There are forty people who will decide whether we decarbonise transport in Auckland, and New Zealand’s ultimate climate response depends on achieving this by 2030. The legacy we leave our children – a city of health and opportunity, or a stranglehold on freedom – will be determined by these people making the right decisions now.
On Monday evening last week, more than 150 people attended an event with Dr Paul Winton, Jenny Cooper QC, Lucy Lawless, Maulik Thakkar, Patrick Reynolds and Councillor Pippa Coom (and many more watched it live-streamed). They heard:
- Why it is necessary to decarbonise transport by 2030,
- Who the decision-makers with the power to enable this are,
- The legal basis for requiring them to make these changes, and
- What we can do.
When we finally achieve it, decarbonised transport will be wonderful – it’ll be healthier, safer, cheaper, more equitable and far more fun than the car dependence we have today.
Six advocacy groups (1Point5, Greater Auckland, Bike Auckland, Lawyers for Climate Action, Women in Urbanism and Generation Zero) have jointly penned an open letter urging these forty people to take the following actions so we can decarbonise Auckland’s transport by 2030:
Please sign it. Thanks to Generation Zero for creating the open letter signature form and to Bike Auckland for video-ing the meeting and providing a live stream [Edit: this is a cleaner version with better audio]:
Dr Paul Winton of The 1point5 Project outlined the climate challenge. He praised Auckland Council for its recent Climate Plan, but criticised our transport system as not meeting our needs:
And what’s worse… the plan in Auckland – which is supported by central government – really embeds this, and gives us a transport system that’s probably worse than the one we have today… it’s a more congested system and a worse carbon system.
So there’s a fork in the road…
He discussed two versions for transport decarbonisation:
There’s one that’s cleaner but congested and there’s one that transforms transport…
There are forty people who will change this… I’ve had the chance to talk to the board and the CEO’s of these organisations… Some of them get it and really want to do more. Some of them haven’t even thought about it. And some oppose change…
First… they haven’t done the work. None of these organisations have estimated the scale and rate of change needed under climate change and hence their beliefs and plans are hopelessly out of step with climate reality…
Secondly, the conversations have been very car-centric…
Lastly, they – generally speaking – don’t feel empowered or responsible for the change.
Some of the key points Jenny made are:
All decision-makers who are exercising any form of public power have to act lawfully… Anyone affected can apply to the court for judicial review to determine if the decisions are legal or not.
Decisions can be found to be unlawful:
- if they are outside the scope of the decision-maker’s legal powers or lawful purpose under the relevant Act;
- if irrelevant considerations were taken into account, or mandatory considerations were not taken into account;
- if they are unreasonable or irrational; or
- if they have been affected by bias.
the courts are increasingly willing to get involved in decisions relating to climate change.
International law, such as the Paris Agreement, is not directly enforceable in New Zealand courts. But courts do interpret domestic law in a manner consistent with international obligations where possible… International obligations can also be found to be mandatory considerations for decision-makers.
Jenny discussed the recent Heathrow runway case from the UK where the court found:
even though the Minister had no statutory obligation to consider the Paris Agreement in approving the third runway, “There can be some unincorporated international obligations that are so obviously material [to a decision] that they must be taken into account. The Paris Agreement fell into this category.” This was an incredibly powerful lawsuit and an incredibly powerful finding by the court.
In addition to the Paris Agreement, there are many other international agreements that impact on decarbonisation. Clearly joining the C40 network involved commitments that are material to decision-making for Auckland. But there will also be agreements in areas like environment, safety, health, equity and human rights which have decarbonisation implications too. The one that jumps out at me immediately is the Stockholm Declaration on Road Safety.
On New Zealand’s domestic law, Jenny says:
The centrepiece of New Zealand’s climate law is the Climate Change Response Act 2002, amended in 2019 (the “Zero Carbon Act”)…
Lawyers for Climate Action NZ hold the view that the 1.5ºC target, the 2050 target, and the carbon budgets are so obviously material to decisions in some areas, like the transport system, that they must be taken into account. We’re looking forward to testing this in court, if necessary!
The right to life
Urgenda is a civil society group in the Netherlands… arguing in the Dutch courts that the Dutch government’s efforts to cut emissions are… not consistent with the right to life, because climate change creates a foreseeable risk of loss of life. On 20 December 2019 the Dutch Supreme Court agreed… Lawyers for Climate Action NZ argue that a similar positive legal obligation also applies in New Zealand and that decisions inconsistent with protection of the right to life are unlawful.
Lawyers for Climate Action wrote to the Board of Auckland Transport in mid-June outlining the legal obligations the organisation has in relation to climate change, and made a presentation to them in late July also. Here’s a slide from that presentation:
At last week’s meeting, Jenny was asked what the consequences would be if AT doesn’t respond:
Either they will spontaneously do things to bring down emissions or someone will need to do something about it… I’d much rather win them over.
She also answered a question about why New Zealand should bother if other countries don’t:
What if no-one else bothers and we do? There’s… great misunderstanding that things are not happening overseas. In fact we are very much behind… New Zealanders like to think that we’re environmentally forward, but we’re actually not. So there’s not much danger at the moment of us being way out in front.
So what can we do?
Our open letter says:
We need decisions to be made now. If you choose inaction, you are in fact taking direct action to create an unsustainable future in which our children face severe environmental degradation and exponentially rising costs.
Please sign the letter, and share it with others.
Paul suggests we need to support and empower those who understand the scale and rate of change that’s required, educate those who need it, and put
incessant pressure on those that are holding back.
He also recommends we (respectfully) have “awkward conversations” to raise awareness with people who don’t yet understand the need for transport decarbonisation. We shouldn’t just discuss it in our bubbles.
There’s no reason to fear the changes involved in decarbonising transport. The process of change might seem daunting, but the outcome itself will be liberating.