The Auckland Council has had a big couple of weeks. On July 16 it adopted a new emergency budget with just three councillors dissenting, and last Tuesday it voted unanimously for a brand-new climate action plan, known officially as Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland's Climate Action Framework.
The councillors were pleased with their progress, and the processes they used to get there, but they should also be worried. Tearing-their-hair-out worried, actually.
The budget was adopted after a marathon meeting, which itself followed 100 hours of workshops and other meetings, during which proposals were redrafted 33 times. Every councillor who spoke made a point of thanking Cr Desley Simpson, chairwoman of the finance committee, for her leadership. Mayor Phil Goff was widely praised too, as were the officials.
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Councillors who in earlier times might have bulldozed their way to a majority vote were notably conciliatory. Those who often fire angry broadsides spoke constructively, as did those with a penchant for fancy speeches delivered from the back of a very high horse.
This was elected politicians and officials alike, engaged and knowledgeable, all wearing their public service hats with pride.
The Covid crisis and the water shortage meant they had to save $724 million in the financial year that started this month. They did it with a 3.5 per cent rates rise, the loss of 500 staff and 600 contract workers, and reductions in a host of council services.
The rates rise did not have public support. Record numbers of citizens used the consultation process to say they wanted it lower, at 2.5 per cent, or to have no rise at all.
Simpson herself had favoured 2.5 per cent, but changed her mind when she learned, after the consultation process was over, about the extra $224 million needed for Watercare.
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In the end, councillors were proud of what they could save. Libraries, which are visited over a quarter of a million times every week, will not have their hours cut. Public transport fares won't rise and SuperGold Card holders will keep their free travel. Local boards retain some discretionary funds.
They also kept alive the city's works programme in transport, urban development, water and sewage, described by Goff as critical for future efficiencies and for economic stimulus. Infrastructure gets $2.5 billion this year, significantly more than the $1.6 billion average of the last five years.
Still, this was an austerity budget, not a stimulus one. For that, blame the Government, which has embraced stimulus in its own post-Covid plans but has not used either funding or regulations to allow councils to do the same.
The staff cuts will hurt, especially if the truism holds that once something's gone you never get it back. The council has not yet revealed which jobs are to go and what that will mean for services.
And so to the climate. Last year, the officials' first version of Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri, the climate action framework, was rejected in open session of the council. Not a plan at all, said Cr Penny Hulse, then chairwoman of the Environment Committee. Just a collection of jargon and wishful thinking.
The new version, ushered in by her successor, Cr Richard Hills, and the council's new chief sustainability officer, Alec Tang, has clear targets and a framework for achieving them. But it's still not an actual plan, because nothing is costed, as yet.
And the targets are massive: Auckland – the whole city, not just the council – is now officially committed to a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and zero emissions by 2050.
Right now, we're not even heading in the right direction. By 2050, at the current rate, our emissions will be 19 per cent higher.
How will we do it? In a word, transport, which accounts for 43 per cent of the city's total emissions, with about 30 per cent from private motor vehicles.
The rest comes 26 per cent from stationary energy, 20 per cent from industry and commerce, 3 per cent from waste and 6.5 per cent from farming.
To achieve the goals, each sector has its own decarbonisation targets. For transport, it's 65 per cent. Within the next 10 years.
We should be reeling. The changes needed to achieve even that single goal would completely transform the city in a very short space of time.
Is it so big it's just nonsense? The council hasn't plucked all this from thin air. The targets are a direct consequence of the goal of the Paris Accord, to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
The framework outlines three approaches. The first is to change what's in the council's direct control. It can, for example, replace the diesel bus fleet with electric buses.
The second is to use the "levers" at its disposal, especially regulations and fees. The higher the fee for car parking, the less people will drive, for example.
The third approach is advocacy: a PR campaign to encourage people to drive less, say. The trick is to turn advocacy into levers: not merely to encourage us to drive less, but to incentivise it.
But how's that going? Public transport grossly under-serves the south and east, and progress is so slow it sometimes goes backwards. Businesses are not incentivised to reduce staff parking, cars are still welcome in the city centre.
The fact is, right now every Ark of climate change mitigation runs aground on the rocks of carparking. An ugly metaphor? It's an ugly fact. We are stopped, and stopped, and stopped, because people want their carparks.
There's more. Where is the commitment to reducing emissions from buildings? The citywide cycling network? Those electric buses? A mere 12 have been ordered.
Did the climate "framework" inform the emergency budget adopted just five days earlier? It did not, although some related funding was preserved.
The rubber will meet the road, ha ha, over the next 12 months, when the council updates its 10-year budget, also called the long-term plan (LTP).
To his credit, Mayor Goff consistently champions the importance of confronting climate change. But the money is where it matters. Work on the LTP is starting now and the council has put itself on notice: it should do it within the new framework.
At the same meeting, the council received a long-awaited report about trees in urban Auckland. There are more of them, because of Goff's million trees programme. But, as Mels Barton of the Tree Council told councillors, those million new saplings are great but they do not excuse the vandalism of landowners cutting down thousands of mature trees all around us right now. With trees, size matters.
At the very moment the council was debating its climate plan, Steve Abel from the Green Party was up a tree in Avondale, trying to preserve a stand of 100-year-old natives. One of them was felled onto the tree he was perched in.
Police were present, but no word yet that anyone has been arrested for endangering Abel's life.
No word either on what council intends to do. The trees are on private land and officials and councillors say their hands are tied. This is only technically true. The dispute is long-standing and arises because the landowner wants to realise the "value" of the asset by selling a cleared site.
If the council was truly serious about its bold new approach to the environment, it would solve this problem with a land swap or perhaps even a straight purchase.
All that's required is leadership. Someone to stand up and make it happen. You know, to make those 200 pages of fine words about climate change real.