Mayors urge Government to take more action on climate change now
A group of 39 Mayors from across the country are calling for central government to take more action on climate change.
The mayors - half of the country's roster of 78 - made a declaration on climate change at the Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) conference on Sunday evening.
They called for central government to develop an ambitious plan to transition New Zealand into a low-carbon economy ready to take on the dangers that climate change may present, such as rising sea levels and more intense storms.
The mayors include Auckland's Phil Goff, Wellington's Justin Lester, Christchurch's Lianne Dalziel, Dunedin's Dave Cull, New Plymouth's Neil Holdom, and a wide spread of rural and regional leaders.
With or without central government help, the group plans to take ambitious action themselves.
"There is clear and compelling evidence for the need to act now on climate change and to adopt a precautionary approach because of the irreversible nature and scale of risks involved," the group said in a declaration.
"Broad-based climate policies should enable all organisations and individuals to do all they feasibly can to reduce emissions and enhance resilience."
A group of 29 mayors made a similar call in 2015.
Climate change minister Paula Bennett said then it was a matter for councils and insurers to decide which areas of land could be built on.
New Zealand is a signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement, and has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The Government has been repeatedly criticised for failing to include agriculture in the Emissions Trading Scheme.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw said that central government needed to do more to help local government, who were often left with the bill after "hundred-year storms" that now seemed to show up every year.
"It's local government who has to deal with rising seas destroying coastal property. It's local government who has to deal with the Port Hills being on fire," Shaw said.
"Central government are quick to jump in when there's an earthquake, but are much less responsive about climate-related events.
"While the National government accepts that climate change is real and is happening I think they are in denial about the effects that are already taking place here in New Zealand - and the cost of those effects.
"A lot of mayors - although nominally independent - are National Party aligned. My sense is that they are still deeply frustrated with the government's lack of leadership over climate change."
There is some scientific backing to the theory that climate change will make severe weather events more intense and frequent, although the picture is not quite that straightforward.
"One result common to mid-latitude climates such as New Zealand's is that many of the wettest events are getting wetter. Broadly speaking, the cause seems to be that air parcels are getting warmer, and simple physics dictates that they can therefore support more water vapour," Professor Dave Frame wrote after a round of floods in April.
Labour leader Andrew Little said a collaborative approach between local and central government would be his priority if elected.
"Everybody's got a role to play."
Councils going out ahead of central government was "not a bad idea" in the mean time.
Minister for Climate Change Issues Paula Bennett said she agreed that their could be further cooperation, but work was already being done.
"I agree that central and local government will need to work together on how best to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change," Bennett said.
"The Government has a busy climate change work programme underway, including a working group on adaptation who will issue a report later this year looking at options on how we best adapt to things like rising sea levels."
"We're also investing $4m to test policy options for reducing emissions and are reviewing the ETS to ensure it is fit for purpose."
"I encourage local government to work with the Productivity Commission on their report on how we can transition to a low emissions economy."