A leading climate change specialist has resigned from Kaipara District Council (KDC) after key climate work was shelved.
The resignation came after the mayor and councillors blocked the next steps in a community climate adaptation pilot project.
KDC climate change adviser Katy Simon resigned on October 25, the day Kaipara Mayor Craig Jepson successfully proposed at a council meeting in Mangawhai to stop the pivotal next steps in Ruawai’s pilot.
The vote to stop the pilot succeeded by a one-person majority vote.
Northland’s four councils chose Ruawai, about 30km south of Dargaville, as the region’s first community climate change adaptation pilot in 2021.
The pilot was the first in New Zealand to be set up in a location with a drainage scheme.
Simon has been pivotal in the project, working with the community to develop the kaupapa (project).
This involved the community dealing with climate change by being prepared, accommodating change, adding protections and taking action, which potentially included future managed retreats or relocations.
Simon said she had been blindsided by the October council meeting.
Elected representatives had until that point been in support of the pilot, about which they regularly received updates.
Simon said the decision effectively meant the two-year-old project was paused until the council’s November 29 meeting.
Local politicians will consider a staff report on the pilot at the meeting. This will outline the implications of cancelling the pilot and re-allocating the remaining budget to the local Ruawai/Raupō drainage scheme.
The pilot is about halfway through its roughly two-and-a-half-year process looking at local climate change risks, the consequences of these and agreeing on future actions.
The meeting in October sought councillor approval for the next pilot step, which would divide the pilot’s full coverage area into eight smaller-scale locations to focus on.
Jepson’s proposal to cancel the pilot at the October meeting prevailed.
It was supported by Deputy Mayor Jonathan Larsen and councillors Gordon Lambeth, Ron Manderson and Rachael Williams in a one-person majority, which also included voting against these sub-regions’ associated adaptation mahi (work).
Councillors Mike Howard, Ash Nayaar, Pera Paniora and Eryn Wilson-Collins voted against the proposal.
Councillor Wilson-Collins led a meeting move to defer any decision on this next step until the November council meeting, but this was stopped when Jepson, Larsen, Lambeth, Manderson and Williams voted against that.
Councillor Mark Vincent left the meeting ahead of all pilot voting.
KDC has already budgeted $1.5 million for the pilot. Jepson wants to divert the remaining funding away from the pilot to the Ruawai-Raupō drainage scheme in the same district.
It comes after KDC canned its already-booked and budgeted $33,000 climate policy development and council emissions accounting at its September council meeting in Dargaville.
At that time, KDC said this cancellation would not affect its Ruawai pilot.
The eight sub-regions that were to have been part of the pilot’s next steps included the Ruawai village, with a population of about 500. It also included the local primary and secondary schools, attended by about 250 students, plus one each around the settlements of Naumai and Te Kowhai.
Jepson said Ruawai did not need to be a climate change adaptation pilot, nor did Kaipara as a whole.
“Go and find another at-risk community somewhere else if you want to do that.”
However, a co-chair of the climate adaptation pilot’s community panel, Anna Curnow, said science showed Ruawai’s potential risk in the face of predicted sea level rise was real. The pilot needed to continue, she said.
But Jepson said managed retreat in Ruawai did not need to be considered.
“Why put the money into managed retreat when they aren’t going to face that? That’s painfully obvious. They’re not going to get sea level rise,” Jepson said.
He told the Northland councils’ joint climate change adaptation committee meeting on Friday, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change figures (IPCC) being used for the pilot were no longer current. New figures have come out which indicated less serious temperature and sea level rises.
NRC manager of climate action and natural hazards Tom Fitzgerald said the Government had indicated councils should plan for the worst while hoping for the best in their climate adaptation work.
This included using IPCC figures predicting a range of prospects for sea level rise, some of which were more serious than others.
Simon said the role of councils was to implement what the Government directed and “follow the science, not to make the science”.
Committee member Scott McKenzie said he hoped the pilot would be back on the table after the November meeting as it was a valuable tool for other district councils’ climate change adaptation work.
Joint climate change adaptation committee chairwoman Fiona Kemp (Te Uri o Hau) said continuing the adaptation work in Ruawai was critically important.
KDC should include hapū and iwi (family and tribe) in its Ruawai climate adaptation pilot decision-making, she said.
Simon will be taking up a position with the Far North District Council (FNDC)’s climate change adaptation team.
■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air