Aotearoa New Zealand is getting hotter year by year. More and more drought, flooding and extreme weather events are already being driven by climate change. We know we need to act now. In the Climate Change Commission’s final advice to the Government, joint action by central and local government is highlighted as being pivotal to achieving emissions targets and doing so in an equitable way.

Last week He Pou a Rangi the Climate Change Commission released its final advice for the Government ‘Ināia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa’. In its 418 pages it recommends the level of the first three emissions budgets our country must meet, and provides advice on how to do this. This final advice incorporates feedback from over 15,000 people and organisations on the draft advice published in January 2021. Taituarā was one such contributing organisation.

The Government now needs to decide whether to accept the advice and to show how it will shape climate action in Aotearoa. The Government has until 31 December 2021 to set the first three emissions budgets out to 2035 and release New Zealand’s first emissions reduction plan detailing policies that will be used to achieve the budgets, as required by the Climate Change Response Act 2002.

Although the advice was presented to central government, it is abundantly clear that action by local government will be crucial in enabling Aotearoa New Zealand to reduce its emissions. A quick search reveals that ‘local government’ appears 44 times in the final advice and it is stated that “councils are the level of government closest to individual communities, and the 78 local authorities across Aotearoa will play an important role supporting diverse communities through the transition. Central and local government need to be aligned and work closely together to achieve emissions budgets and targets.”

Though it is by no means intended to be an exhaustive summary, some aspects of the final advice pertaining to local government are identified below.

Aligning central and local government efforts

Councils make our country tick by making decisions on land use, urban form, road and transport services, housing, the three waters (stormwater, wastewater and water supply), waste management, flood risk management, and coastal management. Therefore, they are key players in finding solutions to reducing (as well as adapting to) our rising greenhouse gas emissions. The advice recognises this. Recommendation 8 of the Final Advice is that the Government to commit to “aligning policy and investments to enable local government to make effective decisions for climate change mitigation and adaptation. This should include aligning the Local Government Act, the Building Act and Code, the Resource Management Act (RMA). national direction under the RMA, proposed RMA reforms and the infrastructure plan.” The Commission also recommends that the Government implement funding and financing mechanisms that provide adequate funding to enable local government to take action aligned with emissions reduction plans, and the implementation of climate adaptation plans. The Commission’s provisional progress indicator is for the “Government to have, by 30 June 2022, published an agreement that sets out the mechanism for achieving the necessary alignment between central and local government” (pp.231-232) and that by December 2022 the Government publishes a work plan outlining how alignment and funding will be addressed, with milestones for achieving the plan.

Taituarā will be watching with interest to see how the Government responds to these recommendations and will work closely with central government officials on how best to achieve alignment and develop appropriate funding and financing mechanisms.

Policy direction for transport

The final advice identifies local government as being instrumental to reducing transport emissions, and changing the way people travel, including enabling a shift away from private car travel. The advice notes that local government needs more support from central government to do this, including through legislation, removing regulatory barriers, and providing increased and targeted funding (p.260).

The advice recommends that the Government works with local authorities to set targets and implement plans to substantially increase walking, cycling, public transport and shared transport by the end of 2022, and that the Government substantially increases its share of funding dedicated to active and public transport infrastructure.

Waste management and councils

Whether councils provide waste management services to their communities directly, or contract this out to the private sector, the final advice sets a target of decreasing biogenic waste methane emissions by 40 per cent below 2017 levels by 2035. One recommendation to achieve this is to “ensure, by 31 December 2026, that all landfills (except farm fills) that accept organic waste have effective gas capture systems” (p.302). The final advice recognises the burden on councils of doing this: “local government, particularly smaller councils, lack the resources to make the necessary capital investments in waste infrastructure. Much of this investment will need to come from central government” (p.299).

Buildings and urban form

Recommendation 16 regarding the ability to reduce emissions through changes to urban form, function and development includes “developing a policy approach in partnership with Iwi/Māori to ensure well-integrated planning and policies related to urban form, function and development. This approach must also be developed in active collaboration with local councils and communities” (p.258). The advice also notes that “good urban design is important for reducing emissions over the long term at a systems level. It also brings many other health, environmental and wellbeing benefits. This includes reduced air and noise pollution, increased levels of physical activity, reduced congestion, better connected communities and improved safety” (p.257). Specifically, the advice recommends that the Government develops a consistent approach to quantifying the emissions impacts of urban development decisions, and that this be used to continually improve the way emissions consequences are integrated into decision-making on land use, transport and infrastructure investments. Our view is that such an approach would be useful and should be developed in conjunction with local government.

Offsetting emissions

Currently forestry is the only means to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at scale. Part of Recommendation 25 is that the Government develops a framework that helps local government manage afforestation, mitigate localised impacts, and achieve environmental co-benefits. In the Commission’s ‘demonstration path’ it “assumes 300,000 hectares of new native forests and 380,000 hectares of new exotic forests are established between 2021 and 2035” (p.316). By way of comparison, our largest lake – Taupō – has an area of 61,600 hectares. Given that councils manage significant areas of land across the country, they will likely be called on to play a greater role in achieving this afforestation, including by establishing new forest sinks on council-owned land. The advice also states that councils will need to increase their protection of existing forests from fire and pests, as well as engage in enrichment planting.

A just transition and the Treaty of Waitangi

Chapter 19 is focused on achieving an equitable transition for iwi/Māori. “Central and local government must ensure emissions reduction plans comply with the Treaty and do not compound historic grievances and further disadvantage Iwi/Māori. Climate action that does not support Iwi/Māori to exercise rangatiratanga, kaitiakitanga and mana motuhake over their whenua, and other cultural assets will exacerbate inequity for Iwi/Māori” (p.325).

Taituarā committed to working with central and local government

Supporting Aotearoa to reduce its emissions will undoubtedly become a key consideration for councils and their communities over the coming years and well into the future. . As the body representing local government professionals in Aotearoa, many aspects of the work Taituarā does concerns climate change mitigation or adaptation in some way. Some of the areas Taituarā is contributing to in this space are listed below.

  • Members recently contributed to a submission on introducing much more efficient buildings across Aotearoa, including much higher insulation standards.
  • Similarly, Taituarā is currently working with its members on a submission to The Infrastructure Commission Te Waihanga on a consultation that will shape the country’s Infrastructure Strategy to 2050. This encompasses transport, urban planning, and critical community infrastructure such as hospitals, and educational facilities.
  • In order to share the latest local government policy and practice vis-à-vis climate change, Taituarā is holding an online 'Climate Change and Local Government Forum' for council members across the country from 17-22 June 2021.
  • Another work programme with direct relevance to climate change mitigation and adaptation is the reform of the Resource Management Act. We have recently formed a Resource Management Reform Reference Group (RMRG) that will contribute to our response to the reform programme. Better preparing for adapting to climate change and risks from natural hazards, and better mitigating emissions contributing to climate change, is one of the key outcomes the Government seeks to achieve through its reform of the resource management system.
  • We will continue to promote opportunities for local government to work with central government on reducing emissions. For example, the Ministry for the Environment is inviting local government to participate in a series of webinars and workshops focused on how Aotearoa New Zealand responds to climate change. The sessions will cover the development of both the emissions reduction plan and the national adaptation plan. We understand that sessions on the national adaptation plan may touch on policy to support managed retreat and funding and financing, which will help to inform development of the Climate Change Adaptation Act. Further information on the webinars and workshops that will be taking place, and how to register is available here.

We strongly encourage you to get involved in Taituarā activities of relevance to yourself and your work. We also invite suggestions on how Taituarā can assist you to take action for the benefit of your community and your mokopuna.