Many Aucklanders would have been open-mouthed with amazement at the announcement that Mayor Len Brown is going to the world climate change conference in Paris at the end of the month. The audacity of the discredited mayor never ceases to amaze. He ought to have resigned long ago but any credit he recovered with his decision last week not to stand for re-election next year probably evaporated with this announcement. What purpose can he serve at the climate change conference?
An explanation from his office says Auckland will have much to learn in Paris and the mayor has a "key speaking role" in a session about cities and regions. It says he has been invited by the former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who has been made the United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy for cities and climate change.
It is some comfort to Auckland ratepayers that Mr Brown's costs will be met by Bloomberg Philanthropies but he will be accompanied by two staff, the "mayoral environment portfolio manager" and the council's "chief sustainability officer" at ratepayers' expense.
The Auckland delegation will also include Sir Bob Harvey, the council's "overseas investment champion", and Wayne Walker, chairman of its environment, climate change and natural heritage committee. Their travel, according to the mayor's office, will not be a cost to ratepayers. But what are they all going to do there?
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The most disturbing news is not that a party of no less than five is going from the Auckland Council, but rather what this says about the Paris conference. We have been led to expect this gathering is going to be a very big deal. Unlike the last time the UN summoned government leaders to a climate change summit, at Copenhagen, this one expects to have the so-called developing countries, notably China, onside.
All countries whose industries are a source of significant carbon dioxide emissions are bringing reduction targets to Paris. If all goes to plan there will be a global agreement to cover a period beyond the expiry of the Kyoto protocol. There would appear to be enough to discuss in Paris without hearing from Mr Brown about making Auckland one of the world's "most liveable cities". This, his office says, is why he has been invited to speak. Spare us, and those attending.
The conference is going to hear that his council has set a target of reducing Auckland's greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2040, and that it is preparing for the impacts of climate change such as severe weather events, floods and sea level rise. Is the council really preparing for these? Or talking about preparing for them?
The mayor says his trip to Paris is "not just about telling the Auckland story. It is about learning from best practice examples from around the world in areas such as urban regeneration, sustainable transport, energy efficiency and conservation and hot transport trends." It begins to sound like another local government conference where too much is discussed and not enough is decided.
Global "earth summits" have been disappointing for the same reason. The gathering in Paris was not supposed to be another talk-fest.
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