55 councils for, 23 against Local Government leaders Climate Change Declaration

Some local bodies have been trying to push climate change measures, with 55 signing the Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration, but 23 councils have not signed.

The declaration:

In 2015, Mayors and Chairs of New Zealand declared an urgent need for responsive leadership and a
holistic approach to climate change. We, the Mayors and Chairs of 2017, wholeheartedly support
that call for action.

Climate change presents significant opportunities, challenges and risks to communities throughout
the world and in New Zealand. Local and regional government undertakes a wide range of activities
that will be impacted by climate change and provides infrastructure and services useful in reducing
greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing resilience.

We have come together, as a group of Mayors and Chairs representing local government from
across New Zealand to:

1. acknowledge the importance and urgent need to address climate change for the benefit
of current and future generations;

2. give our support to the New Zealand Government for developing and implementing, in
collaboration with councils, communities and businesses, an ambitious transition plan
toward a low carbon and resilient New Zealand;

3. encourage Government to be more ambitious with climate change mitigation

4. outline key commitments our councils will take in responding to the opportunities and
risks posed by climate change; and

5. recommend important guiding principles for responding to climate change.

We ask that the New Zealand Government make it a priority to develop and implement an ambitious
transition plan for a low carbon and resilient New Zealand. We stress the benefits of early action to
moderate the costs of adaptation to our communities.

It also details council commitments, and has 54 signatures.

But not all councils have got on board. RNZ:  23 councils refuse to sign climate change commitment

A push to get local authorities to sign up to a declaration on climate change is “politically charged and driven”, the Thames-Coromandel mayor says.

Yesterday members of the public presented to the Thames Coromandel District Council meeting, urging it to sign up to the declaration. It will be voted on by councillors at a later meeting.

However, mayor Sandra Goudie said she did not support it and most other councillors were cautious.

It would be irresponsible for the declaration to be signed because the council did not know what it would be committing ratepayers to, she said.

“It’s got statements which bind you to outcomes that you’ve got no idea of, so I wouldn’t sign a contract without knowing specifications.”

But she said the council was being proactive in terms of ensuring the community was protected and resilient in its vulnerable coastal areas.

Last month from RNZ:  West Coast Regional Council wanted more evidence

The West Coast Regional Council wants more scientific evidence to prove human-driven climate change is happening before it will commit to reducing emissions.

The council does not support the government’s Zero Carbon Bill and is the only regional council in the country to reject it.

In its submission, the council said if West Coasters were to commit to emissions targets, “the evidence proving anthropogenic climate change must be presented and proven beyond reasonable doubt”.

The West Coast submission was widely ridiculed. There is substantial evidence and acceptance that climate change poses significant problems and challenges.

But it is healthy to see differences and debate from local bodies on what should be done locally and nationally about climate change.

Goudie makes a fair point about the declaration: “”It’s got statements which bind you to outcomes that you’ve got no idea of, so I wouldn’t sign a contract without knowing specifications.”

There is a lot of unknowns about the extent and nature of climate change, and also about the cost and effectiveness of mitigation.

Local councils failing to meet OIA obligations

The chief ombudsman has said that local councils are failing to meet their obligations under the Official Information Act.

RNZ:  Local councils slammed for failing to supply information

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said councils are not meeting their responsibilities under the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act and that some councils seem to resent having to be held accountable.

“The performance of many councils is disappointing. Local government is absolutely fundamental to democracy, and in that respect the need for accountability and supply of information is just as strong as it is with central government, and yet many local councils don’t see it that way.

“We will commence a better process of publicising our data on complaints, giving better guidance and encouraging an earlier dispute resolution process so ratepayers who often have legitimate complaints can get to the end of the journey earlier than before.”

Last year 248 complaints were received under the act, Mr Boshier said.

There was a mix of a failure to supply information and other queries about process, he said.

People wanted to know why a council came up with certain rates, what had happened at meetings, and follow up information, for example.

The whole idea of the act was to make sure there was accountability and so ratepayers could participate in democracy.

The Dunedin City Council was slammed in an ODT editorial on Monday – see ODT editorial on secrecy and the OIA

In one case, the council is choosing not to answer questions which have been put to it by this newspaper for nearly a year about alleged bullying and other problems in its city property department. Despite Official Information Act requests, it is withholding a Deloitte report, saying it needs to protect privacy and also citing commercial sensitivity. Elected representatives and council staff all ran for cover when asked for comment. The ODT has now referred the matter to the Office of the Ombudsman.

This refusal to engage is a very troubling development. Stalling, fudging and engaging in sophistry make any organisation look bad.

Especially when the mayor and councillors campaigned on greater transparency. Politicians want transparency on successes, but want secrecy on failures and embarrassments – that’s a natural human trait, which is why the OIA is important to make sure they are transparent about everything, not just what they choose to reveal.