Air quality on Auckland's Queen St is worsening year on year, and a councillor says it provides strong evidence to make it a zero-emissions zone "as soon as possible".
Auckland's State of the Environment Report 2020, released today and the third such report since 2009, provides the most up-to-date snapshot of the region's air, land and water.
While many minor improvements have been made even since the last report in 2015, it highlights the challenges of catering for a city experiencing unprecedented levels of growth, with the current population of 1.7 million people expected to top 2.3m by 2050.
It paints a picture of slow improvements on major legacy issues such as deforestation and the state of our beaches, but also major concerns around urban development swallowing up pastoral land, sediment from developments choking waterways and estuaries, and highly-polluted city streams.
While air quality overall appears to be improving for the region, roadside testing shows increasing levels of nitrogen oxide, and in particular Queen St in the CBD has seen the gas along with particulate matter (including black carbon) breach targets each year from 2017 to 2019.
Data for 2020 is not known yet, but is unlikely to exceed annual targets due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
These pollutants are known to cause and enhance breathing problems, including asthma.
According to the report declining air quality is likely from diesel cars, delivery vehicles, buses, construction vehicles and construction work at the lower end of Queen St reducing ventilation.
Chair of the climate and environment Committee Richard Hills said this evidence added to the impetus to make the CBD a zero-emissions zone "as soon as possible".
The council had already committed to procure only zero-emission buses from 2025 and creating a zero-emissions zone in the city centre by 2030 under the Access for Everyone programme.
"This data proves to me we are doing the right thing on Queen St. By the middle of the year half of the buses will be electric, and it is my personal view cars need to be taken out as soon as possible."
Gross and net greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 had increased from 2016 levels due to increased emissions from energy, transport and industrial processes and product use (IPPU) sectors, however not increased as fast as population and economic growth.
Indigenous land cover increased by 656ha since 1996, and report authors highlighted areas where intensive pest management occurred native wildlife flourished.
Most birds counted in forests (70 per cent) and wetlands (55 per cent) were native species.
However several forest ecosystem types were severely depleted and many of our remaining forests small and fragmented.
"It shows where we do prioritise spending we are getting wins," Hills said.
The biggest land change over the past two decades had occurred in loss of exotic grassland (down 11,267ha), and even remaining productive rural soils were over-fertilised and compacted.
Since 1996 the urban area had increased by over 7000ha.
In the aquatic space there were minor improvements in groundwater and stream water quality.
However, many streams continued to be nutrient enriched, have declining visual clarity and generally high levels of E. coli.
Meanwhile, the health of the region's lakes continued to decline, with elevated nutrients and declining water quality particularly for nitrogen, water clarity and sediment.
Coastal water quality was mostly improving, but slowly.
Meanwhile, some of the biggest concerns were ecological impacts from increased sedimentation detected in all harbours and estuaries.
Hills said the report showed the region was on the right track, with benefits of the Natural Environment Targeted Rate, expected to raise $311m from 2018 to 2028, and the water quality targeted rate, expected to raise a further $452m, yet to be realised.
"A lot of this we are talking about decades of degradation, but now we have recognised that and are taking big steps to address the issues.
"We always need to be mindful of costs but we owe it to future generations not to make any more species extinct, not to see more forests wiped out, for people to want to visit Tāmaki Makaurau to swim at our beaches, have that environmental access.
"The environment and the economy are linked, and it will be far more costly in the future not to do anything now."