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July 8, 2019 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Wellington Declares Climate Emergency, “Will Affect Economy” Say Critics

Wellington City Council has declared a climate emergency. The declaration comes after the Council’s City Strategy Committee voted to support the declaration.


Five other councils around the country have declared similar emergencies, including Auckland and Nelson. Countries like the UK have also declared climate emergencies. 


Pressure for action has also come from climate activists, notably youth movements like Generation Zero and the School Climate Strike for Climate.


The emergency means that the council will put environmental and climate protection at the forefront of future decision-making.


Every member of the committee voted in support of the declaration, except for Councillor Nicola Young. 


Actioning the climate emergency, councillors have considered Te Atakura First to Zero—a plan proposed by the council to be carbon zero by 2050. Ninety per cent of the 1250 submissions received agreed that the city must become carbon zero by 2050. 


Councillor Young criticised the Te Atakura First to Zero policy, telling Salient that it was “vague” with “no practical steps towards achieving its goal”, and questioned accountability under the plan. 


In particular, she pointed to the policy neglecting to address the proposed airport extension, and the council’s role as Wellington’s second biggest generator of single-use plastic bags. 


She also criticised it for what it did include: the recommendation of water meters, private cycle lanes (which she described as “bizarre”), and the re-introduction of a bottle deposit scheme—but with “no actual proposal to do anything about it.” 


More broadly, Young outlined concerns for living costs in the city, saying that because Te Atakura will “affect our economy and jobs”, it “will make life difficult for those on low or fixed incomes.”


“The First to Zero policy will achieve nothing except to make the councilors feel really good,” she added.


When later asked for alternatives, however, she provided no additional specifics and referred Salient back to her previous comments (outlined above). 


In contrast, Generation Zero at Vic told Salient that they are “super pleased” with the emergency declaration. 


They too are cautious, however, calling for further action after the declaration. In particular, Gen Zero at Vic wants the council to focus on transport policy: “An overwhelming proportion of Wellington’s emissions come from transport.”


As well as calling on the council to reject the proposed airport extension, Gen Zero wants to see the recently approved Let’s Get Welly Moving transport policy to be introduced faster, and with greater ambition. 


“Pōneke needs a world-class reliable public transport system that includes light rail, better bus routes, and a focus on cycleways and walking,” they told Salient. 


Gen Zero is also conscious of the effect of environmental policy on at-risk groups, calling for the transition to be “done in a just and caring way that does not disproportionately impact on our most vulnerable communities.”


Councillors have confirmed their intention to ‘walk the talk’ to avoid “window-dressing” the declaration. 


Councillor Iona Pannett assures that an investment strategy is in place. Minutes taken from the relevant meetings outlined tree-planting to absorb increased rainfall and improved policies on the purchasing of eco-goods. The protection of infrastructure from rising sea levels is also being actively considered.


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