striking disparity in emissions between the most and least deprived areas. People residing in the least deprived areas emitted approximately 79% more GHGe per week from household travel than those in the most deprived areas. The mean emissions were 63.6 kg CO2eq per week for the least deprived, compared to 35.6 kg CO2eq for the most deprived.

"Most of the difference was due to the additional 97 km per week travelled by car by people resident in the least deprived areas," the authors noted. Residents in these areas travelled further and more frequently for both paid and unpaid work, as well as for leisure purposes. Additionally, air travel contributed significantly to the emissions inequality, with 2.4% of residents in the least deprived areas reporting air travel in the last week compared to just 0.1% in the most deprived areas.

Transport policy implications

The authors argue that these inequities highlight the need for transport policies that both reduce emissions and address socioeconomic disparities.

"Transport policy needs to focus on measures to reduce emissions that are effective and reduce inequities," they stated, emphasising the importance of policy processes, design, and evaluation to facilitate a just transition to a decarbonised transport system.

The study also points to the broader context of transport and urban form policy in New Zealand, which has historically promoted car-dependent, sprawling cities. This has resulted in high levels of car ownership and per capita transport GHGe. The country's commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 makes addressing these issues even more pressing.

Key findings

  • Higher emissions in wealthier areas: Residents in the least deprived areas emitted 79% more GHGe per week from household travel than those in the most deprived areas.

  • Car travel as a major contributor: The primary source of this disparity was the additional car travel by residents in wealthier areas, who travelled 97 km more per week on average.

  • Air travel inequalities: Air travel was a significant source of emissions in the least deprived areas, with 2.4% of residents reporting air travel in the last week compared to 0.1% in the most deprived areas.

  • Policy focus needed: The study calls for transport policies that are both effective in reducing emissions and equitable, addressing the disparities highlighted by the research.