Bay of Plenty Regional Council's decision to recommend the council declare a climate emergency resulted in a standing ovation and widespread praise from those who say the "time is now".
The regional council voted in support of declaring the climate emergency in what was, at times, an emotional meeting in Tauranga yesterday.
The declaration means the council will prioritise projects and policies that will help lower carbon emissions, such as potentially offering free buses to school-aged children.
The meeting followed months of petitioning from climate change protester's School Strike 4 Change, which has petitioned for such action from local councils throughout New Zealand.
School Strike 4 Change spokesman Elliot Blyth said declaring a climate emergency was a critical first step toward climate justice. Such a transition was essential to ensure no one was left behind in the process, he said.
"With more and more councils declaring an emergency, we see that this puts pressure on central government to join other countries in declaring a national climate emergency, which was one of our demands in the strikes."
So far, six New Zealand councils have declared a climate emergency - not including the regional council.
Mount Maunganui mum-of-two Coral Dixon, who has been involved in climate change marches, said the regional council's decision was encouraging.
"I personally feel a great responsibility to try to help show support and do what we can, rather than live an issue for others to sort out."
Dixon, a GP, said it would be easy to feel overwhelmed by how big of an area climate change is, "but you've just got to make a start and identify key areas that affect your own backyard and start chipping away at it".
"It's important that we do what we can."
At the meeting, councillor Jane Nees was moved to tears as she implored her fellow councillors to vote for the recommendation, which will enforce the regional council to act on reducing carbon emissions and addressing other climate change threats.
Nees said climate change was the most important issue the council had dealt with.
"I'm sorry if I get emotional. This is about our future, our children's future. I think this is something that we need to do as a regional council to show leadership to our whole community. We can see there's huge support from the community."
Applause broke out from the packed public gallery to Nees' comments and support of the recommendation.
The council voted 9-3 for the recommendation. Councillors Kevin Winters, Norm Bruning and Andrew von Dadelszen opposed the move, expressing concern at the use of the word emergency.
Others such as Cr David Love were supportive but reluctant, citing a preference for the use of the word crisis instead of emergency.
In a submission to the council, Sustainable Business Network's Glen Crowther said now was the time to act.
"The key thing is that this is serious. It's dangerous and does require immediate action. We can't wait. They [scientists] are saying we can't wait even a year or two."
Last year, the regional council commissioned the Sustainable Business Network to investigate what the Bay of Plenty needs to do to work towards lowering the district's carbon emissions and address climate change related issues.
Traffic in the Western Bay of Plenty and Tauranga was responsible for two-thirds of the Western Bay of Plenty's carbon emissions.
Crowther said this level needed to drop by at least a third. A significant way to do this would be to allow free bus transport for all the Bay of Plenty children.
"Show you can have a good social outcome. It's not that expensive. It's $147,000 a year - cheap as chips."
Envirohub's Mary Dillon told councillors it was important people changed the way they thought.
"We don't know what's going to happen ... but it's knowing we have a responsibility to our future. That's our job," she said.
"I would like our [decision] to be something our young people can come back in 50 years' time and say 'bless you'."
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said the council had already signed to the Local Government New Zealand climate change initiative, which also prioritised addressing the issue, and would stick with this.
Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick the council was focussing on developing a climate action plan that aligned with a 2030 vision. The plan included workshops with the community to gain input into a draft plan which would be taken out to wider consultation.
"We haven't been asked to declare a climate emergency and don't consider it is necessary with work well underway on our action plan, and climate change mitigation at the forefront of council planning and work programmes."
Whakatāne District Council has not received a petition but a presentation outlining School Strike 4 Change members' concerns.
A spokeswoman said the council was working to develop a climate change strategy which will be presented to elected members next month.
Tauranga City Council is yet to respond to queries.