Wellington Scoop

Andy Foster: Climate change policies and action

by Andy Foster
There is no question that our footprint on the Planet is too great. In June, the Council declared a Climate Emergency. At my suggestion we also declared an Ecological Emergency, as far as I am aware the first Council to do that.

The Climate and Ecology are of course linked, but they are also different. In proposing the Ecological Emergency I was very conscious of news that globally there are an estimated one million distinct species at threat of extinction, almost entirely as a result of the actions of one species – us.

MftE recently published the ‘Environment Aotearoa 2019’ report which paints a similarly bleak New Zealand picture. 90% of seabirds, 80% of all birds, 76% of freshwater fish, 84% of lizards and 46% of vascular plants are at risk or threatened with extinction. Almost 4,000 New Zealand species are at risk of extinction.

My Climate Change Response Policy

Urban Form Supporting Sustainability
Compact, mixed use urban form – The most important transport initiative is actually designing towns and cities so people can easily walk to work, education, services and public transport. More than anyone else I have been the consistent leader of Wellington’s compact mixed use urban form approach. There is no question it has worked. If there is a frustration it is around some of the quality of development. I intend our upcoming District Plan review to address that.

My Policies
• Review our planning rules over the next three years. We need to provide for more housing and non-residential capacity. In doing that we will continue our compact mixed use urban form approach. Within that I will empower communities to develop their own plans and determine what they value and want to protect as we grow.
• Actively work with other Councils in the Region to encourage lower carbon land use patterns regionally.

More Sustainable Transport
Under my transport leadership, Wellington City has easily New Zealand’s highest levels of combined walking, cycling and public transport use.

Until the early 1990s public transport use was in continuous decline. I helped turn that around. Walking, cycling and public transport use has grown every year since 1992 as a proportion of journeys. (ie grown mode share) In 2001 in Wellington City there were 65 people walking, cycling or using public transport to get to work or education for every 100 people using the car. Today it is 100 per 100. At last available information, in the rest of the Region it is 25 to 100 while Auckland and Christchurch are under 20 to 100.

Wellington Regional public transport journeys have grown 60%, against population growth of 20% since 1992. Since 2000 Wellington City annual cordon counts show cycling numbers have tripled. I also wrote the paper proposing introducing car share. We are doing a lot right. Now it is time to take another step forward.

My Policies
• Complete the City bus priority network. I’ve led delivery of almost every existing bus priority lane and traffic light in the city so far and battled to get the bus priority network completed. It is worth looking at who voted against my earlier proposals for bus priority investment.
• Support the newly elected GWRC to fix their bus system. We cannot do their job for them, but we can work with them, advocate and make suggestions. I am now working with GWRC on resurrecting the Airport Flyer and on trialing frequent shuttle services around hill suburbs to connect with local railway stations where Park and Ride is always full.
• Safer speeds in the Central City, Suburban Centres and around Schools – also allows e scooters more safely on the road.
• More walkable, bikeable city – for example raised platforms for improved safety and accessibility, safer speeds, dedicated space for walking and biking/scootering.
• Traffic reduced in the Central City and reduced emissions from idling traffic (far less efficient than moving traffic) by early completion of Mt Victoria tunnel and Basin Reserve solution. Mt Vic tunnel to provide for quality walking and cycling as well as vehicles
• Advocate for cordon pricing and long stay parking levies – Council needs legislation to allow this. Both encourage behavioural change and would take cost off rates. You can largely choose when and how to travel. You cannot choose to avoid direct or indirect rates.
• Support for electric vehicles and e bikes – I am exploring the potential of Council acting as a bulk buying agent for EVs and E Bikes to reduce their cost to pre-paid up purchasers.
• Continue to expand car share including into major apartment complexes as a way of reducing the need to own your own car. I continue to encourage more affordable car share vehicle choices. (Audis are expensive !)

What We Consume
You’ll hear people say 58% of our emissions come from transport. That is because emissions are measured at point of production, not point of consumption. Because Wellington City essentially imports almost all the food and manufactured products we consume, the emissions created in their production are attributed to the place they are produced. That makes us look artificially better than we are. Of course the Planet doesn’t care how we measure ! What and how much we consume is what’s important.

Transport accounts for 25% of the average household’s emissions. 51% comes from food and some from other sources including manufacturing. So what we eat and the products we consume are important. At a personal level we can choose what we consume. Could we make it easier to change to a lower carbon lifestyle ? Personally I would be interested in more advice around good nutrition and great recipes. Could we promote lower carbon lifestyles, build community strength, and make it fun? I reckon ! There is a huge amount of knowledge in our communities that can be unleashed.

My Policies
• Explore opportunities to encourage lower carbon lifestyles, including supporting education opportunities.

I will release an article on our incredible environmental restoration journey and my Environmental Restoration Policies shortly. I have played a leading role in that restoration journey. From a Climate Perspective:

My High Level Policies
• Continue supporting community and direct Council revegetation work on reserve land
• Support landowners to protect significant vegetation on their own land
• Complete the City reserve network – Outer Green Belt, Town Belt recovery, and Miramar’s Watts Peninsula, which all also have carbon sink potential.

We have excellent information now about risks from sea level rise to property. In building we need to consider issues like the intended lifespan of a building and its design (floor levels), especially in long lived buildings.

My Policies:
• As part of Planning for Growth and District Plan Review, direct new building to areas safe from inundation by sea level rise. (Shelly Bay is an example where the majority of Council ignored our pleas to insulate future ratepayers from this liability)
• Work closely with and empower communities to develop responses to protect, adapt or retreat from rising seas, as we have been doing with the Makara Beach community over the last 18 months.

Waste and Carbon Offsets
We dump an estimated 3.2 tonnes of waste per person every year. I will release more detailed Waste Policies shortly.

Key policies from a Climate perspective :
• Reduce waste to landfill by processing sewage sludge to significantly reduce its volume. That is essential to allow us to reduce the amount of waste needed in the landfill to mix with the sludge. (we must have 4 times as much other material like rubbish as sewage sludge so if sludge can be reduced in volume and dewatered then we can cut waste to landfill)
• Continue waste to energy generation and investigate whether we can expand this. Our partnership with Nova Gas provides power for 1000 households and captures 4 million cubic metres of landfill gases a year.
• Provide education and support for home composting where possible
• Work with Government and LGNZ to encourage establishing New Zealand based reprocessing industries to create a circular economy. Seaview’s Flight Plastics is a great example of being able to continuously reprocess #1 plastics into food trays and other packaging.
• Work with Government and LGNZ to require producer stewardship for more products including containers.

Landfill Emissions Offset
The landfill represents a massive 80% of Council’s direct carbon emissions. We currently have to buy $1.9 million a year of carbon credits to offset those emissions. That sum is rising and will rise further as the cap on carbon prices is removed.

My policy
• I am pursuing the opportunity to invest directly in forest regeneration as our offset. My plan is to do this in partnership with other local authorities, and Government agencies including the One Billion Trees programme. We can also get financial support from the OBT programme, allowing us to get even greater carbon benefits and/or at reduced cost. Taking a New Zealand Inc approach will also create ecological habitat and regional jobs. In time I hope we will be able to do this internationally. I would love our Zoo to be part of direct habitat protection for endangered species while off-setting their emissions.

Measuring Our Progress

My policy
• We will continue to engage in leading science on climate change.
• We will monitor and report on our collective progress on becoming carbon neutral
• I will create (not personally!) an artwork(s) displaying our ongoing environmental performance across a range of key indicators. By way of example, several years ago I saw a series of obelisk artworks on Stockholm’s waterfront which displayed a range of environmental indicators, showing citizens how they collectively are doing. I want an artwork on our waterfront showing key environmental indicators – emissions, waste, water quality, travel behaviour, resource use, biodiversity. It will be an easy, attractive, accessible reminder and motivator of our progress in becoming more sustainable.

Cr Andy Foster is a candidate for the Wellington mayoralty.


  1. Ms Green, 18. September 2019, 23:07

    Andy you clearly live in Karori where a clearway might be helpful. You laud your efforts to promote bus priority but it will make little difference in Lambton Quay because of bus bunching-at peak times – too many buses.

  2. Brendan, 19. September 2019, 7:40

    What about Priority #1 of reducing population growth? Stopping Wellington having anymore people would stop all the other problems you are going on about.

  3. Harry Welsford, 19. September 2019, 8:47

    Who wants a mayor who has an obsessional focus on “first to zero”?
    Suggesting $2million is lost in one area alone on buying “carbon credits” is an outrage. It doesn’t change the climate it just creates a carbon industry and enriches wealthy speculators and green hedge funds. It’s a sure fire rates riser.

  4. Dave B, 19. September 2019, 15:30

    @ Andy: “Of that 80% of Council’s direct carbon emissions” coming from the landfill, how much of that is from fossil-fuel-derived products breaking-down, and how much is from bio-waste decomposing? I would imagine the vast majority is from the latter because fossil-fuel derived products (oils, paints, plastics etc) don’t break down quickly at all.
    Since bio-waste (food-scraps, green-waste, paper, wood, cardboard etc) come from the eco-system in the first place, the carbon they emit is ultimately being returned to where it came from (albeit as Methane, which breaks down to CO2 over approx. 10 years).
    Surely only carbon emitted by fossil-fuel derived products counts as ‘new carbon’ added to the eco-system.

  5. Henry Filth, 19. September 2019, 15:31

    Out of idle curiosity, would it be possible to design and operate a landfill to function as a gas production platform?

    What would have to go into it, what would have to stay out of it, what would be the timeframe. . .

  6. Dave B, 19. September 2019, 22:10

    @ Henry Filth. Yes, this is done at the Wellington Landfill by Nova Energy https://www.novaenergy.co.nz/about-us/generation

  7. Henry Filth, 20. September 2019, 13:29

    I was rather thinking of designing the landfill as a gas source for generation from scratch, rather than a retro-fit.And operating it so that its main function is to maximize gas production, rather than simply accept trash.

  8. PCGM, 21. September 2019, 19:21

    Andy – while your policies are laudable, the obvious question is why they are only coming to the fore now. After all, the Rio Declaration on Climate Change was signed way back in 1992, yet it appears that there are no plans ready to swing into action, despite the declaration of a climate emergency. And given you’re one of the longest-serving councillors, surely you share responsibility for more than 25 years of inaction from WCC on what is possibly the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. Why would we think you’re going to step up now, when it’s apparent you and your colleagues have spent so long asleep at the wheel?

  9. James Fallow, 22. September 2019, 5:48

    PCGM: Probably there was “inaction” because man does not control the constant climate change and so cannot do anything to change it.
    And though recycling is good it has nothing to do with climate change.

  10. Graeme sawyer, 2. October 2019, 1:49

    Andy, you have been in WCC and not done anything about many of the issues you trumpet in your ‘policy’. I’m feeling a credibility deficit, here!
    It’s beyond belief that your signage at the bottom of the Ngauranga gorge trumpets “stuck in traffic – I’ll fix that”” when there has been only One person in charge of transport for WCC for the last 20 years (excluding this last term) – you. So why have you not “fixed it” already??
    As for “Residential Intensification”. The elephant in the room here is that Andy has been talking about “citywide” residential intensification for over a decade – but that too has not happened. Andy has implemented MDRA in poorer Northern Suburbs (where all the greenfields growth is already rampant, and the local councillors are stupid enough to accept it)… thereby exceeding the social and other infrastructure of those areas). Meanwhile, he has strategically avoided having “rich, leafy” suburbs like Karori and Khandallah (which are in his ward!) share the MDRA burden.
    Andy talks big, but it’s hard not to interpret his actions as parochial, elitist, and unfair. Otherwise, Newlands, J/ville and Khandallah would be enjoying the MDRA zoning that Andy (and other elitist councilors) have cleverly avoided sharing equally about the city.
    Go ahead Andy! Announce that you will declare Karori & Khandallah MDRA zones, and that you will eliminate their “character value” if elected, so the rich-pricks in leafy suburbs can ‘do their bit” to provide the 21000 new homes you say we need!
    Landfill Emissions? You must be the only living councillor who voted to stop composting sewerage sludge 20 years ago. In the 20 years since, you have done nothing to fix the DIABOLICAL & SHAMEFUL disposal of that sludge to landfill that creates much of those landfill emissions.
    Andy, I want to believe – but I have all this logic and common sense that prevents me!

  11. Michael Gibson, 2. October 2019, 10:33

    I would like to comment on the criticism of Andy Foster about the buses.
    The real problem has been Justin Lester who is meant to front up for Wellingtonians especially when he is hauled up in front of a Select Committee to explain the effect of the bus problem on the rest of us.
    I have been present on two occasions in the last year when he has appeared in front of the Select Committee and, on both occasions, he has been more anxious to explain the disaster from GW’s point-of-view than from the point-of-view of the people he should have been representing. No wonder that the efforts of mere councillors have been frustrated.

  12. Andy Foster, 2. October 2019, 13:10

    Hi Graeme – I am glad that you want to believe – because usually you are pretty critical of almost anything and everything Council, so regardless of your ever robust way of putting things, I welcome that mellowing of thinking!

    Cities are living, dynamic things, constantly changing, and in our case significantly growing. We had 157,000 people at the 1991 census, today it is around 216,000, and is projected to rise by 50,000 – 80,000 over the next 30 years. Clearly the challenges of 20 years ago are different from today’s and will also be different from tomorrow’s. Some people would say you need to build the infrastructure for tomorrow yesterday, but that is neither affordable, nor necessarily going to be the right thing to do. Have a look at the ideas of the 1960s – I recall a highway of some sort heading right round Ohariu – Makara and ultimately across the harbour mouth to Pencarrow ! All that said a future focused approach is absolutely essential.

    You raise three issues – transport, urban planning, and waste.

    Transport – in my time on Council we have had a consistent aim of providing transport choice while increasing the proportion of trips on public transport, by foot or by bike. When I started, we quite abruptly turned around the decades long decline in PT use, and every year since then the proportion of trips as measured (journey to work and education) has risen. Regional PT use has grown 60%, while population is up 20%. Cycling numbers have increased 300% since 2001 according to our annual cordon counts. We have now reached the position where for every person commuting to work or education in a car (drivers and passengers) there is a person going by PT, on foot or on bike. In 2001 car users outnumbered non car users by 3 to 2, so that is no small shift. By way of comparison in the rest of the region car users outnumber other mode users 4 to 1 while in Auckland and Christchurch it is 6 or 7 to 1.

    How have we done this? Urban planning is a big area, bus priority (I can claim responsibility for all those bus lanes), making the City more walkable (wider footpaths, crossings, safer speeds etc), dramatic increase in cycling investment (in 2008 we invested $65,000 a year – by the end of last triennium it was $11.6 million – 2/3rds from Government)

    We’ve also invested in roading – obviously Karo Drive, the undergrounding at Arras tunnel, the additional northbound lane between Aotea and Ngauranga. Locally for you Graeme we invested about $12 million in Johnsonville roading, there was Westchester Drive (another $8 million from memory) and further back remember the Newlands overbridge replacing traffic lights ? I just might have helped resolve the appeal against that.

    Now to the Basin/Mt Vic – after very quickly reviewing alternatives, we did support the Basin bridge/flyover. I had hopes for the Architecture Centre’s Option X and it did model well in transport terms, but was deemed worse than the flyover in urban design terms. I said two things – several times – to NZTA neither of which they heeded. Firstly when applying for the flyover include the tunnel, all other local roading and amenity work and BRT as a package. The first reason the Board of Inquiry rejected the bridge/flyover was that they specifically said they could not / would not take into account any of the other projects because they weren’t part of the application / weren’t consented. The flyover then stood – and fell – on its own.
    The other plea was with respect to the Arras tunnel – it was please make it four lanes – you know just in case – but they didn’t. Government inflicted time pressure probably didn’t help them.

    Looking ahead – the modified Option X looks good, though it does seem to largely deny some traffic movements, which means they will go elsewhere. I think we need to get on with the Basin and Mt Vic and that they cannot wait for at least a decade. Idling traffic is particularly inefficient in time and emissions. From a carbon and traffic induction perspective I will be interested to see the modelling. My expectation is that our concerns about emissions should be directed more to regional urban development and to roads and pricing in the wider region. That is another – very large – discussion.

    Urban Planning – I disagree. 80% of our new dwellings over the last decade or more have been ‘brownfields’ ie intensification, no more so than in the CBD. Deliberate policy decisions – no carparking requirements and removing restrictive zonings has been instrumental in allowing the residential boom in the Central City. For example if we had – as so many places do – required CBD parking (1 per unit) then most of the conversions and indeed many of the new builds, would not have been economic. Recent example – our own Te Mara in Mount Cook – the original proposal was to have something District Plan compliant. Being in a residential area it would have required 1 park per dwelling – the plan was originally about 52 dwellings. I said that given the proximity to the CBD we should get consent not to have so many carparks – result 104 units (more homes) and I think 14 carparks. So we have clearly been intensifying in the CBD. Suburban intensification is slower. You know yourself having appealed against it. Council’s strategy recently agreed in ‘Planning for Growth’ includes densification in all suburban centre areas as well as the CBD. That was the option most supported by respondents to Planning for Growth. I suspect we will need more than MDRA density. This is however just a continuation and a refinement of the long term policy direction and is at the heart of our having the lowest carbon emissions and the highest PT etc mode shares in the country.

    Going forward we will have to work really carefully through resilience issues (eg CBD, Kilbirnie and Miramar), infrastructure cost and capacity issues (pretty well everywhere – but the costs of expansion will vary widely), character issues etc. The Spatial Plan is due to be consulted on early next year, so please get involved.

    Waste – I think you are referring to the discontinuation of turning sewage sludge and green waste into compost. There ended up being some issues with that, the biggest of which was that the market didn’t want enough of the product – because of the sludge component, which meant continuing the Living Earth JV beyond its 10 year term was not possible. We are looking at other technological options to reduce sludge volume and the amount of water in it. As you will note I am also looking at afforestation as a way of offsetting landfill emissions, while also achieving biodiversity and regional employment gains.

    Kind regards, Andy

  13. Dave B, 2. October 2019, 23:52

    @ Andy: “We’ve” invested in roading? Surely Karo Drive, the Arras Tunnel, the extra lane between Aotea and Ngauranga, and the Newlands Interchange were all funded by NZTA/Transit New Zealand. More like “they’ve” invested in roading. Are you trying to claim credit for all this?

  14. Morris Oxford, 3. October 2019, 8:43

    The population figures of 157,000 in 1991 and 216,000 in 2019 are very interesting.
    Was 157,000 being used when the new bus schedule was introduced? If not, what?

  15. Mike Mellor, 3. October 2019, 14:11

    Andy, you say “idling traffic is particularly inefficient in time and emissions”, which is true. But in fact “adding more capacity might reduce idling a bit, but it will actually induce more driving, which will lead to higher, not lower carbon emissions” (source: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2017/07/06/urban-myth-busting-congestion-idling-and-carbon-emissions/), so the cure of adding more road capacity is likely to be worse than the disease.

    And “Option X looks good, though it does seem to largely deny some traffic movements, which means they will go elsewhere” is a simplistic non sequitur. Just as facilitating traffic tends to increase it, limiting provision tends to reduce it. The amount of traffic is not fixed: some may “go elsewhere”, but other reactions include people changing how (or even if) they travel.

    As LGWM recognises, we need more people in fewer vehicles. “I think we need to get on with the Basin and Mt Vic and that they cannot wait for at least a decade” is unfortunately continuation of the thinking that had got us into the current mess – unless, of course, public transport and active modes are prioritised and take up the growth.

    Those of us with long memories will recall that the Ngauranga to Airport plan (LGWM’s predecessor) included grade separation at the Basin to improve public transport, walking and cycling. This was changed by NZTA, aided and abetted by WCC and GWRC, to being about improvements for private cars while making things worse for public transport. That complete distortion needs to be reversed.