Auckland will have to cut carbon emissions by 50 per cent over the next 10 years, according to a new proposal adopted by Auckland Council.

The decision came in a meeting of the new Environment and Climate Change Committee, which includes all councillors, the mayor and two members of the Independent Māori Statutory Board (IMSB). Council has not yet decided how this will be done.

Committee chair Councillor Richard Hills described the decision as "kind of phenomenal". It was supported by a unanimous vote.

The meeting also heard tributes to former Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons and environmental business activist Sir Rob Fenwick, both of whom have recently died.

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Several councillors called the new approach "radical", and worried that council had so far been moving too slowly.

Councillor Cathy Casey said, "We do the words but what about the actions?" She was angry council had allowed Auckland Transport (AT) to "delay for another year" the first trial to reduce cars on Queen St.

"If AT can't do it, we should ask the Waitematā Local Board, they'll get it done in a couple of months."

Councillor Richard Hills, chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee of Auckland Council.
Councillor Richard Hills, chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee of Auckland Council. "It's kind of phenomenal." Photo / Michael Craig

Councillor John Watson said Auckland Council could look overseas for lessons on how to lead on climate change. He gave the example of Scotland which decided 11 years ago to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020.

"Glasgow and Edinburgh are almost going head-to-head to become Britain's first carbon zero city. Edinburgh says it will get there in 2030."

Cutting emissions by 50 per cent will have major implications for industry, agriculture, coastal land, consumer life and especially transport, which alone is currently responsible for 40 per cent of Auckland's carbon emissions.

Councillor Chris Darby said the goals were all very well but, "I want to remind councillors that for two years AT has been telling us it has a very lean operational budget. It's down to zilch."

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Hills commented later that the crunch will come when council debates a new 10-year budget, or long-term plan (LTP), a process that will start later this year. "The LTP has to show we mean business," he said.

Mayor Phil Goff called the proposal "huge, life-changing and lifestyle changing".

"But do we have a choice? No we don't, unless we want to leave a rotten future to our mokopuna. So we need to explain what radical change will mean, constantly. We need to set out the what and the why."

Student Climate Strike march on Queen St, Auckland, May 2019. Photo / Annabel Reid
Student Climate Strike march on Queen St, Auckland, May 2019. Photo / Annabel Reid

Goff outlined the issues for transport, which he saw as more electrification, mode shift to public transport and ride sharing. "We will need at least 33 per cent of the city's vehicle fleet to have zero emissions. Currently it's not even at 1 per cent."

He also warned about the cost. "What's it going to cost and how are we going to pay for it? We can give the big speeches but business so far is not doing a hell of a lot. And the biggest change has to come from central Government."

Councillor Wayne Walker said council's responses to climate change "don't reflect our talk". He said council continues to grant consents for developments on flood plains and wondered why big growth proposals for Dairy Flat and Silverdale had been presented with "not one mention of climate change".

Councillor Pippa Coom reminded councillors that "the consensus on climate change science is settled", which meant their debate now had to be about how to respond to the urgency of the situation.

"We need a different approach to everything we do," she said. "And there will be a good side to it. Cleaner air, greener streets, less social isolation and more connectivity, and more resilience against things like oil shocks. Our decision to engage fully with mana whenua will be putting the principles of the Treaty [of Waitangi] into practice."

Auckland mayor Phil Goff: this is
Auckland mayor Phil Goff: this is "huge". Photo / Michael Craig

The proposals came in a report on the council's Climate Action Framework, which was approved in draft form last year and has been out for public consultation.

The council's acting chief sustainability officer, Alec Tang, told the committee there was 91 per cent support among submitters for reducing the city's carbon footprint, and 79 per cent support for council being a leader in that.

The report also proposed the framework be renamed the Auckland Climate Plan. There was debate over adding the word "emergency" to the title, but that suggestion was deferred. Hills explained he was in discussions with the IMSB about the full name of the plan, which is currently Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland's Climate Action Framework. He didn't want to pre-empt the outcome of that.

Student Climate Strike march on Queen St, Auckland, May 2019. Photo / Annabel Reid
Student Climate Strike march on Queen St, Auckland, May 2019. Photo / Annabel Reid

The officials will now develop an action plan based on "three pillars": a "Tāmaki response", which means a plan jointly developed with mana whenua; reducing emissions; and preparing for change.

A model will be created for a "decarbonised pathway" with a "carbon budget" attached, which will impact council, Government and the private sector. There will also be action plans to help individuals lower their own emissions.

The Climate Action Plan, with specific proposals for action, will be reported back in May.