Response to WCC's Climate Emergency Declaration
Kia ora koutou, Inside Wellington recently called out all Councillors and Candidates for this year’s Local Body Elections to respond to ten questions around Wellington City Council’s recent Declaration of a Climate Emergency. Below are my answers, informed by the opinions and concerns I have heard from members of the communities within Pukehīnau / Lambton Ward, as well as my own values of kaitiakitanga.
You own a third of the airport, which is one of the largest polluters in the city both in terms of air travel and the sheer amount of traffic that heads to and from it, do you support the airport extension? Many of you have dodged going on the record with this yes or no question and it’s time to get off the fence because people have been constantly asking where you stand.
I’m not sure where to start on this one because there are so many red flags as to why this extension is a terrible idea. Let’s start with the two most important aspects; people and planet.
Simply put, the people immediately affected by this extension don’t want it. Guardians of the Bay, amongst others, have demonstrated that those in and around Moa Point do not want the extension. Their opinions matter considering Infatril will only front 17% of the bill, with ratepayers footing the rest of the bill. If more than 600 people have said they don’t want it, then that is more than enough reason to bin the proposal. Moreover, more planes coming in and out of Wellington each day means heightened carbon emissions. If we want to be ‘First to Zero’ and declare a climate emergency, then these are the kinds of hard decisions we are going to have to make.
Writing this response from Cape Town, South Africa as we speak, having travelled the world and interacting frequently with International Students of Victoria University of Wellington (who are explicitly mentioned as a benefactor of the extension) - I can assure you that a domestic flight from Wellington to Auckland is a small price to pay in comparison to the irreversible impacts on our environment that this extension requires. Let’s not, also, get into the infrastructure from the airport into the inner city (which I hope to represent) which is also inadequate in supplementing increased traffic into Wellington.
My third of the airport would be sold in favour of better public transport within the Wellington region. Why push forth with international transport when our own homegrown transport is not serving it’s purpose.
The bus debacle has no doubt increased emissions in the city by (literally) driving people back into their cars. What are you going to do to get us our bus service back and people back onto public transport?
Ahh yes, the issue which will (hopefully) see disgruntled voters turning out in the hundreds of thousands. Public Transport. As the Capital City, it is imperative that Wellingtonians are clear on how and when they will be able to get their kids to school, get to work on time and get home after a long day. Let’s Get Wellington moving sounds great in principle, but there are no clear time commitments on this so your everyday student or professional has no clear indication of when or if their bus will actually show up. Not to mention, the city will grow by 50,000-80,000 before this project is even close to completion.
Let’s Get Wellington Moving is mostly focussed on cars. We need to be talking about cycleways, incentivise walking and cohesive mass transport if we want to hit those crucial First to Zero indicators.
My solution for Lambton Ward? Advocating for a light rail system which connects the Railway Station to the airport, hospital and everywhere, and anywhere within the City, with our buses connecting to areas like Brooklyn, Kelburn, and Mount Victoria. Considering that a functioning light rail system would cost anywhere from $1b to $1.5b when LGWM is a $6.4b, a light rail system is not only feasible, but essential if we want to make sure people can affordably get from Point A to Point B whilst protecting our environment from needless congestion. Not only does this prioritise the environment, but it makes sure that those who need to get to work can seamlessly do so.
There is growing awareness of the pollution that the rapid increase in tourism is causing, a notable example is the dozens of cruise ships that are arriving in more numbers each year, how will you offset those impacts?
Fun fact - the carbon emissions of one cruise ship is equivalent to 200,000 extra cars, each day. I went to the launch of Impact Travel Wellington recently, who highlighted the same concerns. I suppose the emissions from a cruise ship are the same as any ship, regardless of the cargo it brings to our shores. We know that many of these tourists coming off of these cruise ships will be spending their money around the Golden Mile where global conglomerates like David Jones, Max and Country Road are based, as opposed to Cuba Street where a larger number of local businesses are based. If the tourists coming off of these cruise ships are not feeding into the local economy, then I think we need to conduct a cost-benefit analysis into opening our harbour.
My understanding is that this is an issue for GWRC as it falls under WREDA’s portfolio, more than WCC’s. Whoever’s problem it is, regulation of cruise ships entering Te Whanganui ā Tara (the Great Harbour of Tara) will be, no doubt, difficult considering Wellington’s growing popularity as a cruise destination.
A Just Transition
How will you stop the cost impact of responding to climate change to people who are already struggling to live in a very expensive city? Lower income earners and the elderly in particular.
Having represented 20,000+ of Wellington’s tertiary students - my thinking naturally comes back to how we, and other vulnerable groups, will be affected as some of the cities lower income earners. I think having greater access to decent housing complemented by a robust public transport system is what we have been asking for all along.
Rates will grow and continue to be reflected in the rising cost of rent in order to face the climate crisis face on. The WCC 10-Year Plan has already been determined so it would be very difficult for one Councillor to come in and overturn that. I would hope to see medium-to-high density housing built in suburbs surrounding the CBD so that we could offset some of those rising costs. Having a functional, cohesive public transport system means that more vulnerable communities can consider living further out of the CBD, which is likely to be more affordable, and still work and study within the City.
Do you think that there is enough money being budgeted for the fundamentals such as increasing the resiliency of infrastructure over large ticket projects such as the Convention Centre? Would you change that priority, and how?
There are plenty of places to have conferences and conventions in Wellington already. Te Papa, Victoria University of Wellington, Rydges, New Zealand Parliament, and Massey University, to name a few. I would prioritise the re-construction of the Wellington City Library, additional housing and green spaces before advocating for the Convention Centres construction. I’m not sure that it’s an either, either conversation though and the fact that it will be a Five Greenstar building is a plus.
What will you do to ensure that the Council itself adopts measures to assist in this emergency, and what would those practically be? I.e. Electric vehicles, less air travel for staff, and other measures.
Public transport and waste management are two big ways to address this crisis head on. I’ve talked about public transport above, but I think waste management is another crucial aspect in curbing our emissions. Community composting centres and improved recycling systems are crucial. A few neighbourhoods in Lambton Ward already do community composting - i.e. Aro Valley and Mt. Victoria, but having more composting hubs in all neighbourhoods across the Ward would curb emissions from food wastage.
There are currently two thousand properties within the Lambton Ward who are “blacklisted” from recycling, one of my main policies is getting these streets, a lot of which are student-dominated streets, recycling again through initiatives in collaboration with the University and the Council. Because Wellington is a University City, we inherit thousands of people from across the country every single year. Many of whom will not be accustomed to local waste and recycling rules. The onus for this should be on City Council and the Universities, and we need to collaboratively work together to curb poor habits and empower young people with the tools to being environmentally-conscious in their daily activities, i.e. recycling.
In terms of resilience, I also think we need to make sure community groups are strengthened to increase community resilience. Many people I have talked to comment that they never knew their neighbours names until the 2016 Wellington Earthquake when they were forced out of their homes and into conversation with those living around them. If we are investing in community infrastructure and engagement, we can make sure that when disaster strikes, the people are able to rely and support one another.
Climate Mitigation Planning is critical as many international cities have identified and acted on. What would the bones of a Climate Mitigation Plan look like for you?
Essentially, a Climate Mitigation Plan would encompass everything I’ve already said with investigation into renewable, sustainable energy and curbing certain consumer behaviour, especially in regards to single-use plastics. We all love the good ol’ Brooklyn Windmill, but we would seriously ascertain what renewable energy options are viable for Wellington. Moreover, we need businesses in Wellington to ditch single-use plastic. Having travelled the world, we are seriously falling behind when it comes to usage of plastic bags, straws, paper towels and so on. We need a plan to support businesses into transitioning away from single-use items that inevitably end up in our landfill for thousands of years. Some will argue that individual waste-management and ditching single-use waste is not ambitious enough to face the climate crisis head on. I would argue that every single action matters, and any way that we can empower each and every Wellingtonian to be environmentally conscious is crucial. Especially in the Capital of Aotearoa where we should be leading by example for the rest of the Nation.
First to Zero
Do you think that a Carbon Zero city is realistic in the timeframes stated, and what three major changes would you make to set us on that path?
I would like to see more urgency. If we look at the IPCC's findings, we have less than twelve years to act. My biggest change would be accelerating this plan as humanly possible, whilst ensuring a Just Transition for our City’s most vulnerable communities. The overwhelming majority of people who submitted on this plan want to see this Plan’s implementation take place sooner than 2050. I do too. The Te Atakura: First to Zero plan is certainly ambitious but I would be making sure that every single decision made by WCC - even those seemingly unrelated to the environment - would be in accordance with the Plan. We also need ‘greater’ buy-in from the Greater Wellington Regional Council if we want this Plan to mean anything. We know that GWRC fronts a lot of environmental related movements within the City and the Region. Without their support, this Plan is a lot of talk, not a lot of walk.
Subsidising environmentally-friendly technology
Would you consider subsidies on technologies that would reduce the cost to homeowners for energy while helping the environment and if yes, what would those be? I.e. Solar Power.
Yes. If we can subsidise membership to a golf course then we can certainly incentivize innovation that leads to a greener Capital. Technology we should look at subsidizing for property owners: solar power and geothermal heating.
My own footprint
Describe personally what you are going to do to respond to this climate emergency. I.e. But an electric vehicle, use more public transport, and the like.
Well, I live in Aro Valley so it’s pretty easy to walk everywhere. I recycle and compost. Most of my clothes are thrifted (except my sneakers, unfortunately), and I hardly eat red meat. I hardly eat meat at all because of the price to be honest. In my capacity as President of the Students’ Association at Vic, we host Sustainability Week (9-13 Sep) and work closely with the University’s Sustainability Office. We support many local environmental organisations as young organisers and activists of Wellington City.