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Auckland Council joins other local authorities around the country in declaring a climate emergency. Steve Forbes looks at why they are doing this and what it might mean for insurance

Auckland Council joins other local authorities around the country in declaring a climate emergency. Steve Forbes looks at why they are doing this and what it might mean for insurance

Auckland Council has voted to join the growing local government chorus calling for change and declare a non-binding climate change emergency in the City of Sails.

Council Environment and Community Committee chairwoman Penny Hulse supported the decision which she describes as an important first step.

"Critics will say it's just a gesture, it is a gesture, but it starts the conversation. And the reality is the Auckland Council has already done a lot of work on the issue of climate change."

She says as the council moves forward it will have to make some serious decisions on the impact of climate change and how it funds it.

Hulse says the Auckland Council had looked at the example of Environment Canterbury which declared a climate emergency last month.

"We are a regional council and a city council and we're responsible for the same issues and we have to turn our minds towards how we manage the coastline and how we manage land use and planning. So declaring an emergency says we take this issue seriously and we're going to take action."

Global environmental lobby group Extinction Rebellion's New Zealand branch is calling on the Government to commit to a target of zero carbon emissions by 2025 and to face up to the ecological crisis created by climate change.

Spokesman Simon Oosterman says getting Auckland Council to agree to declare a climate emergency wasn’t the end goal.

“Binding emissions targets are what will really make the biggest difference,” Oosterman says. “But it’s a symbolic first step towards making a commitment to reducing greenhouse gases. It’s important that the Auckland Council joins others in acknowledging the climate change crisis and ecological collapse we face.”

He refers to the Insurance Council of New Zealand’s (ICNZ) public comments about the looming cost of climate change to the country.

“To get the councils to start talking about what the Insurance Council of New Zealand has already talked about is a good thing. It’s a significant risk, not just to ratepayers, but to business owners as well," Oosterman says. 

“Local government has a major problem because the cost of climate change is going to be far beyond what they can afford to fund. So from a strategic point of view it makes sense to focus on the councils. But I think there has been some frustration in the climate change movement around the lack of action at a national level.”

What does it mean when a council declares a climate emergency?

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) report released in January said up to $14 billion of local government infrastructure was at risk due to rising sea levels. The report called on central government to urgently develop policies to help minimise the impact of climate change on New Zealand communities.

But what does it really mean when a council declares a climate emergency? Are they virtue signalling as some critics have said, or drawing a line in the sand and saying something needs to be done now to address what could be the greatest threat to mankind?

On May 16 Environment Canterbury announced it had declared a climate emergency. The regional council said it was highlighting the urgent need to address the issue and the work it was already doing to help the region respond.

Environment Canterbury’s deputy chairman Peter Scott says it had come under a lot of pressure from the global lobby group Extinction Rebellion over what it was, or wasn’t doing about climate change.

“We’d been challenged on what our response was to climate change and we had been for some time,” Scott says. “Land, air and water is our raison d'être, so we took the opportunity to respond and say across the portfolios we manage in terms of air, land, water, biosecurity and biodiversity, we do take it seriously.”

He says Environment Canterbury’s climate emergency declaration is its response.

But Scott admits there are already examples around the world of people paying lip service to the environment through climate emergency declarations.

Last month MPs in the UK’s House of Commons voted to approve a motion declaring an environment and climate emergency in Great Britain, even though the proposal doesn’t legally compel the British government to act.

“In terms of what we can do, we can’t do any more than what we’ve done and it really needs national initiatives led by central Government,” Scott says. “You’ll understand we need to respond to public pressure. But it highlights what we’re doing and across all the portfolios we manage we now have a centralised approach to climate change. It gives us the opportunity to update councillors every quarter on what’s happening.”

Environment Canterbury said in a statement that it has incorporated climate change into all of its work programmes and decision making and is leading by example in reducing its own emissions.

Nelson City Council (NCC) then declared a climate emergency on May 15 to recognise what it said was the mounting advice from scientists and the United Nations that there is a small window for action to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change. The Christchurch City Council and Kapiti Coast District Council followed suit on May 23 and May 24 respectively. Christchurch City councillor Sara Templeton, who is the chair of the Christchurch Council’s Climate Change Working Group, said it wasn’t about doom and gloom, but a call to action.

Green MP's parliamentary proposal scuttled 

While Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick attempted to pass a motion in Parliament late last month declaring a national climate emergency this was defeated by opposition MPs. 

National MP Todd Muller voted against it and says Swarbrick's motion was meaningless.

“As it stands there is absolutely no clarity as to what declaring a ‘climate emergency’ would mean in practice, what its legal standing is, or what it would actually require of the Government and the New Zealand public,” Muller says.

“At first glance this looks like nothing more than political posturing and virtue signalling. Our kids deserve more than empty slogans and highly charged green-rhetoric. They deserve real and concrete plans to drive our emissions down. National will not support this non-debatable motion.”

However, Swarbrick says she had tried to work with National MPs to get support for the declaration.

“I had been attempting to work constructively with the National Party, because the Greens recognise that climate action requires all of us. That’s why I was genuinely perplexed when they sent out a pre-emptive press release [before the vote] before talking through any of the detail with me. Had they done so, we could’ve come to a solution that I believe would’ve worked for all parties," Swarbrick says.

“The purpose of Parliament declaring a climate emergency – as opposed to simply the Government benches – is to create a sustainable mandate, which outlives politics, for the public services to coordinate themselves to act cohesively in response to the urgency of climate change.

“That’s why it’s important that we worked on Parliamentary consensus about what the climate emergency actually means. When politicians utter words and pass motions, they create a platform to which they’re to be held accountable.”

Climate emergencies and the insurance industry 

However, if more council’s up and down the country continue to declare climate emergencies will that lead to insurers hitting some areas and regions harder than others with risk based pricing?

Insurers have within the last year upped the ante with more risk-based pricing in areas prone to earthquakes and flooding and this has seen some premiums increase and in the most severe cases left some properties uninsurable.

Something the Reserve Bank noted in its recent Financial Stability Report released in May. It said risk-based pricing would become more widespread in New Zealand’s insurance market over time and that could lead to higher premiums and more restricted cover. But Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr said such price signals were necessary to direct investment away from assets vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“Insurance will evolve, better pricing needs to evolve. People need price signals to make their decisions for a smooth transition [to mitigate against the effects of climate change],” he said.

“On the other side of it as well, we don’t want to see prices rise in some areas and not alter in others. Owners of particularly high-risk assets should be aware that their insurance costs are likely to rise and the level of cover that they can obtain may become more limited in the future.”

Insurance Council of New Zealand chief executive Tim Grafton says he doesn’t think councils are grandstanding when they take a stand on climate change.

“I have no doubt councils declare emergencies for good reasons to protect their communities,” he says. 

But things are changing in the insurance world and providers are more than aware of what is happening in terms of climate change, whether local authorities declare climate emergencies or not.

“Insurance is there to meet the insured costs of disasters. We want to show the important role we play,” Grafton says. “Equally, where extreme events hit some areas more the community has an important role in reducing risk and becoming more resilient.”

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"They deserve real and concrete plans to drive our emissions down"

So National has done an about-face, then?

Remind me of any 'real and concrete' plans they came up with?

I have come to the conclusion that all major Govts know this is a crisis - Trump and co included. However, they also know the end game is a massive scrap for resources, hence the US not wanting to put the breaks on - but to build flat out for this scrap.

A plastic shopping bag the ultimate distraction.

Apparently the U.S military creates a significant amount of emission. A US Congressional report in 2012 said that the DOD consumed about 117 million barrels of oil in 201, only a little less than all the petrol and diesel use of all cars in Britain the same year.

How could you reach such a conclusion? Coastal erosion, and sea level rise are natural phenomenon, is nature a crisis or an emergency?

Maybe I'm missing something, but if a city or region declares a state of emergency then shouldn't the area be cordoned off? Let's evacuate the tourists out of Christchurch, Nelson and Kapiti until it's safe to return. Get cars off the road there as well, close the airports.

If they closed the airports how can I fly for a holiday to Kiribati? Those Islands were supposed to have sunk by now, but by an act of Allah they have actually grown in area.

Now insurance companies have a license to increase premiums.
They're rubbing their hands with glee.

It's a Send Munny signal, no more, no less. To be sure, if mean SLR continues it's stately rise of 2-3mm/decade (itself a patchy figure: large chunks of the land north of Oaro are proof against a few centurys' worth because they are now between 1.5 and 6 metres higher than in early 2016) then some TLA infrastructure is gonna get its feet wet. Unless the TLA's construct a 400mm high levee....

But the 'emergency' rhetoric is just that - overstatement with more than a tinge of good old hysteria. If we all went back to being subsistence farmers, Gaia wouldn't notice, but the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement would be well chuffed: the Soviet and Chinese experiments of doing just that accounted for the thick end of 100 million souls.

And if one logical choice to carry on at current levels of comfort - 5 x 1Gw nuclear reactors thoughtfully spaced along our fair land - was carried out - then we could all just fuggedabowd the 'emergency'. And if we asked our New Asiatic Overlords nicely enough, we could mebbe get 'em for a token amount - say the North Island north of Hamilton.....

Because, as an ancient Tom Scott article noted (IIRC) if the then-stretched populace was offered work in a series of heroin-packing plants, the HR department would be overwhelmed with applicants. And if the soon-to-be-transportless populace were to be offered the above deal - Norkland for Nukes and Carry On or Retreat to the Medieval - in a quickly-chucked-together Referendum, whaddaya suppose the said populace might Vote for?

China cheats - what's the point?

The point is that you can sleep with your own conscience and can look younger folk in the eye.

I was about to reply but then I saw it was you "powerdownkiwi" and I thought what's the point? Esoteric economics mixed with conspiracy theories results in absolute nonsense.

Cheers Nofax- I was looking for a description of 'economics' for a forthcoming piece - that last sentence summed it up nicely. Here was me mucking around with 'flat earth- the only growth-supporting format' and 'religiously believing in perpetual growth'. Your sentence is much tighter.

Well, it's one big game of words really.
If NZ was serious about climate change then it would scuttle its dairy industry AND get serious about banning fossil fuel vehicles from a set date, sooner rather than later.
The former just won't happen, the latter maybe?

And ban all long-haul flights - Tourism vanishes in a puff of disappointed barista....planet doesn't notice.

It's chemistry does. 2% of emission is flying, and the knock-on savings (baristas not driving to work, for example) would add a heap more.

We are so overshot both population-wise and sustainability-wise, that 'incomes' and 'jobs' have to be ditched as yardsticks. Much as the majority don't like the idea, much as it'll never gain traction.

New paradigm required - one which fits a biospheric continuum. Which the current one doesn't.

So make all Kiwis poorer for a negligible difference to worldwide emissions?

Actually following PDK's claptrap would make it worse. Global Warming is a global phenomena (seriously it is in the name). Arbitrary local action of the sort he backs is worse than doing nothing. Solutions that impact globally are required.

If NZ were to arbitrarily withdraw from global dairy markets the price of milk will rise. More milk will be produced in places where the emissions/kg of milk powder are higher. The planet will die quicker.

refactornz - when did you last have a think about what 'money' is?

Just before you bandy 'poorer' about unthinkingly.

What alot of Twoddle, Goff trying to look good for elections, people just love abit of Drama and Hysteria to make their dreary life bearable !

Plus, the professional Caring Classes and Plannerz benefit hugely from the Manufacture of Anxiety, as they are then tasked with Making It All Better. Not so great for the kids, but it's All aboot the Kids, shurely?


If people want to worry about something, worry about deforestation, over fishing, over population. These things will 'get us' waaay faster than more CO2.

And what about the ozone hole? Heard of that recently? Nope. Wasn't fixed though.

The Climate Change message is dangerous because it drowns all other environmental and sustainable issues. It's almost like a conspiracy: Look, look, look Climate Change!!!!!! (pssst, keep fishing guys).

Bravo Davo!

The whole climate debate is 100% BS

Human contribution to the current warming period is minuscule, anyone who thinks that we can change the current warming is insane.But dont worry we are actually in a cooling phase on the milankovitch cycle.

CO2 is only at 420 ppm at the moment, to put that into perspective the planet was at around 7000 ppm during the cambrian explosion when life on earth first flourished and on the other end of the scale plants need 150ppm to survive.

But lets suppose that our emissions are as bad as the indoctrination machine is saying, 80 percent of the energy used results in carbon emissions, the only real alternative at present is nuclear! even our clean green electricity in NZ is topped up by burning coal!

So is the ACC going to make a difference? No! Its just all show no go!

Yes, we are in the cooling phase of a Milankovitch cycle and yet global mean temperature keeps increasing. There is a reason for that, it's called greenhouse gas emissions.

Ha I love this argument. CO2 is only 420ppm and in the past it was 7000ppm. Hmm I wonder what the global temp was when it was 7000ppm and whether the environment was conducive to human life. Hmm I wonder if 420ppm might be out of balance compared to the levels stored in the soil and biomass? Hmm I wonder if it is only at 420ppm because the ocean has had to absorb more than it can realistically process thereby putting all life forms at risk. Hmm I wonder if small scale climate changes, ie converting forests into paddocks, diverting water flows etc adds up to large scale climate changes not correlated with Nature's natural cycles. Human contribution to environmental issues is not miniscule.

I agree that the global warming/climate change label is a scam and has been hijacked by your esteemed leaders to line their own pockets. Much simpler to keep the masses divided and hating upon each other, let them pull the wool over their own eyes.

It's a really good point. I like to watch global slogans. 'Extinction Rebellion' and 'Climate Crisis' have committed 'the 99%' to the dustbin;

The Davos crowd can rest easy.

Thank god COSTCO are opening in NZ.
Everything u need for a climate change emergency but cheaper.

ngakonui gold - I love your sense of humour !

Most of the comments seem to utterly miss the point. what does this mean? It should mean that the Auckland Council should be reviewing it's strategic plan to include rolling back development from threatened land and infrastructure. Moving all this development to areas not threatened. From an insurance perspective, many properties will become uninsurable, but it will be hard to see the insurance companies not profiting off this by rorting the public. Regulation should also be put in place to ensure those living on land that is not threatened by sea level rise do not get their insurance premiums loaded for it. Spreading risk across a population is a practice that should stop.

Significant storms will mean sea level surges, plus higher rain falls and winds, so sea level rise is not the only threat. Flooding of low lying land will also be a risk, as will hillside stability so the issue is not a small one.

I want to declare a political state of emergency:
Groupthink personified.

The whole thing is a joke.. a farce.
Governments bring in new CO2 targets before the old ones expire.. Why? because rather than slow or decreases the emissions just keep going up..
Its an interesting exercise to go back 30yrs or so and just note the changes in targets.
Governments put the onus on industry. 'morality' Industry by its legal nature doesnt have a morality.. its morality is working within legal constraints.. the law makers.
Catch 22.
Governments simply look good get votes and do nothing.
Banks and Insurance have been recognising this issue for many yrs now.. ask government intervention.
They realised that mortgages require insurance.. new buildings require loans, yet governments still build on sand and flood plains.
The banks and insurance realised if dont play ball the whole building industry will collapse if refuse approval..
Since governments havnt played the game, they banks and insurance companies , as they have been warning many times in the last decades, taken the lead for their own survival..
Start insuring risk stop insuring a sure thing event.. a little by little so the banks then dont end up having over valued mortgagees to cause massive collapse.. Banks and the whole country..

And Government again still back give their heart a rub and declare a climate emergency..
Great vote getter coming up to elections right?

What a bloody joke
Im now of the opinion, history will be very likely to prove me right, we have already passed the point of no return..i.e any emission reductions are now to late to make any change.. nature is taking ts natural coarse.
Our last home 30yrs ago was built just over on nthrly side of a ridge (wind shelter), solid geo and run off, 6km in from harbour/ water. had a spring, and 32m about sea level in the middle of urban Auckland.
Our current, again country urban, very similar.
No sympathy for no basic due diligence, as it has now been some 40/50 yrs since the 'global warming' started to hit headlines back then.
What makes this "Emergency " significant?
An "Emergency" is always declared after the hurricane, flood, earth quake, what ever...and this is the only thing that makes this rub the heart declaration relievent.

Bet you very few (if anyone) here know that CFCs are continuing to be produced and let into the atmosphere:

That article blames China, but doesn't mention who the others are. Probably because it will be some of the 'good' countries like the US itself. Not only the 'bad' countries like China.

Presumably U2 will cancel their concerts with an emergency in place.

Sea level rising around NZ at 1-2mm/year, same as it has since 1900's. Big hairy deal. Every degree of warming is the equivalent of moving north about 1-140km. Does moving from Auckland to Kaitaia (=~+2°C) sound like an emergency or an attractive proposition? Just snouts-at-trough 2nd-rate local body politicians aping big-money scare profiteers from overseas in a publicity stunt to justify junkets and taxes.

As much as I don't like Auckland, it is much preferable to Kaitaia, which is only barely better than Kaikohe both of which battle for the title of NZ's most violent Town.