Tag Archives: Climate change

WDC climate change journey – my address to the Bay of Plenty Mayoral Forum

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today to share some of our story about our climate change journey.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time with graphs and numbers. That is pretty dull conversation unless you’re a specialist and those are easily available from our website or by contacting our staff, who are all very keen to work with and support other councils. I thought it would be more interesting and helpful to talk about the human dynamics that shaped our journey.

Prior to 2016 if you looked at the WDC website you wouldn’t have seen anything about climate change. A search might have turned up a reference at the back of a planning document but there was no evidence that the council as an organisation understood the implications of climate change or that it was thinking strategically about how to either reduce local emissions or adapt to the climatic and ecosystem changes that are already baked in.

The problem, frankly, was political. There were a number of staff that were intensely interested in the issue with a base of knowledge and skill to work from, but there was a lack of understanding or will at the political level. Staff had developed off their own bat a sustainability strategy but it went nowhere.

Whakatāne District Council’s journey with Climate Change is, more than anything, a story about the power of unleashing talented staff on a challenging problem.

How we began

The journey began almost informally in the last term of council. A steering group was set up with hazy mandate, but it comprised senior staff at tiers 2 and 3 who put their hand up for it, and I was invited to chair. We brought in people from across the organisation, and this has been one of the features to this day, that we have taken a whole of organisation approach, recognising that all of our areas of activity have a part of play.

We also had a project group, that allowed staff at a lower level in the organisation to be involved and input into the program.

We spent a bit of time trying to define our understanding of the issue. One of the difficulties is the high levels of uncertainty. We know that we are warming the planet and we understand in broad terms some of what that means, but we do not know where the tipping points are, or exactly what the implications will be at a very local level. In fact I think one of the responsibilities of civic organisations like councils is to help our communities understand as best we can what the local effects will be, so they can start to make better decisions as they plan and go forward.

Because of that uncertainty it is important we take an adaptive approach – dynamic adaptive pathways they call it – where we try to make decisions that leave options open for the future as much as possible. So we decided that we needed to start with developing the principles that would inform decision-making.

At the same time, because of the lack of political leadership from Wellington at that time, LGNZ and some TAs were picking up the slack. The Mayoral Declaration on Climate Change, which was signed by our then Mayor Tony Bonne, was quite helpful in articulating some of the principles that we adapted into our draft climate change principles.

The other influential event was the Edgecumbe floods, which I think sharpened people’s thinking around what climate change might mean for a district like ours – generally low lying, at risk of sea level rise and inundation, with large areas of flood prone land protected by stopbanks. That’s without mentioning the fire risk with our large areas of plantation pine forest.

We joined up with the CEMARS programme (not known as Toitū) which helped us to understand our carbon equivalent profile

And we developed a set of 6 principles

1. We will act now.

This included commitments to emissions reduction, showing leadership in our community, and to change how we operate as an organisation

2. We will protect the environment
Which included some specific commitments around transport, resource use, procurement, biodiversity and circular economies

3. We will acknowledge those most affected
Recognising that the impacts of climate fall disproportionately on the poor, and often on the people who have least contributed to it

4. We will think long term
Acknowledging that climate change impact projections often stop at an arbitrary year but the impacts will continue to grow for centuries

5. We will learn
Recognising different knowledge bases, including positivist science, mātauranga māori and local knowledge. It is important to stay abreast of changing understandings and we have rolled out an education program among staff and councillors to get people onto the same level of understanding. We have also invested in sending key people to advanced training and education.

6. We will be part of the solution
In which we commit to working collaboratively with stakeholders in our communities, with other local authorities, and on a national and internation basis.

We took our climate change principles to our council, which signed them off for consultation. We engaged fairly deeply and got a very good response, perhaps especially from young people. We used our community engagement to gauge what our communities knew about climate change, understand where they got their information from and identify what they saw as trusted sources of information. While we had a small but significant minority of people who were still locked in denialism about climate change, the overwhelming response was enthusiasm for council to try to grapple with this stuff and a clear message to be stronger in our approach.

This term of the council the Strategy and Policy Committee, which I chair, has been given a specific delegation around climate change, and has supported the development of a set of strategies, targets and action plans.


Again these went out to our community for feedback and again the general response has been for us to be more ambitious.

As part of the work towards implementing our action plans we have sought outside advice. We have used EMSOL to do an energy audit, and continue to consult with them. There hs been a lot of interest in solar PV on council buildings, which avoid having to invest in a lot of battery storage because the energy is used during the day as it is produced. Although our civic centre refurbishment will include some PV as a showpiece for the community, we buy our energy at such a good rate, and most NZ energy is renewable anyway, that the business case is not as compelling as less visible changes, such as an energy management system. There are many relatively small actions that can be taken which pay for the investment within 5 or so years. Who would not invest in a 20% return on investment?

We also listen to the community, because there is enormous expertise available if we do. For example one general manager was really keen on solar for our swimming pool. It took a sharp eyed enthusiast to recognise that this would increase emissions because they were least productive when we most needed the heat, and so would rely on gas back up during winter. An energy efficient heat pump turned out to be a better solution in terms of overall emissions, and cost.

In fact our swimming pool has been the real star of our organisation, with the manager really taking on board the recommendations from EMSOL and implementing a series of changes that have massively reduced the carbon emissions from our swimming pools.

The other thing I’ll mention is our fleet management advice, which has given us a process for changing out ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles with hybrids or electric over a period of time – where this is viable. We have a number of vehicle, especially in the roading team, where there are no viable hybrid alternatives at this time. We expect this to change.

As I have said the key to the program has been a whole-of council approach, with clear and strong political leadership from our mayor and our councillors, strong support and mandate from our CE, and then working with people across the organisation who have the passion. It’s extraordinary what staff at all levels bring to the table when given the opportunity.

That has led us to winning the Trust Horizon Business Awards inaugural award for sustainability. I was told by one of the judges that they were highly impressed at the comprehensive and detailed approach taken by our council, and its a tribute to our whole staff.

Our next big challenge is how to begin to lead broader change across our community. My feeling is that the focus most be on helping those who already want to change, to identify their options. I think people in general do understand that a real transformation is needed, that we cannot keep doing what we have been doing. I think Covid has helped us understand that as well. As civic leaders we are in a unique position to be a catalyst for that change.

Thank you for your time.

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Why I am standing in local elections

Whakatāne is a spectacular place with a great community, and it’s been an honour serving on our Council since 2016. Like any community around the country we face some serious challenges – but also exciting opportunities. By becoming more sustainable, more resilient and more regenerative, we both prepare for those challenges and make the most of our opportunities. What that means locally is reducing our resource use, building our capacity to adapt to change, and enhancing natural ecosystems where ever we can.

Since my election three years ago the Whakatāne District Council (WDC) is starting to take these issues more seriously. The Climate Change Steering Committee, which I chair, is only new, but it is driving that change.

Sustainability

We know that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is vital. The Climate Change committee has measured council emissions and begun reducing them. For example, we have to earthquake strengthen the Civic Centre because it is the Civil Defence HQ in any disaster. This is a great opportunity to make it more energy efficient at the same time. I also expect to see solar PV panels on at least some of our public buildings starting this term. All of this will have long term cost savings as well as environmental benefits.

We have developed a set of Climate Change Principles to make sure all future decision-making takes climate change into account. This is about reducing emissions and preparing for the impacts of global warming. Those have been out for consultation, and the community has been overwhelmingly supportive.

We are moving towards more electric and hybrid vehicles. It is not just changing vehicles, but changing how we use them. Even more, the Active Whakatāne Strategy is about supporting people in council and the community to get out of their cars and in to other transport modes, which has environmental, health, safety, and economic benefits. That ties to disability access too. If it works for mobility scooters and wheel chairs it will work for pedestrians and others as well.

Resilience

We face big infrastructure challenges, such as the ‘three waters’ (drinking water, waste water / sewerage, and storm water). It’s big money. How we did things in the past won’t always be good enough today, so we have to do things better. Climate change adds huge pressure on top of that. Councils all across the country face these same issues and so being able to talk to Central Government is critical. It is helpful to have councillors who know their way around the Beehive and who have good relationships with key ministers.

It is not just about hard infrastructure though. Just as important for resilience is strong communities. The Edgecumbe flood demonstrated that very clearly. As well as pipes and asphalt, we need to be able to to work with communities to understand and support their aspirations and build connections. The work I have done with Whakatāne Ki Mua, with Greenprint for Whakatāne (while helped spark both Waste Zero Whakatāne, and the Food Sovereignty Network), and with Awatapu Otamakaukau Kaitiaki Trust are examples.

Collaborating with mana whenua is also important. It is about respecting local hapū and iwi. They have an intergenerational commitment to this place as kaitiaki and are important for the expertise and the resources they can bring to the table. The Whakatāne Regeneration Program is a nation-leading example of how Council can work with tangata whenua for the good of everyone.

Regenerative

Integrating nature into our solutions, such as wetlands for flood protection and water holding, is the way of the future. People talk about ‘Biophilic Design’ as a way to benefit people and nature and provide long term, low energy solutions to infrastructure problems. We need more of this kind of thinking. Council has great staff with great ideas but they need supportive political leadership who understand that we need to do things differently in the 21st century.

Becoming More Strategic

Tying it all together is the need for strategic prioritisation. The WDC is really good at leveraging money out of central government and out of funding bodies. The downside is that council can become too opportunistic. We can end up chasing the money. With the big challenges in front of us – and of course challenges are just opportunities to do things better – we have to be very disciplined about how we spend money. I don’t think this means just doing pipes and roads, the hard engineering stuff. We need to have a much more holistic understand of what helps communities thrive. But it does mean being very clear how our spending leads us towards our strategic priorities. We need to become very good at synergising activities to fulfil multiple functions where we can (permaculture thinking), and we have to be prepared to say “no” to things that may sound great and we can get some co-funding for, but which don’t lead to where we need to go.

This is a really important time in history. Council has a really important role to play. To do that it needs to have a clear strategy. Whoever you vote for, it is important to choose people who can see the big picture, who can exercise strong governance leadership, and who know how to get things done. Importantly we also need more diversity around the council table. A wider range of skills, and of life experiences, will lead to better decision-making.

Above all we need people with vision. Vote for me and make a difference.

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RESPONDING TO CLIMATE CHANGE IN WHAKATĀNE

This is an amazing moment in history. Young people, sick of seeing decades of denial, procrastination and evasion on climate change from political and business leaders are taking to the streets. School children are striking from school. Youth are organising direct action movements. People are demanding action.

They need to. Local Government New Zealand has drafted a Climate Change Declaration setting out some principles and aspirations for how local government can address the challenges of climate change. It is not radical – it asks councils to promote walking and public transport, improve resource efficiency and healthy homes and support renewable energy and electric vehicles. It recognises that local government needs to work with central government and with their communities.

Some 56 councils have signed but around 24 still refuse to do so. Thames-Coromandel Mayor Sandra Goudie says that the issue is ‘politically charged’  (because politics is anathema for a politician!). Meanwhile the West Coast Regional Council is opposing the Government’s Zero Carbon bill because “the evidence proving anthropogenic climate change must be presented and proven beyond reasonable doubt”. Apparently near unanimous agreement in the international scientific community is not sufficient.

Here in Whakatāne, climate change is already real for us. The flooding in Edgecumbe last year put our vulnerability to rising sea levels and increased storms into sharp focus. We know we can expect more of that. We know that the water table in the Rangitaiki Plains – once a wetland covering some 300km2 – is rising. A number of our people live under escarpments, along the coastline or clustered around our rivers. We have no room for complacency.

edgecumbe

Like much of local government, our council has been developing scattered pieces of work over the years, adjusting our district plan to incorporate climate change related hazards, but it has been piecemeal. There have been some attempts in the past to develop a Sustainability Strategy, but that never really went very far. What the organisation needed was more leadership at a political level, more strategic governance that recognises the real threat that climate change poses for our council and for our community. That leadership is now there.

Our Mayor, Tony Bonne, gets it. He signed the Mayors Declaration as soon as he found out about it. The issues of climate change and of sustainability are now being regularly raised around the council table, and not just by me. There is, I think, a strong acceptance around the table that climate change is real, that it poses a significant threat, and that we need to address it hand in hand with our communities.

In our organisation we are taking real steps. Our new CEO, Steph O’Sullivan, has a strong background understanding of climate change, of resilience and of partnering across communities, businesses and with the Crown. We have developed a high level Climate Change Steering Group with representation from senior leadership and with myself as the political representation. We have a Climate Change Project Team that has representation from the people that will be implementing our strategies. We are developing Climate Change principles based on the LGNZ declaration but drilling down into how they apply to our district, with input from across the organisation. The key thing about those principles is that they will flow through into decision-making across the organisation so that sustainability becomes embedded into decision-making rather than remaining a clip-on.

We have begun the process of bench-marking our own emissions so that we can improve and change, by signing up to the CEMARS programme. We have also done an energy audit to see where our bulk energy use is and how we can reduce it. That has given us a number of potential places where we can save money and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The next step is a more detailed investigation to see which of those possibilities might work in practice. This includes exploring the potential for adding solar generation to our buildings, which has highlighted that we need to address our approach to new public buildings and incorporate basic sustainable building design principles – something we have so far failed to do.

Council needs to address our own emissions, our own robustness (ability to withstand shocks), and our own resilience (ability to spring back from shocks). This is about showing leadership. Perhaps even more importantly, though, we need to be leading a deep discussion in our communities. Neither council nor government will ‘fix’ climate change. We can help or hinder but the most significant decisions will be made elsewhere. In this district, for example, the decisions around land use are critical both in terms of our emissions as a district and in terms of how we adapt to climate change. Council has an important role in making sure that people have good information when they make their own decisions about their homes, their businesses, their farms, their marae. We need community discussions that are non-judgemental, open and honest, and resourced with reliable information.

That process has begun, even though it has a long way to go. Whakatāne Ki Mua is the biggest community engagement that council has ever done, establishing a foundation for what the community wants for our communities. The GreenPrint forums have been exploring sustainability, resilience and regenerative design for our district and that has led to two community initiatives – Waste Zero and the Food Sovereignty network. A number of cool projects are being showcased during this months Sustainable Backyards which, for Whakatāne, is based out of Wharaurangi. In making that site available to Envirohub for the month, council has also committed to engaging our community around climate change, as the first step towards that deep discussion.

The horizon on climate change doesn’t stop in 2080 or 2100. The world will keep warming, oceans will keep rising, storms will keep getting stronger regardless of what we do. However we can influence how much worse it will get, for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Imagine what our own great grandparents would say to us if we refuse to act now, when we know.

This isn’t about blame or judgement, it is about coming together to talk about how we are going to respond, collectively and individually, to this challenge. Most importantly it is about recognising climate change as an opportunity. Not for a few people to enrich themselves, but to genuinely change how we do things. We can create a future that is better than our past and present. By becoming genuinely sustainable and resilient, by building stronger community networks and looking out for each other, we can solve not just climate change but many of our other issues as well. Climate is just a symptom of a deeper problem. We have become disconnected from the rest of life and we have become disconnected from each other. The results are not just ecological but social, economic and cultural. Redesigning our way of life to put people and planet at the centre is worth doing regardless of climate change. Climate change is just the driver.

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