The transformation of our cities: How councils are combatting climate change

15 December 2015

Across the country councils and policies are evolving rapidly to combat climate change. While world leaders were reaching an agreement at Paris we spoke to councils about the opportunities, social and business, that come with adapting NZ’s cities.

Wellington City Council

Shifting to renewable sources of energy and building infrastructure to adapt to the effects of climate change is creating wide space for business innovation and collaboration between the public and private sectors. Moana Mackey, Wellington City Council’s Sustainability Programme Manager, says that collaborating with business is vital to Wellington’s climate change adaptation and that collaboration can mean acting as a facilitator of business-to-business relationships as much as being a co-collaborator.

“We recently launched our Smart Building Challenge which is a collaboration with EECA, Microsoft and Vector AMS and is being project managed by the Energy Management Association.

“A big part of collaboration is getting people around the table and making it really easy for commercial building owners to understand the data around their energy use and to make savings.”

The collaboration has given businesses free access to energy management software and a council co-funded grant for energy audits or retrofits.

Moana puts Wellington’s leadership position down to being flexible and open to new ideas. She says Wellington City Council has  identified the opportunities of working with business but also that its rolling three year climate change plans and city wide emissions reductions targets (to be hit by 2020 and 2050) lend themselves to demanding a more innovative approach.

“Having a city wide target has really been a good driver in changing behaviour. We have a culture of looking at how we can partner with the private sector and we have goals and targets that mean we have to do that, so it becomes imperative that we seek outside help.”

Auckland Council

Collaboration has been key for Auckland Council in developing the Low Carbon Auckland Plan as part of a larger climate change policy. The plan seeks to reduce carbon emissions through projects such as the City Rail Link with an emphasis on the Low Carbon Auckland Plan being part of the move to joining the C40 cities, a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. The C40 supports cities to collaborate effectively, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change.

Robert Perry, Principal Sustainability and Resilience Advisor for the Chief Sustainability office says, “Collaboration on plans such as Low Carbon Auckland starts in the community and with businesses and the Council’s stakeholders by addressing the  issues they’ve raised through things like the Auckland Plan, and they’re very clear about what’s important to them.”

Robert says that businesses can lead the way alongside Council and he believes that Auckland is becoming a hot bed for sustainability.

“We envision Auckland as the low carbon capital of the Asia Pacific region. It’s already a city that supports existing businesses and attracts new businesses and is a centre for innovation and the development of advanced low carbon technologies.”

Robert says that while inspiration for Low Carbon Auckland has drawn on best practice from cities overseas, namely the C40 network, its foundations build on existing local actions, leadership and entrepreneurship. Local communities and the business community are at the heart of Auckland’s low carbon transformation.

“The energy and inspiration starts with community and businesses stakeholders. They’ve been clear about their issues, opportunities and what’s important to them. We need to ensure Aucklanders are informed and empowered about the low carbon choices they have at home, school, work or at play, and the tangible costs and benefits in making those changes.”

Furthermore Robert says that Low Carbon Auckland will be transformative. It is a living document under constant renewal and scrutiny, ensuring it is adaptive to emerging challenges and opportunities. More importantly Low Carbon Auckland is a collaborative effort with over 150 businesses and even more community members actively involved in its development and delivery.

“Auckland Council has an important role to play, but we can’t go it alone. It doesn’t make sense given the scale and opportunity of Auckland’s low carbon economic transformation that we’re seeking.”

Tauranga City Council

The Tauranga City Council is at the early stages of considering its own climate change prevention and adaptation framework. Michelle Elborn, Tauranga City Council’s Sustainability Advisor, says it’s useful to communicate with and take cues from larger councils such as Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.

“We’re seeking feedback and information around what did and didn’t work and we’re looking at cities like Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington and a variety of other councils with policies and plans and thinking of what will work in a Tauranga context.”

“Collaboration is key, and from a council point of view we’d be looking at collaborating with the regional council. In terms of the wider community we’d be looking at collaborating with business and looking at engaging those businesses to see which roles and responsibilities can fit where.”

Michelle says that smaller councils often look towards bigger ones for a lead and Wellington and Auckland are leading the charge.

Hutt City Council

Hutt City Council Environmental Sustainability Manager Jez Partridge says Hutt City’s plan is one of assessment, community, engagement and resilience building followed by adaptation and mitigation. Jez agrees with Auckland Council’s moves towards a low carbon economy and says that it’s a path Hutt City needs to follow.

“This involves understanding the level of risk to, and resilience of, our environment,” Jez says. “We need to understand the potential effects economically, socially, culturally, environmentally and on our community values.”

Risk, collaboration, resilience and continuous adaptation are keystones in Hutt City’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy Implementation Plan.

It includes:

  • Extensive mapping of sea level rise and infrastructure upgrades for stormwater pipes and pumping stations.
  • Community and council carbon reduction programmes
  • Mapping of and planning for natural hazards

Christchurch City Council

Tony Moore, Principal Advisor for Sustainability at Christchurch City Council, says that councils are identifying the challenges and, importantly, the opportunities presented by climate change.

Christchurch City Council’s Climate Strategy (2010-2025) details how the city will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and enhance community resilience. The strategy aims to halve emissions from the city by 2050 which is in line with global commitments needed to keep planetary warming below two degrees. Tony says, “it is vital that councils and businesses provide leadership on climate change. We cannot expect governments to address climate change for us. Government can provide needed momentum and a consistent framework, but local businesses and communities must act themselves and encourage others to follow. This is a global issue that requires local solutions and collaboration to fast track the uptake of innovations.”

Initiatives in the Climate Smart Strategy include:

  • Target Sustainability that provides advice and grants to local businesses wanting to improve their resource efficiency and adopt renewable energy.
  • Build Back Smarter that provides free advice to home owners helping to make homes healthier and energy efficient.
  • A new on and off-road cycleway network connecting the central city to suburbs and supporting safe cycling to schools and community centres throughout the city.
  • Investment in electric vehicle charging stations and the creation of a central city, electrified, shared, vehicle fleet.
  • The creation of a new district energy system for sharing energy between buildings within the central city, utilising renewable, ground sourced and waste energy sources.
  • Edible Garden City programme to encourage food resilience through growing at home, school, work, community gardens and food forests throughout the city.
  • Future Living Skills community education teaching people how to live in more sustainable ways and how to enhance community resilience.
  • Regenerating native forests around the city and on Banks Peninsula to help absorb unavoidable carbon emissions, enrich biodiversity and protect watersheds.

(To view the full Climate Strategy click here)

Local Government New Zealand Declaration  

In order to sustain the nation and increase collective impact, Auckland, Christchurch, Tauranga and Wellington, along with twenty other councils in the country, have signed the Local Government New Zealand declaration. This declaration unifies local governments against climate change to become a united voice to lobby central Government.

Michelle says, “Councils told central Government to negotiate well on behalf of New Zealand at the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21). Local government is putting its hand up and saying it has a role in responding at a local level and supporting the national government.”

The agreement hopes to achieve the following:

  1. Acknowledge the importance and urgent need to address climate change for the benefit of current and future generations;
  2. Give support to the New Zealand Government for developing and implementing in collaboration with councils, communities and businesses, an ambitious transition plan toward a low carbon and resilient New Zealand;
  3. Encourage Government to be more ambitious with climate change mitigation measures;
  4. Outline key commitments our councils will take in responding to the opportunities and risks posed by climate change; and
  5. Recommend important guiding principles for responding to climate change. We ask that the New Zealand Government make it a priority to develop and implement an ambitious transition plan for low carbon and resilient New Zealand. We stress the benefits of early action to moderate the costs of adaptation to our communities.”

Councils are aware of the infrastructure challenges and financial considerations that come along with supporting old infrastructure and developing new infrastructure but Tony is feeling optimistic.

“We believe that New Zealand has much at stake and much to gain by adopting strong leadership on climate change and ambitious emission reduction targets at the UNFCCC COP21 meeting in Paris in December.”

The action plan 

While action plans vary from council to council, Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, Hutt City and Christchurch councils are determined to be leaders in combatting climate change and have taken cues from cities across the world.

The importance of evolving plans is one that the councils agree on and the element of collaboration is critical to the implementation of council sustainability plans and the effect they have on tackling climate change.