Len Brown was absolutely right to go to Paris for the climate conference. I would have done the same.
As climate talks unfold in Paris this week the world hopes that much will be achieved. But the realists, unfortunately, expect little. The world's nation-states are inching gradually toward a global deal through the United Nations process, all too slowly. When agreement is finally reached, it may well be too late to take effective action.
This was predicted by the Shell Oil company in 2010, when it published a report titled Energy Scenarios to 2050. The report sketched out two possible futures, which it called Scramble and Blueprints.
Under the Scramble scenario political rhetoric increases, as time goes by, but action to address climate change and encourage energy efficiency is delayed. Political attention is paid sequentially to the problem of energy supply, then to reducing energy demand, and finally to addressing the problem of climate change. By the time serious attention is paid to climate, it is too late to prevent the most serious consequences.
The Blueprints scenario offers more hope. Proactive local authorities, business groups and communities begin designing and creating their own energy futures. Industries with common energy interests, coalitions of cities and regions work together, without waiting to be told or given permission. In this scenario issues of energy supply, demand and climate change are dealt with in parallel; in piecemeal fashion, at first, but increasingly coordinated by governments responding to the groundswell of public opinion.
In neither scenario is the transition to a low-carbon economy an easy one. But the Blueprints scenario shows the importance of the role of local government in developing and building grassroots support for climate action.
So what is the proper role for local government in dealing with climate change issues?
Let us take, as an example, the Mangere Sewage Treatment plant.
A recent report on rising sea levels by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment includes a map that shows the Mangere treatment plant would be vulnerable to sea level rise of 50cm - 100cm.
We know that this amount of sea level rise is already built into the climate system, the only uncertainty is about exactly when it will happen.
How will Auckland deal with sewage disposal if the sea level rises by 3m, or 5m - levels are likely to happen over a longer and more uncertain timespan.
A dyke around the treatment plant could protect it from a 1m rise, but higher levels might require moving the whole plant to a different location and reconfiguring the entire network of pipes and other sewerage systems currently in place. Is it too soon to start planning for 3m or more, and when would it be too late?
Energy and climate problems are akin to a slowly unfolding, natural disaster - sea level rise like a tsunami in very slow motion.
Civil defence, like the provision of sewage treatment and disposal, is a core council responsibility.
Civil Defence trainees learn about the four "R"s of emergency response: Readiness, Reduction, Response and Recovery.
Readiness is about planning ahead and ensuring the necessary systems, processes and resources are in place to deal with an incident before it occurs. Reduction is also about preparation - putting in place infrastructure that will mitigate the severity and intensity of the impacts of the incident. Response is what you do when the incident occurs, and Recovery involves cleaning up and putting things right afterward.
There is a fifth "R" word we could add: responsibility. The Auckland Council could avoid responsibility for these future challenges, leaving future generations to deal with climate problems as best they can. Or it can accept responsibility and carefully consider how the infrastructure and development investments it makes today could help create a better or worse future for others.
The meeting Len Brown is attending in Paris is related to the C40 group of mayors, from 40 large cities around the world. This group was formed in 2006 by Ken Livingstone, then Lord Mayor of London. It is currently led by Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, and its board of directors is chaired by Michael Bloomberg, ex Mayor of New York City.
While the heads of nation states wrangle over doing a deal on climate change, the mayors of many major cities are getting on with it.
Municipal leadership on climate issues is more prosaic than heroic. Dealing with the effects of climate change, and mitigating the causes, is part of the core responsibilities they have toward current and future residents of their cities.
Councils have previously led the way on matters of national policy. New Zealand passed its nuclear-free zone law in 1987, but prior to that Auckland, and other cities around New Zealand, had declared themselves to be nuclear free.
In that spirit, I have a proposal for Auckland to become a coal-free zone.
Holding climate change to two degrees or less means the world has to stop burning fossil fuels, and coal is the biggest potential source of carbon emissions in the long term.
For Auckland, coal is the easiest to forgo. So banning its production, transportation and consumption would be a small step, and largely symbolic. But it would be an important statement about Auckland's intention to become a net zero emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the long term.
David Hay is a candidate for the Auckland mayoralty in 2016.
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