It's official: Auckland has a climate emergency. After a long debate, Auckland Council voted unanimously today to declare a climate emergency in the city. Big changes to the 10-year budget are expected to follow.
The public gallery was packed for the meeting, with several youth groups and others taking the chance to make submissions. Sarah Thomson from the Low Carbon Network said declaring a climate emergency might not be legally binding but it would have moral authority.
"Leadership is not about taking the path of least resistance," she said. "It's about taking a step in front. Right now," she told the councillors, "I think you're a step behind."
Mayor Phil Goff told the meeting he strongly supported the declaration.
"Climate change is a process that if left unchecked will have catastrophic impacts on us. I hesitated at this at first. I thought, an emergency is sudden, a flood or a wild storm, but when I thought about it, I realised that if we do not act now we will face so many more of those devastating events.
"We know it's happening. We rely on international action, but action starts in our city, our community and our country. This motion is more than symbolic, but on its own it won't go far enough. We have to have a detailed action plan. It has to be costed and we have to say where the revenue is coming from."
From now on, the council will require officials to assess all policy proposals for their impact on climate change.
The vote came at a meeting of the council's Environment and Community Committee, which is chaired by Councillor Penny Hulse and includes the mayor, all councillors and two members of the Independent Māori Statutory Board. They were considering a report called Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland's Climate Action Framework.
Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri was produced by council officials working closely with mana whenua, the business sector, academics and others. It contains 11 aims or "key moves", such as "enhance ecosystem services and connectivity", "transform existing buildings and services" and "grow a low-carbon, climate resilient food system".
Councillor Wayne Walker was the first, but not the only one, to criticise the jargon.
Within those key moves, the officials made some 60 specific recommendations. Councillor Chris Darby asked why the report could not be considered an action plan.
Hulse responded that an action plan would identify measurable targets, methods to achieve them, a timetable for progress and a budget. "Those things have not yet been done," she said, implicitly criticising the officials' plan for not going far enough.
She added that, starting next year, the 10-year budget would need to be structured differently. "Do we think we've got the action plan, so we're done? We're so not."
Although the declaration was supported unanimously, there was dispute among councillors over how to fight climate change. The report identifies transport as the single biggest factor, but some councillors have been reluctant to support the council's focus on better public transport.
Johnnie Freeland, a mana whenua consultant attached to the officials' working group, said Māori were used to the idea of a crisis or emergency. "The korero isn't new to us," he said, referring to the steep decline in the Māori population over 100 years ago. "But this time we're going to be part of the solution."
The decision will go out to public consultation in early July, before being finally ratified by council. It is unlikely that final vote will happen before the local body election in October.