Great volumes of hot air have been spouted during debates on climate change – enough, we suspect, to exacerbate the threat of rising temperatures.
Inevitably, the declarations of a climate emergency that flow from these debates are nudged aside while the economic interests of a community are promoted.
The tourism-dependent Queenstown Lakes District Council – for example – has voted 7-4 to declare a climate emergency after a presentation by Extinction Rebellion Queenstown Lakes.
The same council has approved plans for a controversial 113-room hotel in Wanaka’s Northlake special zone, although none of 141 submissions was in support. Residents opposed the plans because of the hotel’s reducing the area’s open space.
The council also voted 6-5 to receive Queenstown Airport Corporation’s controversial Statement of Intent (SOI).
Although a clause was inserted requiring ongoing discussions over possible expansion, some councillors complained the SOI has largely ignored concerns about climate change.
The council has a 75 per cent stake in the airport but its only control of the facility is through the annual Statement of Intent, which sets out the “strategic priorities” for three years.
The airport corporation in March was told to rewrite sections of the document and presented the revised SOI to the council almost immediately after the council declared a climate emergency.
At issue is whether the corporation will require noise constraints to be eased to accommodate passenger growth, a plan rejected by about 90 per cent of the 1500 groups and individuals who submitted on the changes this year.
The corporation is forecasting the current 2 million annual passenger movements at the airport will increase to over 5 million by 2031.
Globally, aviation is responsible for between two and three per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and its impact is growing faster than any other sector. By 2030, according to some estimates, that figure could increase to as much as 10 per cent of global emissions.
But New Zealand and other countries don’t count international aviation and shipping when reporting on emissions reductions.
Wellington City Council this month declared a climate emergency, supported by every councillor except councillor Nicola Young. She said she accepted the climate was changing, but pointed out the council itself was the second-biggest producer of plastic bags in the region, and 80 per cent of the council’s emissions came from the Southern Landfill.
The declaration requires the council to put protection of the environment and climate change front and centre in its decision-making.
According to the Stuff report of the meeting , Councillor Malcolm Sparrow said he was very hesitant to declare a climate emergency.
It was just lip service and “window dressing” if the council didn’t take drastic action, he said.
He voted for it anyway.
Councillor Iona Pannett said the declaration should be seen as a symbol of hope and a response to the thousands of Wellingtonians who have called for action on climate change.
“There are many positive solutions to the problem of climate change which will have multiple benefits for the city.
“It’s about us making greener, low-carbon options easy for people to use: such as better options for recycling and composting; and transport, such as walking, cycling and mass transit and transport; planning for denser living and building strong, resilient buildings.”
Let’s not forget this is the council which requires compostable packaging to be dumped in Wellington’s landfill.
The Wellington City Council wants its Capital Compost product BioGro organic certified and, to make that happen, has banned the packaging.
Commonsense Organics co-owner Marion Wood said their business had invested in making their products in compostable packets, and now more of that would be binned.
“We’re really devastated. We’ve changed all of our own packaged goods to home compostable packaging.
“We’ve tried really hard with putting in place best practice, and it just feels like a kick in the guts to know that it’s all going to end up in the landfill.”
Councillor Pannett (quoted above as a keen supporter of the declaration of a climate emergency and of composting) said she was supportive of Capital Compost’s ban on compostable packaging because she wanted the BioGro standard.
“It’s a transitional time … it’s difficult at the moment but we will get through it.”
Council waste operations manager Emily Taylor-Hall said the BioGro organic certification had been purssued for a long time.
“The compost industry is largely unregulated in New Zealand, and key players are turning to BioGro to gain credibility.”
The compostable bags would prevent certification and diminish the value of the council’s compost, she said.
Sustainability Trust consultant Rob McGhee, who runs Your Sustainable Workplace, was frustrated and disappointed when he heard the news.
Businesses had shown enthusiasm for composting and reducing their waste to landfill, he said. But at least one large employer had told him they’d stop composting because of the council’s change .
Then there’s the matter of carbon-spewing air travel.
According to data collected by the Taxpayers’ Union, Wellington City’s spending on flights was the second highest of every council in the country.
“For Justin Lester [Wellington’s mayor] to declare a ‘climate emergency’ is incredible hypocrisy,” a spokesman for the group said. “His council and CCOs have been spewing emissions at a massive rate while enjoying ratepayer-funded junkets to the likes of Switzerland and Shanghai.”
The highest spend was by Auckland City at $1,221,571 (another local body which has been swept along by the fad of declaring a climate emergency).
Wellington City’s air travel spending was almost double that of Christchurch City ($278,316), despite Wellington’s considerably smaller population base.
“Ratepayers will be looking on with envy at the lucky bureaucrats who flew premium economy to Texas for the South by Southwest Festival, or London for a live music conference,” the Taxpayers’ Union said.
“It’s completely unclear how this relates to delivering value for ratepayers, or how it aligns with the council’s virtue-signalling on climate.”
Then there’s the bizarre Wellington City Council plan to fly Mayor Lester and city council staff to China on a $5500 per person tour to investigate trackless trams.
Greater Wellington Regional Councillor Paul Swain labelled a plan by the city council to send Lester, senior staff, an unnamed city councillor, and Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter as “unbelievable” and not meeting the “sniff test”. “This can only be described as a junket.”
Genter’s press secretary told Stuff the associate minister had been approached to go on the tour but hadn’t confirmed she would be going.
At a Greater Wellington Regional Council this week, several regional councillors
… struggled to suppress their surprise at the proposal and a request that thousands of dollars to be spent on a trackless tram tour when a decision on mass transit was several years away.
Swain said the proposal was the “skinniest document I’ve ever seen”, Ian McKinnon said he was “amazed to receive this”, Sue Kedgley called the proposal “appalling”, and Roger Blakeley said “it’s just not good enough”.
Kedgley said the plan had no travel programme attached or details about the benefits the region would get from the trip.
News reached us today that the Hutt City Council has joined other cities in declaring a climate emergency, citing the need to raise awareness on climate change and to prioritise reducing council and city-wide emissions to net zero carbon.
Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace says declaring a climate change emergency will mean all decision-making by council will take into consideration impacts on climate change including the need to achieve emission reductions.
Keep an eye on them, folks.
In February, this council proposed to significantly increase the cost of licensing premises including bars, supermarkets and sports clubs.
At present, Hutt City recovers between 42 and 52 per cent of the cost of issuing licences – officers wanted to increase that to 90 per cent, with some categories at 100 per cent.
Environmental health team leader Dean Bentley said the council had no option but to pass on the cost: “The cost of alcohol licensing simply exceeds the revenue required to undertake the work.”
Although some councils “may be comfortable that ratepayers [were] effectively subsidising the alcohol industry” Hutt City was looking at other options, he said.
Next thing you know, the same council has
… spent thousands of dollars on what looks like an elaborate drinks fridge in the mayor’s office, documents reveal.
This is despite there already being a fridge in the office kitchen but, according to acting council chief executive Matt Reid, it is “very small”.
The council paid $1,453.95 for the fridge excluding GST.
Their efforts to deal with climate change will be worth watching.