It seems that almost every day we learn more about the urgent need for radical action to avert catastrophic climate change. Not only are the disastrous consequences becoming clearer, but after years of relatively stable emissions, they are actually increasing again. We need dramatic reduction in emissions, so business as usual is not only inadequate but increasingly reckless when it comes to the long term future of the planet. Waiting for ‘someone else’ to take the lead just doesn’t cut it.
Auckland and New Zealand must lead on tackling climate change. It is a defining issue of our time and setting ambitious zero-emission targets is the only way we will make a serious impact on reducing our carbon emissions. – Phil Goff
Auckland’s unusual governance structure, with one council in charge of such a large area, means that making big and bold change should be easier here than in other parts of the world. Auckland is increasingly a city that many other cities can look towards – a big step forward from the past when we were seen as a good example of what to avoid. This means bold action on climate change is an area Auckland needs to lead on. The actions we take to reduce emissions not only have the immediate benefit from those particular reduced emissions, but they can also help guide other cities around the world – creating a “if Auckland can do it, why not us?” phenomenon.
From Council’s documents, we would expect to see bold action on climate change. Focusing just on transport:
- Reducing the demand for travel
- Focus growth in centres with good access to public transport.
- Reduce the number and length of trips.
Auckland’s Climate Action Plan is intended to:
- set a path to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- help prepare Auckland for the impacts of climate change.
The Auckland Plan 2050 says:
Efforts to develop a more resilient and environmentally responsible transport system must:
- progressively eliminate transport greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need to travel…
The tricky step is getting these bold words into action. Sooner, not later.
Tomorrow, Council’s Finance and Performance Committee meet. It is an important meeting, because a few weeks ago the annual Statement of Intent (SOI) round started. Greater Auckland has put this diagram together to explain how the process works. There are a few acronyms there so I’ll list them first:
- CCO = Council-controlled organisation
- LOE = Letter of expectation. The Letter of Expectations from Council to a CCO is the step in the annual Statement of Intent process that sets the platform for Council to strategically direct the CCO.
- SOI = Statement of Intent. This statement is from a CCO, outlining to Council their strategic approach and priorities.
Action on climate change requires a smooth transferral of Council’s wishes into CCO strategy. Last year’s round was a wake-up call to Council. Auckland Transport’s SOI (2018 – 21) was approved by the Finance and Performance Committee, but several dissenting votes and feedback around the table showed the SOI fell well short of reflecting Council’s wishes. Unfortunately, it appears Council didn’t learn some important lessons from that round. This round hasn’t started in a way that promises to improve the public’s impression of cohesion amongst the Council umbrella organisations.
The process began on the 22nd November, when Council’s Finance and Performance Committee resolved “Proposed priorities for the 2019 letters of expectations to substantive council-controlled organisations.” The directives set on climate change, and the direction set for AT, were neither bold nor aspirational.
The proposed priorities common to all CCO’s on the subject of climate change are as follows:
21. Addressing the challenges that climate change presents for Auckland is a priority for council. The impacts of climate change will require the application of new ideas and approaches to ensure that as a council group we respond to, mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
22. We expect the CCOs to outline how they plan to address climate change in their areas of responsibility, including the development of any measures to assess their performance in this area.
Do you spot the oversight? There is nowhere that it actually talks about reducing Auckland’s contribution to climate change. While “respond to, mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change” gives the impression of comprehensive coverage of the issue, it fails in the most important aspect: reducing our contribution. It also omits a requirement for the CCO’s to establish feedback loops to inform their processes; without these, success is a hit-or-miss affair. Here is what it needs to say:
21. Addressing the challenges that climate change presents for Auckland is a priority for council. The impacts of climate change will require the application of new ideas and approaches to ensure that as a council group we take action to reduce Auckland’s contribution to climate change, and that we respond to, mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Council’s targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be set out in the Climate Action Plan, with separate reductions planned for each source of ghg emissions.
22. We expect the CCOs to outline their action plan for how – in their areas of responsibility – they will reduce Auckland’s carbon emissions and address the effects of climate change. This will include details of the continuous measurement they will use to track their progress. It will also include details of how they will evaluate their strategy, specifically how these progress measurements will inform immediate changes to their action plan. We expect to see mechanisms in place that will rapidly reduce carbon emissions.
I’m going to focus on the LOE to Auckland Transport now, as transport is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Auckland (40%), and rising. If there were clear intentions in the SOI about reducing vehicle kilometres travelled (vkt) and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Auckland’s transport network could change rapidly. Diesel buses would be replaced with electric buses sooner. Projects that add yet more road capacity would have to be sparingly implemented. Streetscape improvement projects would involve traffic reduction measures. Funding would shift towards the projects that support sustainable modes.
To date, Auckland Transport has failed to set appropriate targets for carbon emission reductions. It has set some targets for fuel use reduction. Taka-ite recently highlighted AT’s response about whether their now impossible-to-meet 2020 fuel use reduction target is still a target:
The target is still an interim target and, as highlighted in the Appendix, the targets ‘are aspirational/indicative of the contributions needed to achieve the GHG reduction targets, by 2040’. In this context, it is an interim target until it is refreshed/replaced.
A responsible organisation puts mechanisms in place to swiftly get back on track; it doesn’t just respond to failure by refreshing the interim target. And Council is fully aware that Auckland Transport’s current approach has failed to reduce Auckland’s transport carbon emissions.
Yet Council’s proposed LOE expectations are inadequate to convey Council’s transport objectives to Auckland Transport. They don’t include the most important climate change transport measure of all, which is the need to reduce the amount of vehicle travel. This should be added:
Auckland Transport’s key contribution to reducing transport emissions is in reducing vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT). Auckland Transport must develop, in conjunction with the Council, targets that relate to:
- a reduction in VKT per capita, and
- a reduction in VKT overall.
We expect Auckland Transport to outline how they will evaluate their action plan on reducing VKT, specifically how the VKT measurements will inform immediate changes to their action plan. We expect to see mechanisms in place that will rapidly reduce VKT.
Council cannot expect an improved SOI product this time around when the conversation has started so weakly.
So, what options does Council have to reconsider the LOEs?
The Finance and Performance Committee resolved to send LOEs in early December with the agreed priorities included. If the LOE priorities were to be reconsidered then these would need to be agreed by the committee, or the committee would need to delegate to a councillor or group of councillors the mandate to revise the LOE priorities. With only a handful of meetings before the end of the year this could be a challenge.
But it is possible. Council will need to decide whether the busy pre-Christmas workload can cope with a quick revision in order to set the SOI process up with more chance of success. Acting now will certainly reduce the workload later, and avoids the risk of public outrage around poor governance.
The CCOs will revert to Council with their draft SOIs by the start of March. This usually marks the start of the process for Council to give feedback and inform the final SOI (which lands at the end of July). Council’s conversations at any of these later points would be greatly enhanced if they could refer back to strong directives in the LOEs. With the recently agreed LOE priorities I wouldn’t be surprised if AT’s final SOI for the new round is met with the same reception that it was this year.
Aucklanders are expecting Council to make responsible decisions around climate change so we can feel our city is part of the solution, not the problem. Bold words don’t relieve the psychological stress that residents feel as a result of their powerlessness in this international crisis. Only progress does. Council needs to show strong leadership here. Councillors and local board members often bemoan the lack of control Council has over Auckland Transport. So when there is an opportunity to provide effective direction, it’s disappointing to see it squandered.