Climate emergency declarations not matched by council actions

There has been a recent fad for councils around the country to declare climate emergencies, but these declarations are at risk of being seen as ‘me too’ posturing without any significant change – in fact there are indications that some councils are walking a different walk, and expect others to actually do something about climate change and it’s effects.

Stuff:  Councils declare climate emergencies, but will it result in any real change?

Councils around the the country are declaring climate change emergencies, but questions are being raised over whether the move will create any tangible change.

Scientists and activists believe the declarations will be meaningless unless they’re backed up by solid action, offsetting criticism the measures were purely tokenistic.

Hutt City Council became the latest in an ever-growing list of local government agencies in declaring a climate crisis on Thursday, joining Wellington City, Hawke’s Bay, Kāpiti and Porirua councils.

Wellington city councillors opposed to the emergency declaration claimed the measure was “preachy” “nonsense” and an example of “green-washing”.

While Victoria University Wellington climate scientist James Renwick believed the move “put a stake in the ground” and underscored the seriousness of the issue – he said definitive action was needed.

Local Government NZ president Dave Cull said councils were at the “front line” of combating climate change, but there was “no national framework” for how local bodies should tackle the issue.

Really? beyond the talk and the declarations, is much actually being done?

Some things are being tried, but they could be counter productive. Cull is mayor of Dunedin, where there has been a program of installing cycle lanes around the flat parts of the city, but there are scant numbers of cyclists to be seen on most of these, and traffic congestion has worsened – which increases use of fossil fuels.

“Declaring a climate emergency acts as a catalyst for urgent action. It’s a way for councils to increase focus on this issue, and call for greater national support on climate change adaptation.”

Cull’s own council has just declared an emergency: DCC votes to declare climate emergency

At a full council meeting which began at 1pm, councillors voted 9-5 to declare the emergency and accelerate efforts to become a carbon neutral city.

The council had aimed to reach a net zero carbon target by 2050, but would bring that forward to 2030, councillors decided.

Most councillors spoke strongly in support of declaring the emergency, while only Crs Lee Vandervis, Mike Lord and Andrew Whiley argued against it.

Cr Aaron Hawkins said the council had been hearing from “countless” people and organisations for years, calling for action.

Progress had been too slow “and meanwhile the clock is ticking”.

“This needs to be at the front and center of all of our decision-making. A business-as-usual approach is not just inadequate, it’s effectively intergenerational theft.”

Mayor Dave Cull also backed the move, saying the city needed to keep pace with the changing scientific consensus to avoid “a point of no return”.

“The cost to council is not whether we do. The cost to council will be if we don’t do anything.”

That sounds like standard Green rhetoric.

The debate prior to the vote was stacked with pro-emergency spokespeople.

There were applause and cheers as Jennifer Shulzitski, of Extinction Rebellion, urged councillors to act now.

But the applause grew louder still as four young pupils from North East Valley school boiled the issue down to blunt terms.

But this declaration clashes with Dunedin City Council flying high with third highest travel expenditure in country

The Dunedin City Council has racked up the third highest spend on travel expenditure among all New Zealand councils.

It spent $347,885 on air travel in 2017-18 – $214,067 on domestic travel and $133,818 on international.

That puts Dunedin third behind much the much larger councils of Auckland (which spent $1,221,571) and Wellington ($591,310).

A council spokesman told Stuff there were several reasons contributing to the air travel expenditure, including the council’s size and geographical location.

“Many important meetings, conferences, training courses are held in Auckland or Wellington, and are therefore not easily accessible by other modes of transport.”

The spokesman said while the council did not currently offset travel emissions, “we do have a range of strategies and initiatives in place aimed at reducing carbon emissions across the city”.

The council’s declaration of a climate emergency and bringing forward its goal to be a net carbon zero city by 2030 would also “make us look even harder at where we can reduce our travel costs and/or offset travel emissions”.

Something more substantial than ‘looking ‘even harder’ is required to match their climate emergency rhetoric.

Also last week QLDC declares climate emergency

The Queenstown Lakes District Council has voted to declare a climate emergency after a presentation by Extinction Rebellion Queenstown Lakes.

Good on Extinction Rebellion for getting into the act here as they did in Dunedin, but again this is one-sided public consultation.

Members of the public were packed into the council meeting this afternoon where the motion was passed 7-4 as part of the council’s consideration of its Draft Climate Action Plan.

Extinction Rebellion said in a statement last week it was “asking the council to use its role as a community leader to clearly communicate the reality of what we are facing and what needs to happen to our local community.”

Queenstown growth relies on tourism which relies to a major extent on air travel, so QLDC is not likely to make major moves against the use of fossil fuels.

The QLDC also narrowly voted 6-5 to receive Queenstown Airport Corporation’s controversial Statement of Intent (SOI), while inserting a clause requiring ongoing discussions over possible expansion.

So QLDC has voted in support of a possible airport extension whole voting for action on climate change.

It is election year for mayors and councillors, so a ramp up in climate rhetoric is to be expected.

Significant action is less likely, and talk of the costs of actions is likely to be avoided at all costs. Rate rises is a contentious enough issue as it is.


Someone else talking the talk was Robert Guyton in this podcast – Maureen Howard’s Eco Living in Action – 27-06-2019 – Declare a State of Climate Emergency – Robert Guyton, Councillor, Environment Southland

Robert is one who does more than talk the talk.

Provincial climate emergencies going national?

During the week the Canterbury Regional Council symbolically declared a climate emergency. Nelson City Council did the same soon after.

Environment Southland  and Invercargill City Council are considering doing something similar.

And Climate Change Minister James Shaw says that “some MPS” are considering doing it at a national level.

RNZ on Thursday: After Canterbury, Nelson declares climate emergency

Canterbury Regional Council earlier today voted to declare a climate emergency, becoming the first council in the country to do so.

The council said it joins other local governments in Australia, the UK, Canada and the United States in adopting the stance.

“We have no doubt at council that urgency is required – the science is irrefutable and we have for some time now, been responding accordingly,” deputy chair Peter Scott said.

This morning’s vote followed lobbying from the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion.

While declaring a climate emergency is largely symbolic, members of Extinction Rebellion said it was an important first step towards achieving bigger environmental goals and openly acknowledging the seriousness of climate change.

Councillor Lan Pham said she hoped it had a snowball effect and inspired other organisations around the country.

Three councillors voted against it, saying there were other options to tackle climate change which the council was already pursuing.

So it wasn’t unanimous.

Regional council chair Steve Lowndes is an ordinary member of Extinction Rebellion, and as such declared an interest and did not take part in the council decision.

Lowndes’ interests are likely to have play a part in it going before the council.

Nelson later joined Canterbury in declaring a climate emergency.

A decision was made by the Nelson City Council, after a three-hour debate this afternoon.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese brought the declaration to the table because of the level of community interest, and noticeable environmental changes in the past few years.

She said the region had recently endured natural disasters on a scale she’d never before seen.

Some councillors were nervous about making what they called a symbolic gesture, and its implications for ratepayers.

Efforts to delay the decision were lost eight votes to five, but a decision was finally made 10 votes to three.

Also some opposed.

Stuff on Friday: Southern mayors to consider climate change state of emergency

Southern councils are watching closely the moves made by Canterbury and Nelson to declare a climate state of emergency.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said the council would be discussing the moves made by Environment Canterbury and Nelson with its councillors in upcoming weeks.

“The Southland Mayoral Forum and their councils are taking climate change seriously and have recently released a report on the likely impact of climate change in Southland,” he said.

Invercargill mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt said it would look into declaring a state of emergency but there were circumstances for Invercargill that needed to be taken into consideration.

“We will look into it but it needs to be looked into properly,” he said.

The effect of a declaration would have on industries such as the Tiwai Aluminium Smelter would need to be taken into consideration, Shadbolt said.

There would be huge celebration and a huge uproar if the smelter was shut down. I don’t know if no energy alternatives to smelting aluminium have been developed yet.

Stuff Friday night: MPs may vote to declare national climate emergency following regional leads

Climate Change Minister James Shaw agrees global warming has created an emergency, and applauded Environment Canterbury (ECan) and Nelson City councillors for taking the step.

And he revealed some MPs are in discussions about taking a similar stance on a national level.

That would require MPs to approve a motion in Parliament, as they have done in Britain and Ireland in the last few months.

The state of emergency isn’t binding and has no legal standing.

So what’s the point?

But Shaw says it does have practical significance.

“It says to council offices you need to respond to this as an emergency.

“And I have to say, my own experience of being in Government over the last 18 months, is it is hard to martial the resources across Government around this overall goal unless you get a political statement that says ‘look the elected members are saying this is so serious that we are actually declaring it as an emergency and therefore we have to organise around it’.”

More than 500 local authorities in 10 countries have adopted the stance which recognises that action on climate change should become a priority.

There is no single definition of what it means, but most regions want to become carbon-neutral by 2050, at the latest.

“For those councils it will be a significant move because it sends a signal to their own communities that they are treating this very seriously.

It means they are talking seriously about it, but it doesn’t mean they are doing anything serious about it.