Wellington Scoop

An emergency with no urgency

Attentive readers will remember that last month the Wellington City Council was all a-fluster over the speed of climate heating and the pace of environmental degradation, and declared a climate emergency. The council’s 2019/20 annual plan is now out, so we thought it would be useful to see if its actions are going to match up to the hyperbole.

All but one councillor (Nicola Young) voted for the climate emergency declaration, so there’s a pretty strong consensus around the council table that action is needed. The big question is, does a plan for doing something about the accelerating rate of climate change actually exist, or is the whole emergency declaration merely political grandstanding and some good old-fashioned greenwashing?

This is an important question, because climate change is undoubtedly going to be a hot-button issue for the local body elections, which are just around the corner. Every candidate worth their salt will be hand-waving about the need to take action to reduce our emissions, which is a good thing – and in some cases, incumbent councillors have been banging this drum for years. It’s pretty much a given that most candidates will be taking the talk.

So it’s useful to look at how much has been achieved by the incumbents – how successful they’ve been at actually walking the walk. After all, we’ve had a left-leaning and green-supporting council for close on a decade, so it’s reasonable to expect that Wellingtonians can look forward to well-thought-out plans swinging into action now that the declaration has been made.

The mechanism the WCC uses for telling us what they’re going to do is their annual plan, which (obviously) they produce each year. It’s full of the projects and initiatives for the year ahead, and it contains the budgets for how and where the money will be spent. In light of the climate emergency, what are the urgent actions they’ll be undertaking to drastically decrease our emissions?

After a diligent search of the document, here’s the sum total of the council’s response to the climate emergency:

Zero Carbon Capital Plan: In May 2019 we consulted on Te Atakura – First to Zero, our blueprint toward a Zero Carbon Capital. Community feedback was incorporated into the final document which explores possible actions, changes to advocate for, and ways we can support individuals to change. For example, initiatives in the plan include exploring dynamic shuttles to move people around places where there is not adequate public transport. Any new initiatives will be considered through the next long-term plan.

We continue to actively pursue opportunities to reduce carbon emissions across the city through direct investment in sustainable transport, such as building cycleways, supporting electric vehicle charging, and increasing car-sharing opportunities. Through our District Plan, we are also looking at minimum parking requirements and how we can support the city to grow in a compact and walkable way.

And, um, that’s it.

To translate this into English, there are no new initiatives planned for the next two years – any actual response is being punted into the future and will eventually be incorporated into the next 10-year long term plan in 2021. Tangible action will only start sometime after that date.

It’s almost as if the WCC expects the rapidly-heating climate to simply wait around for the slow grind of its local government processes. The trouble is, the glaciers are now moving faster than the WCC.

For the next two years, it’s going to be all talk and no action under the current administration. There will be reports and consultations and meetings, but little else – or perhaps the WCC response to rising sea levels is intended to be a seawall of consultation documents stretching across the front of Frank Kitts Park. To offer a comparison, had Hitler invaded Poland on the WCC’s watch, then their sole response would probably have been to issue a discussion document.

Bluntly, we should expect more. If the rapidly-heating climate is a genuine emergency, then actual urgency is expected. And the WCC has certainly had the time and the political environment to develop the contingency plans for what should happen – the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016, and the Rio Declaration on climate change was signed way back in 1992. Surely 27 years is enough time to develop a plan or two, even for the WCC. We had a Green mayor for two terms, and Green councillors before and after. Yet nothing appears to have been done, by them or anyone else.

As far as anyone can tell, there is no WCC climate emergency plan – so it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the declaration of a climate emergency is pure, unadulterated greenwash.

So when the incumbent councillors standing in this year’s election start trying to tell us how much they’ve done for the climate, we should all take a hard look at the WCC annual plan, then treat their statements with all the derision they deserve. And vote accordingly.


  1. David Mackenzie, 31. July 2019, 10:11

    The council and mayor are feckless. But whom shall we elect to replace these clowns?

  2. mike mckee, 31. July 2019, 10:29

    Justin is a good JSW, good on talking points, but delivery?
    If it really was an emergency, why no immediate call for no airflights for councillors and staff, but use Zoom or somesuch instead. There are many things they can do but haven’t, as it’s all bullshit marketing mode. If it really was urgent, the actions would match the words.

  3. michael, 31. July 2019, 11:04

    Apart from their vanity projects, it has been all talk and no action under the current administration regarding Wellington’s serious issues, hence the mess we are now in.

  4. Benny, 31. July 2019, 11:54

    @David: this is a real problem. I can’t trust any of the candidates to step up to the level that’s needed to deal with this emergency. I wonder: if one votes for nobody (so vote without choosing any candidate), is it accounted as a blank vote, or a no vote? What happens if the number of blank votes exceeds the combined numbers for the other candidates? Can we do a vote of no-confidence?

  5. michael, 31. July 2019, 17:03

    Benny I am not sure, but I would think a blank ballot paper would be counted as a spoilt vote. Maybe someone else knows? I note in the UK 2015 General Election the total of ‘rejected’ or ‘spoilt’ votes was almost 100k and many people took to social media to say they had written things like “Democracy is dead”
    I guess we could write “no confidence in council” across the ballot paper if we didn’t want to vote for anyone, but that would be counted as a spoilt vote. If there were enough spoilt votes maybe it would send a message, but with this lot I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  6. Ian, 2. August 2019, 7:47

    To avoid the spoilt vote syndrome, we would need a “real person” to change their name by deed-poll to something like “Democracy Is Dead” or “No Confidence in Council” and then register as a candidate.

    “Micky Mouse” would be a shoe-in, but “Clark Kent” would probably be lost in the meaningless superhero quagmire, but I would seriously consider voting for someone called “Light Rail Now”.

  7. Conor, 2. August 2019, 17:03

    That’s basically my position Ian https://www.conorhill.org.nz/poicies/light-rail

  8. Concerned Wellingtonian, 13. August 2019, 14:51

    Good ideas here about voting. Thanks to Benny, michael, Ian and others.
    The answer about voting on the Mayoralty is quite easy. You must put numbers against all the candidates except the incumbent. You can start with the candidate you want and then put the others in some order that pleases you. But you must leave at least one blank. Thanks to Wellington.Scoop for bringing PCGM’S column to my attention.

  9. Stephen Todd, 13. August 2019, 15:37

    Not quite right, Concerned. If there are, say, eight candidates for the mayoralty and you want to make sure that your vote does not transfer to a particular candidate, e.g., candidate A, then voters can either number the other candidates 1 to 7, *or*, number all the candidates 1 to 8, placing the 8 beside candidate A.

    The effect is the same, because the count stops at the completion of the iteration at which the winner is found. Therefore, if, at the final iteration, there are two candidates remaining in the count, candidate F (who is, say, your fifth preference) and candidate A (who is your eighth preference), and F wins, your vote will have transferred to F, to help elect him or her. It is not then possible for your vote to transfer to your eighth preference, candidate A, because the count has already concluded – the winner has been found.

  10. Anon, 13. August 2019, 16:41

    I don’t vote either Mathew. The candidates always all sound like they went into the same think tank and came out with the same old empty promises, slogans, same agenda as the old syndicate’s candidates. Its a sad state of affairs, this voting nonsense. We can’t even see the real emergencies (our democracy at the bottom of the cliff).

  11. Mike Mellor, 13. August 2019, 17:29

    Re spoilt votes, the procedure at parliamentary elections (and I presume at local ones) is that if the voter’s intentions are clear from the ballot paper the vote is counted as indicated; if the intentions are not clear – whether being blank or for some other reason – the ballot paper is treated as informal (i.e. “spoilt”).

    The number of informal ballot papers is included in the election result but has no effect on the outcome of the election.

  12. Stephen Todd, 13. August 2019, 21:57

    Under regulation 91(1) of the Local Electoral Regulations 2001, pertaining to the Single Transferable Voting electoral system, a—

    “blank voting document” means a voting document, in the case of an election, on which there is no evidence that the voter has attempted to indicate his or her intention to vote for 1 or more candidates on the voting document with respect to that election—

    [and an]

    “informal voting document” means a voting document that—

    (a) the electoral officer has reasonable cause to believe was not issued to an elector by the electoral officer or other electoral official; or

    (b) is not a blank voting document and does not clearly indicate the voter’s unique first preference[.]