Header image: A Chris Slane cartoon from 2001.
This post was co-authored by Heidi, Jolisa and Marita.
This plan was requested by Councillors because they were being asked to endorse a Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) which failed to meet Council’s own plan for transport emissions reductions. And that work is now getting underway: last week, staff from Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and members of AT’s Board presented the draft approach and governance structure for the TERP. Council approved the establishment of a new Transport Emissions Reference Group (the TERG) which will direct staff in the preparation of the TERP.
Which is great, but if the number of verbs in this announcement – establish, develop, help – are anything to go by, the plan seems to be missing an element of immediacy. Can we get straight to “achieve” – boldly?
We have established a Transport Emissions Reference Group to develop options to help achieve the bold emissions-reduction targets outlined in Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan.#OurAKL #ClimateChange https://t.co/aH2X56yHOX
— Auckland Council (@AklCouncil) August 13, 2021
A climate emergency, and the months keep slipping by
It’s good to see work underway that will likely challenge the lack of ambition in the RLTP. But where’s the urgency?
Will the TERP resolve the concerns held by councillors, and advocates, and the public? Some encouraging ideas were floated in last week’s presentation, and it seems like there could be increasing acknowledgement of the need to pivot from BAU transport solutions.
But the draft TERP will be released in mid-2022. That’s a year away. So let’s look at a bit of history.
We’ve had a Low Carbon Strategic Action Plan since 2014, which had specific targets that Auckland Council and Auckland Transport should have been geared up to achieve:
- The 10% reduction by 2020 means the number should’ve come down to 7965 km per person. Instead, MoT stats show that in 2019, Aucklanders travelled 9245 km/person. – that’s 16% above the target!
- The 20% reduction by 2030 means the number should go down to 7080 km per person by the end of the decade. Instead, the RLTP was approved even though it worked on the assumption that vehicle travel would “increase in line with population growth”
Imagine how much easier our climate challenges would be today… if Council had set in place mechanisms to track those targets from 2014, and ensure they were achieved. … If Councillors had faced the “hard decisions” before now, for the benefit of all.
Instead, the city ploughed on with road building for sprawl.
And squabbled over carparks.
It is no wonder that the RLTP – Auckland Transport’s 10-year, $37 billion investment plan – is being legally challenged by a coalition of advocates. The need to reduce vehicle travel has been in the plans since at least 2014 – with numbers for easy governance tracking.
Continuing with the history:
- Auckland Council declared a Climate Emergency in June 2019 – over two years ago
- Auckland Council adopted Auckland’s Climate Plan Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri in July 2020 – over one year ago
- Auckland Transport adopted an RLTP in June 2021 – that failed to follow Auckland’s Climate Plan Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri
- Auckland Council and Auckland Transport then decided on the approach and governance structure for the TERP in August 2021
So when will the actual action happen? Auckland Council and Auckland Transport don’t expect to endorse a pathway until the second quarter of 2022 – which will be three years after declaring an emergency.
But wait, there’s more:
61. Once endorsed, implementing the TERP will require change across a broad range of central and local government planning and investment processes. Other additional tools may also be needed to assist Aucklanders and Auckland businesses to change their travel behaviour.
62. Other strategies and policies will need to be developed or refreshed to guide implementation of the actions. For example, a transport equity strategy may be an effective way to ensure that transport decarbonisation interventions are delivered in a just manner, or the Development Strategy may need to be adjusted to give effect to the pathway.
88. There will likely be significant financial implications for the council group once the project moves into implementation phase from 2022. The project will recommend substantial investment in a range of interventions to influence travel behaviour. Further work will need to be undertaken to determine the specific projects and programmes required, and their funding arrangements. Delivery of the chosen pathway will be implemented through various funding processes for actions that relate to the council group.
It’s hard to see tangible bike lanes, electric buses, and a 15-minute city lifestyle emerge from these plans, processes, strategies and policies. That’s not to say they’re bad plans – a transport equity strategy, for example, sounds like a very good thing.
Organic planning: learning by doing
On Friday, in Waka Kotahi’s series on Sparking Transitions to Sustainability, Professor Jan Rotmans from Rotterdam said:
Transitions require planning, but not classical planning, more organic planning, with moving targets and continuous adjustments based on what you learn.
In other words, ‘better good and now than perfect and never.’
The Climate Emergency declaration in 2019 was the moment to embrace a ‘transition planning’ approach. Had Council started transition planning then, it would be well-practised at it now – and this TERP would be powerfully different, and instantly effective.
That’s because transition planning lets you do two things at once: make change right now, while also planning for the future. You get started on achievable targeted actions straight away, and monitor them to inform your broader, long term planning.
Our message to Council and AT is: you can still do this.
There are a lot of ideas and projects to choose from within the planning that already exists. Preparation of the TERP does not mean the actions in Auckland’s Climate Plan Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri – which has already been approved and widely consulted-upon – should go on ice. You know the feedback for the RLTP was that there needed to be more focus on climate action and sustainable transport options. You have the mandate for change.
There are 27 pages of charts of action like this in Auckland’s Climate Plan Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri. Four of them are specifically about transport and several others impact transport emissions. Take your pick – what would you do, today?
The actions are described by things like the degree to which they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, address climate risks, and the timeframe in which they should be implemented.
For example under ‘Action T2: Changing the way we travel’, one sub-action is Encourage the use of public transport, walking and micro-mobility devices, rather than driving. It ticks the boxes for additional social, environmental and economic benefits, and is to be delivered in both the near-term (next 1-3 years) and the medium-term (by 2030). When does the near-term start? How about now? Because we know every day, month, year of delay will compound the long-term effect of emissions, and only makes it harder to catch up to where we should be.
A transition planning approach could actually empower the TERP. It would be a kind of ‘learning-by-doing strategy’ which would, through gathering on-the-ground evidence, strengthen the ultimate recommendations that the plan will provide – and getting projects underway will build momentum to push the plan forward once it’s released.
The ‘hard decisions’ problem
Some councillors indicated they are worried about having to make “hard decisions”. Yet these politicians have been facing these same decisions for years. Are they ‘hard’? They are just decisions about providing equity, and safety, and transport choice. They’re just decisions about using our resources more wisely and leaving our children with less debt. Hard decisions? These are simply ethical decisions. Our emissions have risen – and we have a safety crisis – because politicians have been facing these same decisions – and choosing the wrong answers.
There are glimmers of light, including Council pushback on continued misinformation from AT, though the TERG will need to set up a process for dealing with these many problems systematically, and in real time. And well-crafted encouragement for people and households making low-carbon choices and pledging to do their part.
A more modern governance structure would’ve lessened this “hard decisions” pressure on councillors. The citizen participation approach used in Barcelona is one option of many. And the recent work on deliberative democracy would suggest that at the very least, if the TERG does fully upskill its members to the level needed to make these decisions, they shouldn’t be simply a “reference group”. Referring decisions back to a group of councillors or AT Board members who have not spent the effort and time to become fully informed about the subject is simply a way to retain the status quo.
‘Hard decisions’ should also be tackled as a communications and engagement task. Surveys and public feedback tell us people are not just ready, but hungry for ways to make a difference, and they want to tackle climate change at the local level. An IAG 2018-2021 climate change survey found that:
- 69% of respondents are prepared to take action to reduce the personal impact of climate change… but less than a third feel they have the necessary information to do so.
- 74% say council should use funds to help build infrastructure to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Last Friday, on Bernard Hickey’s podcast When the Facts Change, researcher Jess Berentson-Shaw spoke about research she’s done into how people feel about climate change. She said:
Honestly, I think what we see in the research is that most people do care about this stuff. They do want to do something. [But] they feel quite fatalistic about it. They feel like the people with the power mechanisms to do something aren’t doing anything.
So how do we point to the people with the biggest levers in the system? And then how do we make people feel like there is actually some hope that those people will do something about it?
When politicians talk about the ‘hard decisions’ that must be made to reduce our emissions, they set up a negative narrative that needs to be critiqued.
The conversation is directed in the wrong place. We often talk about what individuals need to do, and the pain that people need experience in order to put in place the cuts and policies that will work.
So is it possible to flip the narrative? Can those ‘hard decisions’ instead be ‘opportunities for positive change’? Berentson-Shaw talked about a hypothetical mum living in Porirua, with expensive rental housing and two jobs that require her to spend long hours in the car. If we can improve the system to meet her needs, the system will work for everybody – except, perhaps, for the one or two percent who benefit from the status quo.
How do you build a shared vision for people? A big part of gaining support for the types of changes we need in [for example] transport is ensuring that people who don’t identify as cyclists feel like there’s room for them in the movement. A big part of that is the narratives. How do we talk about the kind of city we’re trying to build?
The Government’s Covid-19 communications strategy has been lauded across the world for its role in our successful response to that particular emergency. The majority of New Zealanders feel like they understand the reasons for the protection measures that we have, because they have been explained clearly, carefully and respectfully. When we went into one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, people understood what we were trying to achieve, and that it would benefit our entire community.
The next emergency is right in front of us. We need more urgency from those with the power to shift the context in which we make choices. The clock is ticking.
And this TERP will only be effective if it involves immediate action.