Yesterday the Auckland Council unanimously agreed to declare a climate emergency, joining other cities in New Zealand and around the world in doing so.
“By unanimously voting to declare a climate emergency we are signalling the council’s intention to put climate change at the front and centre of our decision making,” says Mayor Phil Goff
Today, members of Auckland Council’s Environment and Community Committee voted to join a growing community of cities around the world who have formally and publicly recognised the urgency for action on climate change by declaring a climate emergency.
“Our declaration further elevates the importance of an immediate national and global response to address our changing climate,” said Councillor Penny Hulse, chair of the committee.
“We want to be a part of the global community calling for change. We have listened and are listening to people; to Aucklanders who supported targeted rates to improve the health of our environment and water, to the students who went on strike and demanded action on climate, to groups like Extinction Rebellion who came to the council and pleaded with us to take more action including declaring this climate emergency. To these groups and to the many others who have made their voices heard, I say thank you,” says Councillor Hulse.
Mayor Goff says, “Our obligation is to avoid our children and grandchildren inheriting a world devastated by global heating. Scientists tell us that if we don’t take action, the effects of heating will be catastrophic, both environmentally and economically.
“In declaring an emergency, we are signalling the urgency of action needed to mitigate and adapt to the impact of rising world temperatures and extreme weather events. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have only around 12 years to reduce global carbon emissions to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.
“While international and national actions are critical, at a local and personal level we need to play our role in achieving that target.”
It’s good to see the council take this step but unless they and their CCOs take more action, it does feel like it risks being a bit of a feelgood political statement than anything serious. Here’s what they say it means for Auckland:
By declaring a climate emergency, the council is committing to:
- continue to robustly and visibly incorporate climate change considerations into work programmes and decisions
- continue to provide strong local government leadership in the face of climate change, including working with local and central government partners to ensure a collaborative response
- continue to advocate strongly for greater central government leadership and action on climate change
- continue to increase the visibility of our climate change work
- continue to lead by example in monitoring and reducing the council’s greenhouse gas emissions
- include climate change impact statements on all council committee reports.
Part of my issue with it is dictionaries define ’emergency’ as: “A serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action“. I’m sure someone can debate the ‘unexpected’ aspect but the part that seems to be missing from the council’s announcements is the immediate action, particularly in relation to the single biggest contributor to emissions in Auckland – transport.
So, if the council were serious about this climate emergency declaration, here four things that need to change immediately to help address this emergency
Give people more options to avoid car travel
The best way to reduce emissions from cars is to give people realistic alternatives for getting around. Some of this obviously takes time to build and there are funding constraints but an emergency should dictate a radical reprioritisation of what’s planned with investment going only to support modes of transport and projects that help reduce emissions. All of this means we need more and better public transport and many more cycleways.
Tied to this a stated goal needs to be a significant reduction in vehicle kilometres travelled all across the region (not just the city centre). While there are some good things happening they’re taking too long or simply aren’t enough. Take Auckland Transports Statement of Intent for 2019-22 for example. It shows they only targeting to deliver 28.5km of new cycleways over 3 years.
To put that in perspective, we have nearly 5,000 km of urban roads in Auckland (and another 3,000 rural roads). Real and meaningful immediate action would be for the council to require AT to significantly increase this using temporary solutions until such time more money is available for permanent ones. Of course one of the big things that prevents AT from being able to do this, and has slowed down the existing cycling programme at the same time as making it more expensive is the demand from locals to retain ……
The Councillors may have unanimously voted to declare a climate emergency but you can be certain that many of them will quickly jump in behind locals to complain about removing any on-street carparks from their local areas.
Of course the desire to retain parking not only makes it harder to convert space to encourage emissions free transport options but it also has the effect of encouraging people to drive to the location in the first place.
A poignant reminder of issue with parking emerged yesterday with the announcement that Costco would open it’s first NZ store in Auckland and would have 800 carparks. That store will be located in Westgate, which is part of major growth area for Auckland over the coming decades, bringing us to ……
Auckland’s development pattern of spread out suburbs is a key contributor to our auto-dependency and that is only going to get worse if current plans to build around 110,000 of new homes on Auckland’s fringes comes to fruition.
Enabling all this to happen that is a programme called Supporting Growth and as we learnt yesterday, it seems they’re about to announce their finalised plans for the three main development areas – North, Northwest and South. If we were serious about a climate emergency we would be putting a halt on any implementation of these networks and refocusing that growth back to the existing urban area. We could then spend the money that would have otherwise gone to these areas to significantly improve walking, cycling and PT options which also happen to benefit existing residents.
Perhaps some of the money could also go towards …..
At the last election Mayor Phil Goff campaigned on a policy of planting 1 million trees over this term – I understand the target is very close to being achieved. But while 1 million trees is good, what would also be good is if we saw more trees planted in our streets – and lots of them. There is no reason why every suburb shouldn’t be called a leafy suburb.