Tuesday, 19 November 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Was it the right decision?

On Tuesday 2 April, Thames-Coromandel District Council decided by a vote of six councillors to three against signing the Local Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration. The decision was met with dismay by several people, including outspoken Thames resident, Denis Tegg (see his Letter to the Editor on page … of this issue of The Informer).

The question inevitably needs to be asked - was it the right decision?

The Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration, among other things, acknowledges the urgent need to address climate change and outline key commitments the local and regional councils that signed the declaration will take to respond to the risks and opportunities posed by climate change.

The key commitments include “…ambitious action plans that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support resilience,” work with local communities “…to understand, prepare for and respond to the physical impacts of climate change” and work with central government “…to deliver on national emission reduction targets and support resilience in [local] communities.”

Among the “ambitious action plans” referred to in the declaration are the promotion of “… walking cycling, public transport and other low carbon options,” work to “… improve the resource efficiency and health of homes businesses and infrastructure” and support of “… the use of renewable energy and uptake of electric vehicles”   

To date 60 local and regional councils have signed the declaration.

TCDC mayor, Sandra Goudie, voted against the signing of the declaration. She said the action plans outlined in the declaration have not yet been canvassed across the Coromandel Peninsula and have unknown financial and legal consequence. She is of the view that the declaration is a legally binding document.

According to TCDC, they are already working on several of the action plans referred in the declaration, including supporting walking and cycling infrastructure, supporting a public transport service in Thames, supporting the uptake of electric vehicles through the development of a network of charging stations, proactively working with coastal communities on shoreline management plans - taking into account projected sea level rise - and advocating to central government to lead the response where infrastructure, private property, the local economy and livelihoods may be threatened.

Mercury Bay Ward councillors, Tony Fox and Murray McLean, have both also voted against the signing of the declaration.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Mr Fox. “I am satisfied that [our] risk and resilience stance seeks to practically address climate related issues rather than talk about them. I would not sign ratepayers up to anything that would add costs to constituents through rates or other taxes where the costs and benefits were not fully understood by all.”

Mr McLean agrees with Mr Fox that actions speak louder than words. “[Last week the Mercury Bay Community Board] approved a cycle strategy in line with the [Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration]. We, as a council, have also allocated $2.6 million over the next three years to look at the coastal effects [of climate change]. As an acknowledgement [that we have to work with central government to deliver on national emission reduction targets], our mayor is now driving a hybrid car.”

We asked several of the councils that signed the declaration what they are doing to combat climate change and whether any of their actions are the result of their decision to sign the declaration.

None of the councils that responded to us - Tasman District Council, Matamata-Piako District Council, Gisborne District Council, Hauraki District Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Dunedin City Council, Waikato District Council, Waipa District Council, grey District Council and Auckland Council - are undertaking any work specifically because of their signing of the declaration.

“Helping communities to prepare for the impacts of climate change is the right thing to do and I was happy to sign the [Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration],” Jim Mylchreest, the Waipa District Council mayor told us. “Signing it won’t ‘solve the problem,’ but it won’t do any harm and I think it sends a strong signal that we need to take this issue seriously.”

We were told by a Dunedin City Council spokesperson that, “The …declaration is a purely aspirational document which acknowledges that councils and communities have a part to play in mitigating climate change.”

The amount of work each of the councils do to combat climate change varies greatly and depends on their individual circumstances. Gisborne District Council and Waikato District Council are working or consulting on plans addressing climate change, while Auckland Council and Dunedin City Council are involved in initiatives as diverse as electric public transport (Auckland), the introduction of electric vehicles into their fleets (Dunedin), central plants to heat inner city buildings (Dunedin) and the development of “urban forests” (Auckland).

In July last year, Local Government New Zealand produced the results of a survey on local and regional councils’ emissions reduction activities. Forty-three councils responded to the survey, including TCDC. Several councils that signed the Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration did not respond. TCDC listed public transport in Thames, the planting of memorial forests, the use of regional landfill facilities and the installation of electric vehicle charging stations as their emissions reduction activities.

On face value, as at July last year, TCDC was doing more to reduce emissions than some of the councils that signed the declaration, among them Ashburton District Council that was, “Exploring and implementing more efficient alternatives as part of [their] day-to-day activities.”

Is the Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration a “purely aspirational document” or is it “legally binding?” Should the Coromandel Peninsula residents and ratepayers see evidence from TCDC that the declaration is legally binding? If the declaration is purely aspirational, where is the harm in signing it. Or where is the harm in not signing it? To what extent do “actions speak louder than words?”

At the end of the day, only the inevitable question matters - was it the right decision for TCDC not to sign the declaration? It is local body elections this year. Those who intend to run should start thinking about the answer.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.