Why I voted against `climate emergency’

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By CLAIRE MCKAY, Environment Canterbury councillor for North Canterbury

Last Thursday was a big day for Environment Canterbury (ECan).

We declared a “climate emergency” and concluded deliberations on our 2019/20 Annual Plan.

Neither was easy, and neither was unanimous. Both took courage.

The Annual Plan discussion was about money.

The community has already told us that we need to push harder on freshwater management and biodiversity.

We have also heard loud and clear that getting our public transport right is key to avoiding future congestion and air pollution issues.

There are the inevitable costs outside our control, like inflation, the cost of fuel, and legislative changes that we need to accommodate financially, just to stand still.

So, if we want to respond to the call to do more and move faster, we must increase our revenue stream.

This is where, as uncomfortable as it is for councillors, having the courage to set a 10.51% rates increase comes in.

That is a big number, twice that forecast in the Long Term Plan, and nobody around the council table ever wants to put that on the community.

In some parts of the region it will be more; in others it will be less, depending on the mix of targeted and general rates that you pay.

A key part of our decision-making has involved looking at what work could be stopped, reduced or delayed and where any savings could be made. There is considerable tension around fulfilling our regulatory role, achieving outcomes and affordability. It is a balance.

And sometimes, as a council, we need to have the courage of our convictions that we have achieved the optimum balance and make the decision to lock in the activity and the rates.

The 2019/20 Annual Plan rates increase comes before the council for adoption on June 20.

I voted against the resolution to declare a “climate emergency”. I am concerned about the changing climate and the wide-ranging potential impacts. The science is telling.

What kept me awake at night in the lead-up to the meeting on May 16 was, if ECan made such a declaration, what would it really mean?

A declaration could only be symbolic without legislation, mandate or funding. My values and ethics for good governance drove my decision.

ECan is already taking action: leading by example by reducing in-house emissions; incorporating climate-change considerations into work programmes, plans and decisions; working with regional partners to ensure a collaborative response; and advocating and engaging with central government.

The call to move faster must come from Wellington, and we have seen strong leadership from the current government.

Last week’s debate and activities by groups who are shining the light on the impacts of human activities and changing climate will lead to wider community awareness, discussion, and understanding. Increased visibility of our climate-change work will be an immediate result from the council’s “yes” vote.

I had the courage to vote “no” – knowing that it may be misinterpreted by some – as I believe we are already doing what we need to do, and can do, within the current legislation.