Strategy just the start for council’s climate change response


Earlier this month, Waikato District Council approved its inaugural Climate Response and Resilience Strategy. The council’s Climate Action and Sustainability Manager, Rachael Goddard, and Whāingaroa Ward Councillor, Lisa Thomson explain what the strategy does and does not cover, and what happens next. 

Rachael says the strategy will be key to helping the council and the community reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and preparing for climate change in the Waikato.

The emission reduction - or mitigation - side of the strategy, takes a two-pronged approach.

“The strategy outlines reducing council operational emissions, our waste, our water, our energy consumption, our travel etcetera. And then there's the community component, which is about reducing greenhouse gas emissions” 

Developing the strategy has been a big piece of work for the council. Focus groups, the community, key staff members, managers, Māori ward councillors and the chair of the Sustainability and Wellbeing Committee (who just happens to be Lisa Thomson, our Whāingaroa Ward Councillor,) have all had input into the strategy.

Rachael feels the resulting strategy is “pretty robust”.

“It covers a lot of different areas, including te ao Māori, mātauranga Māori, key impact areas, resilience, risk, adaptation, mitigation, and it puts numbers on things.”

Next steps for the council

Now the council has unanimously accepted the strategy, it is planning to carry out a comprehensive climate-risk assessment next year.

Rachael says this will entail looking at the projected temperature rises and impacts of climate change, in order to build a sense of what might be happening in the district in the future , and understand where the vulnerable areas are. 

Also on the cards is developing an engagement and communications plan so it’s clear who the stakeholders are that the council needs to engage with, and setting up a think tank to bring our key strategic thinkers together to map out what the council needs to do and where the gaps are. 

Then work on the climate action plan will start.

Rachael says, “The climate action plan is going to be the meaty piece of work for next year. We’ll be going out to the communities asking, What do you need? What are your priorities? It will be about nailing down exactly what communities want, and what they and the council will do to respond and adapt to climate change. ”

Lisa feels that the current strategy provides a solid foundation for this work. 

“There's still a huge amount of work to do, but the council is fully committed to this The strategy will be part of our golden thread or key pillars that underpin what we do – diversity, te tiriti, zero harm, and now climate action will be the fourth pillar, which is pretty amazing.”

Why is the strategy needed?

The good news for the Waikato on the emissions front is that progress is already being made – district-wide emissions have dropped 8.2 per cent in the past 3 years. 

However, Rachael says, “In the last decade, temperatures have increased 1.2°C and there’s been a 50 per cent increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, which is an immense amount, and it's anthropogenic, which means it's human-made.

“We’re already seeing the impacts of these increases in New Zealand, with a four- to five-fold increase in extreme weather events, and these have a financial cost. Cyclone Gabriel alone is estimated to have cost the economy $19 billion. Even just for our council, its created millions of dollars of costs for fixing the damage and erosion to roads alone.”

Within this context, local government and territorial authorities are mandated by central government to help prepare communities for the impacts of climate change. This includes helping build resilience, providing behaviour-change education and helping communities prepare for the effects.

Rachael sees the council’s role as being more about providing support, education and influence, rather than controlling particular behaviours. 

“So, we've got the climate strategy and that sets the emission reduction targets and the road map. Then we’ve key projects that we know the council is going to do to reduce emissions and we hope that the community will do too.”

What’s crucial, though, is community involvement, and Rachael says the council will be doing a lot of work with communities next year around co-design and collaboration for projects to drive the strategy. 

“We need to know what communities need, what their priorities are, what they want, what's important to them. So, we'll be doing a lot of work next year going out into the community and listening to  communities rather than telling them what will happen.”

Mitigation is only part of the picture, however, and even if the council and communities do a fantastically good job reducing emissions over the next 10 years, the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events, will continue to be felt for many years yet.

Lisa Thomson describes this reality as ‘challenging’ for the council, rather than scary.

“It's challenging to think about where we’re going to get the money from to respond to these events. In the Waikato, we've got many isolated communities that rely heavily on our roading network. Getting support out to these communities in a timely fashion, and having the resources within council to meet those needs will be the challenge. 

“That's why this strategy is really important because it underpins what we as a council can do to support these communities, by finding out where they feel vulnerable and how can we work with them to enable them to respond when an event happens in their backyard, so they can protect themselves and meet the needs of their people.”

Rachael confirms that finding the costs within council to respond to climate-related events will be challenging, but points to a recent report by Deloitte, which states that the cost of inaction – doing nothing or taking inadequate steps to respond to climate change – is now way higher than actually acting on it. 

“Put simply, Deloitte have said in their Turning Point report that if we don't take decisive action on climate change in New Zealand, it's likely to cost us $64 billion by 2050. If we do take real action, on the ground to mitigate and adapt, it will actually return an estimated $4.4 billion into the economy, so will have a positive economic impact.”