Is your local council - district and regional - doing enough about mitigating the effects of climate change? Are they front-footing it? Is that what you're seeing on the ground where you live?

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has just released a Climate Change Declaration. Signed by 39 local government leaders, it's full of florid rhetoric designed to stress to central government "the benefits of early action to moderate the costs of adaptation to our communities".

I'd argue that "early" was probably well over a decade or two ago but, maybe I'm splitting hairs. Isn't it great that they're finally tackling the most urgent and potentially expensive crisis local government faces?

Yet, a group of 29 mayors (from 78 potentials) made a similar declaration in 2015. What happened to that?

Advertisement

Because, from where I sit, I see one big bureaucratic mouth talking out of both sides at once. Words do matter. But we all know that actions speak much louder.

Now, I'm not saying that central government isn't missing in action on climate change. They are, and that's a whole 'nother column. But for local bodies to try and play the angels of the piece? Nope.

Consider this. Councils have known about the projected impacts for over a decade. In 2004 the Ministry for the Environment published Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment: A Guidance Manual for Local Government in New Zealand.

In 2008 they produced an updated version because, of course, the impact projections - flooding, sea level rise, drought - were looking, in many cases, much worse according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Again, in 2016, new projections replaced the older sets.

So, looking through the reports, I can assuredly say local government can't use ignorance as a defence for their own inaction. The manual laid out the science, guidelines, policy assistance, and recommendations.

In between these reports there have been a handful of other reports - specifically for local government - on flooding impacts and projections. Yet, my eyes tell me councils are still doing business like climate change isn't happening. Let's look at a few examples of many - and specifically from the leaders (and their councils) who signed the declaration.

There are councils around the country still issuing consents for new builds on coastal sites. Despite available information that outlines the projected hazard lines regarding sea level rise, councils have been generally reluctant to to heed them.

In 2012, Kapiti Coast District Council had the foresight to add these projections to existing properties' LIM reports.

Advertisement

After a coastal ratepayer backlash, the successor to the mayoralty campaigned on removing the lines from LIMs and, along with a new-look council, hastily removed them while retaining a website link to the hazard lines map - notably, with much reduced information. Essentially, you'd need to know where to look.

A few days ago, a new subdivision was flooded near Dunedin. Mayor Dave Cull said they'd be "reviewing all areas that are currently zoned for subdivision" considering the flooding.

Given the aerial photos I saw, which showed a seriously flooded waterway close by, it's not unfair to ask how the hell consent was ever given in the first place.

Or how about the Taranaki Regional Council who've been consenting hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for years. Last time I looked, fracking was a sworn enemy of climate change in terms of carbon dioxide and methane emissions, and because the increased supply of oil and gas discourages investment in renewables and energy efficiency, and thus delays the transition to a low carbon future.

Then there's Greater Wellington Regional Council, pushing hard on their Water Wairarapa scheme, which would see the construction of at least one dam. Its success is based on a large water uptake by dairy farmers who would use it to both irrigate and intensify their operations.

Yet, intensification of dairy farming is probably about the last thing New Zealand needs right now. The number of dairy cows has almost doubled over the past 25 years, and methane emissions have risen steadily with them.

According to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, methane currently accounts for 43 per cent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. Over 80 per cent of it is produced by ruminant animals. Why would any council that claims to care about climate change push for more dairy intensification?

Because, reading their Climate Change Declaration, you could be forgiven for believing that local government genuinely wants to see "an ambitious transition plan toward a low carbon and resilient New Zealand" and "encourage Government to be more ambitious with climate change mitigation measures" when they're not exactly leading by example themselves.

And, as there's always going to be another weather crisis right around the corner, actions are preferable to words. Otherwise, it's just meaningless drivel.