Politics is all about timing, and clearly Hawke's Bay regional council were primed and ready to embrace the supposition that we're in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency by the way councillors lined up to agree on Wednesday.

Not that that should come as any great surprise; the present council has been consistent in proactively progressing a wide range of environmental initiatives – so much so it could be said to be the country's most switched-on regional body.

That's a reasonable presumption given the high praise recently from other governance bodies for its coastal hazards strategy aimed at adapting to rising sea levels.

Given where the council languished on the relative performance scale under previous iterations – under-resourced, locked into the narrow vision of minimal interference in land use, lacking even the basic data needed for it to properly do its job – it's a remarkable turnaround in less than three years.

Bruce Bisset says praise is due for the HBRC's recognition and recommendation that a climate emergency be declared.
Bruce Bisset says praise is due for the HBRC's recognition and recommendation that a climate emergency be declared.

Credit for this must go to the so-called "Romans": chairman Rex Graham, environmental hound-dog Tom Belford, Green advocate Paul Bailey, legal eye Peter Beaven, and the politically savvy pair of former Labour MP Rick Barker and former NZ First MP Neil Kirton.

Kirton's transition from well-meaning but, in my view, flaky sceptic to dogged climate warrior is an illustration of how the work the council does reinforces the environmental backbone of its member councillors; a positive feedback loop that has lifted awareness among members to recognise climate change as their biggest challenge.

Contrast that with the situation just six years back when, as former councillor Liz Remmerswaal remembers it, HBRC only grudgingly included climate change, at number 11, on its list of risk factors at her insistence.

The left-overs of the old regime – former chairman Fenton Wilson and long-time seat-warmer Alan Dick – are however still dragging the chain. In voting against the declaration neither denied human-induced climate change as such, but both quibbled over labelling it an "emergency".

The rest though were adamant, and good on them for that. Because it is an emergency, and we are well on the way to extinction as a species because of it.

Before anyone thinks I'm too effusive in my praise, yes, there are issues – sale of the port of Napier being the stand-out – on which a significant number of ratepayers feel councillors are not serving our best interests.

But even with the port sale, the rationale was to free up cash for protective measures to help mitigate climate change; quite what those measures might be, or what needs might emerge as the situation worsens, remains in question, but hopefully as a result there'll be a decent fund when and where it's needed.

Point being, while I still fundamentally disagree with selling such a major public asset, at least any monies raised should be reinvested for the public good.


Of course it's one thing to mouth the words, another to take appropriate action. Again, to their credit, the council (or at least, its environment and services committee) moved a number of recommendations in support of the declaration that should see it given teeth.

These included Extinction Rebellion's suggestion to lobby central government to give regional councils power under the RMA to take greenhouse gas emissions into account in the consent process – something they cannot legally do currently but which, especially with the new zero carbon act set to put more pressure on regional councils to limit emissions, must surely be an essential tool.

That the evidence for a climate and ecological emergency is overwhelming and undeniable should go without saying. But that HBRC have recognised the need to make this abundantly plain is well worth applauding.

Editor's note: The council's Environmental Service Committee on Wednesday voted to recommend HBRC declare an emergency at a full council meeting next week.