Why Auckland City should care about climate change

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I know it is unpopular to defend Len Brown but on this occasion I believe his defence is justified.

He is over in Paris for the Climate Change summit. He is leading a five member Council delegation and is part of the official New Zealand Government delegation. His trip will not cost the ratepayer anything and the bill is being picked up by Bloomberg Philantrophics, an organisation associated with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Some of the Councillors thought that he should not go. From the Herald:

Councillors George Wood and Dick Quax said Mr Brown should not travel to Paris, but stay in Auckland to attend to local matters.

Said Mr Wood: “This is an important time of year for council. Over the past months we have been working on the annual plan to give some political feedback to the mayor for his consideration prior to him presenting the mayoral budget. It’s totally inappropriate that at this time he has decided to head off to Paris for a climate change forum”.

Mr Quax said setting the budget should take priority over international junkets.

“The mayor has just one year left in his mayoralty and to me and some of my colleagues it appears that he has completely abandoned Auckland to attend a climate change meeting of dubious merit especially when one considers that the government is sending a delegation because it sets the policy framework for climate change not a local mayor,” Mr Quax said.

An editorial writer in the Herald also expressed opposition to the trip. In rather trenchant terms the editorial opens in this way:

Many Aucklanders would have been open-mouthed with amazement at the announcement that Mayor Len Brown is going to the world climate change conference in Paris at the end of the month. The audacity of the discredited mayor never ceases to amaze. He ought to have resigned long ago but any credit he recovered with his decision last week not to stand for re-election next year probably evaporated with this announcement. What purpose can he serve at the climate change conference?

Quax’s comments are problematic. They reflect the views of some that Council should stick to its “core business” and leave other matters to central government. He thinks that as central Government sets the policy framework for climate change local government should have nothing to do with it.

This thinking was reflected in the decision of the majority of Council to not oppose deep sea oil drilling off the west coast despite overwhelming local opposition, deep concern about the potential environmental catastrophe that would be caused by a spill and the need to keep undiscovered sources of oil in the ground.

So should Council be concerned at the effects of climate change?

Of course. For a start inundation of the coastline is already happening. Huia has a developing crisis, the North Western motorway is being rebuilt with sea barriers and the incidence of flooding of Tamaki Drive will increase as sea levels rise. Adverse hugely expensive weather events are becoming more frequent. The intensity of change will increase as the temperature rises.

And city form is one of the most important long term characteristics in addressing the production of greenhouse gasses. Large sprawling cities inevitably require people to drive more than smaller compact cities with good quality public transport.

Auckland Council has the laudable goal of becoming a highly energy resilient, low carbon city with a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2040. During his remaining time in office Len Brown should take every opportunity to further this important goal.

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