Climate Change Minister Nick Smith says not too much should be read into a new projection showing that New Zealand's liability under the Kyoto Protocol has turned into a surplus of 9.6 million tonnes, or $241 million.
Last year, a deficit of 21.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions costing $546 million was projected.
The turnaround, disclosed on Wednesday in a report compiled by the Ministry for the Environment, has occurred mainly because forests planted after 1989 have been absorbing more carbon than was first thought, and because the 2007-08 drought led to fewer agricultural emissions.
Gross emissions 'still 23% higher' than in 1990
But Dr Smith says the numbers are volatile, and with gross emissions still 23% higher than in 1990, the Government cannot be complacent. The country's final position for the 2008-12 commitment period will probably not be known, he says, until 2015.
The minister is particularly concerned about increases in emissions by the electricity and transport sectors.
Under the protocol, New Zealand is obliged to hold its net emissions between 2008 and 2012 at the same level as those of 1990, or pay for any excess.
Sustainable development council also cautious
The Business Council for Sustainable Development is also cautious about reading too much into the latest figures.
Chief executive Peter Neilson says that the figures are volatile, but that the improvement in agriculture is important, as it accounts for half of the country's emissions
Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly says the figures show that there's no need to rush into an emissions trading scheme.
But Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says that it's no excuse to lag behind other countries in combatting climate change, and points out that business has been calling for a delay ever since the 1990s.