First question first, is there a climate emergency?
Well, duh, yes. June was the hottest month on record around the world. There are serious heat waves in Europe. In Japan, 600,000 people have been evacuated due to intense rain. The state of the reservoirs in Chennai, India, a city of six million people, has worsened – they are running out of water. Even in New Zealand, Auckland's water storage is down – at 60 per cent capacity at a time it should be at its peak.
Second question, should we declare a climate emergency?
Maybe that's another "duh, yes" question. It is an emergency. We are getting reports that our efforts to date will not keep us under the critical 1.5 degrees of warming. There are scientific studies showing that some of the modelling has been understated and problems may be compounding.
If we were live-streaming our Horizons meetings, you may have noticed that I haven't even tried to put forward the motion that we join with other councils around the country and declare a climate emergency. That's not because I think it's a silly idea – symbolic strong statements can be part of a wider response. They draw attention to the challenge we all face and focus our attention on what we can do collectively. The Government is now talking about doing it too.
Of course declaring an emergency doesn't mean anything if it's not followed by action. At least now, in 2019, Horizons has started on a climate change strategy, after many years of submissions from concerned people. Staff must have felt discouraged to have not made more progress on this front sooner. Whanganui District Council appears to have been on a similar timeframe, only making headway this year too.
I personally find it frustrating because it's been many years since I helped write Main Roads Western Australia's first report into climate change impacts on its roading infrastructure – this is not a new issue. We are using up unnecessary and unavailable time.
Horizons, with its focus on flood management, erosion control, agricultural good practice and public transport (amongst other related activities), should have the climate crisis front and centre in all its thinking.
The Productivity Commission was out this week highlighting the implications of climate change on local council responsibilities, particularly infrastructure, in its report into local government funding. It discussed climate resilience and managing the financial risk around increased major events, particularly for more vulnerable communities and those with smaller populations that don't have the same ability to pay.
This report is out for comment until the end of August and I'm looking forward to getting my teeth into it. Councils have a significant role to play in addressing both adaptation to our changing climate and mitigation, or reducing and offsetting carbon emissions directly and indirectly through policies and incentives. I hope the Productivity Commission's report will stimulate informed discussion and, who knows, maybe that will be enough to get my councillor colleagues joining in recognising that declaring a climate emergency isn't a stunt – it's the significant step in committing to taking more action.
A much closer deadline looms on having your say on the Zero Carbon Bill – it closes July 16. The bill sets up greenhouse gas reduction targets and establishes an independent Climate Change Commission. We need strong targets and your voice matters so please submit.
The whole country has made a good start to plastic-free July with the ban on single use plastic bags coming into effect on July 1. My commitment is to take reusable containers when I get sushi or smoothies or other takeaways. It's hard forming new habits so I'm starting with this simple addition.
Little things add up, like ditching plastic straws or remembering your reusable coffee cup, but the time is now for taking a strong co-ordinated stance on this climate emergency.
* Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council and leads a new social enterprise hub, Thrive Whanganui. A mum of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member.