Having to meaningfully consult with Coromandel ratepayers about their views on a climate change strategy is seen as a disadvantage, a staff report tabled to councillors has stated.
The Thames-Coromandel District Council held its full council meeting on May 4, where its stance on a Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration was discussed.
Lengthy debate included comments by Mayor Sandra Goudie that consultation should be tailored to discourage a wider discussion with the community on the topic of climate change.
Councillor Martin Rodley put forward a motion that was eventually passed, and said having to consult with the community should not be seen as a disadvantage.
"Some of the things listed as disadvantages I actually see as advantages, so I would like the opportunity for councillors to have a say on the [communications] document before it comes out."
A High Court judge has directed TCDC to consult its community on whether or not to sign the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration.
Judge Palmer said the impacts of climate change are likely to be "highly significant" for Thames-Coromandel and the district had a higher-than-average number of people at risk.
He found the council did not do the analysis or consider consultation with the district, as required by law, when it resolved not to approve the mayor to sign.
Councils are required under national legislation to focus on adaptation and consider climate change in resource management decisions.
Councillors debated what to tell the public regarding their preferred option for the mayor's signature on the declaration, and to what extent the declaration would influence the council's climate actions.
A spokesperson said after the meeting that the Council was directed to consult on the specific parameters set out in the judgement, not wider issues.
"When reconsidering and determining its decision the Court has directed that Council do so consistently with the requirements of the Local Government Act 2002 and Council's significance and engagement policy. The court also said the decision whether to approve the Mayor signing the Declaration was a significant one."
Regardless of how voting went, Mayor Sandra Goudie is not obliged to sign and the mayor has said publicly that she won't.
John Leenman and others from Hauraki Coromandel Climate Action Inc, which took the council to court, were present at the debate and want residents to make their voice heard when feedback opens.
"It's an abuse of democratic process by trying to narrow the public consultation to just the judge's requirements as they see them. The mayor's behaviour and that of some of the other councillors is congruent with what happened two years ago when they first voted whether or not the mayor should sign. They are trying to shut down the public's voice."
He believed asking for public views on climate change actions "should have happened five years ago".
Lillian Balfour, a Year 13 student and Head of Environment at Thames High School, said she believed the council had not been representing the best interests of its community.
"Frankly it's an embarrassment. We are one of the few councils that have not got on board with the LGLCCD and haven't been an example of positive change. With the focus on environmental tourism in the Coromandel, surely our council would want to sustain such a wonderful resource?
"As a student here in Thames I am concerned that our local leaders aren't taking significant action. Thames is a low-lying town susceptible to sea-level rise, and we need more than a Shoreline Management Plan to protect our community.
As a student here in Thames I am concerned that our local leaders aren't taking significant action.
"We need more than proposals of protection, we need action. Everyone I talk to at school would say climate change is one of the biggest issues we face, and for a lot of us it affects our mental health. It's good to see some councillors taking it more seriously this time around, but the whole council's continued lack of commitment to such a pressing issue is incredibly disappointing."
After the four tabled options failed to pass, the mayor and councillors Tony Fox and Murray McLean voted against Cr Rodley's option five, which was;
"Council agrees with the guiding principles and action in the Declaration and approves the Mayor signing the Declaration and continues with the council's current climate change commitment and work programme, including the work of TCDC's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Working Group."
However, this was passed with support from councillors Terry Walker, Sally Christie, Robyn Sinclair, Gary Gotlieb and John Morrissey.
Mayor Goudie has publicly said local authorities cannot afford to commit to ambitious plans that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Outside the council chambers, Leenman and other members of the HCCA said they found the debate "depressing": "There is no such thing as 'too much action' at this stage of the game."
HCCA chairman Denis Tegg described TCDC's response to the High Court decision as "quite odd stuff".
Among documents to issued councillors was a Draft Communications Plan on how to pitch the Climate Change Declaration ruling to residents and ratepayers.
It sought to reframe the discussion "as a procedural issue not a philosophical one".
"We know from our own survey of over 300 local residents that 80 per cent want the council to take strong action to reduce its own emissions," said Tegg.
TCDC acknowledged in its report to councillors that it had undertaken no prior engagement with the community on climate change or a climate change strategy.
It had promoted a project to develop Shoreline Management Plans.
A working group was set up in March 2020 to formulate a greenhouse gases emission reduction plan for council emissions. This group consists of the mayor, councillors Rodley, Sinclair and Walker, and council staff.
HCCA surveyed residents about their views on TCDC's response to climate change and says the results confirm other nationwide surveys.
"Our survey also confirms that locals do not believe the shoreline management project alone is a sufficient response to the climate crisis. They want the council to get serious about emission reductions and take action consistent with the Zero Carbon Act.
"HCCA is pleased that the council will follow the court's direction and consult with the public on climate change.
"But we are very concerned that TCDC intended to narrow the consultation to just compliance with the court judgement. That is a huge lost opportunity. The public is keenly interested in climate action and wants to see the council take a leadership role in reducing emissions, so it makes sense to ask the public what actions should be taken."
Tegg said Hutt City Council has shown the way.
"Mayor Campbell Barry saw the need to address climate change in their city as urgent and the city's response is being designed alongside the community with comprehensive engagement activities under way."
Cr Sinclair said she had reservations about the communications plan.
"Shouldn't we expand the consultation to ask people 'what do you think we should do?'.
"People are going to have opinions about climate change anyway."