Climate change emergencies grow, but where is the political will?

The other day Auckland Council became another New Zealand local government body to declare a climate change emergency in the hope that it will bring the focus on the need for urgent action. And as more councils do start considering whether to declare, the spotlight’s glaring vision is focussing on the central Government’s (relative non)response.

Every single elected council in New Zealand could declare a climate emergency. Whilst the symbolism is great and would have impact if all councils actually did declare an emergency, the real leadership must come from central Government.

And such regional leadership appears unlikely. There are still, no doubt, regional, city and district councils around the country who do not believe that climate change justifies an emergency being declared. One of them is West Coast Regional Council, which is dominated by rural councillors. Despite significant storms visiting the West Coast on a more regular basis and despite increasingly large rainfall tallies being racked up, West Coast Regional Councillors have demanded evidence that climate change is occurring.

Six councils around New Zealand have now declared a climate emergency. Whilst their number compared to the total number of elected territorial authority bodies is small, they represent a very substantial chunk of New Zealand’s total population  at more than 2.1 million New Zealanders. Those councils are Auckland Council, Christchurch City Council, Environment Canterbury, Nelson City Council and Dunedin City Council.

This brings me back to the central Government. When it announced it was walking away from oil and gas in the coming decades, the left wing spectrum celebrated. New Zealand was taking a step towards sustainability; there might be hope yet for controlling anthropogenic climate change.

Yes and No. The far fringes of the political spectrum are absolutely convinced beyond a shred of doubt that there will be a catastrophe either way, but for entirely different and irreconcilable reasons.

The concern on the moderate right stems from several notable factors that I have described in greater depth elsewhere such as:

  • The affordability of carbon neutral vehicles
  • Long term transport priorities still based on a carbon heavy thinking
  • Unless there is a major effort to overhaul our transport system New Zealand will continue to need oil and gas
  • Some hospitals, and large public utilities continue to use fossil fuels for purposes such as heating with no plans to change their fuel type
  • Impracticality of having an entirely electric vehicle fleet – to say nothing of the sheer number of batteries that will need highly toxic components recycled

The concern from the moderate left also stems from factors I have already acknowledged.

  • The level of carbon is climbing rapidly and is now at 418 parts per million according to the Mauna Kea atmospheric observatory in Hawaii
  • Massive loss of biodiversity from ecosystem destruction has the potential to end humanity in 100 years or less
  • There is no Planet B within reasonable travelling distance of any space going craft

And then there is perhaps a third group, who have to try to reconcile the two moderate factions and make a case that central Government will listen to. They might include planners in local councils who have to make sense of the Resource Management Act and other pieces of law in determining what the council they work for can reasonably do. Others are scientists who could be looking at the sustainability of large scale biofuel from the waste stream or whether hemp can be used on a large scale as a building material.

It might be this third group that helps to make the case. By gathering the inputs from the left and the right  it can try to reach some sort of compromise. It would be between the need for some sort of economic continuity and need to hurry up and start putting promises into actions, but in a way that the public can buy into.




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