Canterbury is taking action on climate change

Environment Canterbury became the first Council in New Zealand to make a climate emergency declaration a year ago this Saturday (16 May). That declaration formally put climate change at the heart of all the Council does.

Environment Canterbury Chair, Jenny Hughey, says the whole range of work we do – from freshwater management to biodiversity and biosecurity, transport and urban development to air quality and regional leadership – has a climate change focus.

"A climate change integration programme was included in the 2018-28 Long-Term Plan, ensuring climate change is actively considered across workstreams, increasing visibility of the science and what we know about the impact of climate change on Canterbury, and liaising on the issue with iwi and regional partners, other local authorities and central government.

"We've already seen the impacts of our changing climate and there are many agencies who are urgently considering what this means for our region. The Mayoral Forum – myself and the 10 Mayors of Canterbury – has oversight of a Canterbury Climate Change Working Group (CCCWG) which brings together all 10 territorial authorities, Environment Canterbury and Ngāi Tahu as a region-wide partnership dedicated to the region's response to climate change," said Hughey.

The region needs to prepare

"Much is already known about what we can expect thanks to modelling by NIWA and other scientists. Changes to air temperatures, soil, and weather patterns will ultimately mean changes to land use.  Productive and protected land runs the risk of the arrival and spread of new, exotic weeds and pests from warmer climates. Biodiversity will be threatened too," said Hughey.

"The region will need to be prepared to consider different production crops, and find environmentally suitable fuel alternatives, such as electricity and hydrogen, for example.

"Extreme weather events will be more frequent and flood protection, fire response and coastal retreat need to be factored into how communities adapt to the changing climate."

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Currently, Regional Councils are required only to set rules for adaptation, not mitigation of climate change, but that could change.

"The Council is mindful of additional responsibilities that could arise from the ongoing review of the Resource Management Act, and we welcome those," said Hughey.

"Even in 'adapt mode' many of Environment Canterbury's existing policies and plans already contribute to reduced emissions

"At an organisational level we've also led by example, making significant progress in addressing our own greenhouse-gas emissions. Our Tuam Street building in Christchurch received a market-leading NABERSNZ energy efficiency rating of 5.0 out of 6 in the year to February 2020.

"The building's 184 solar panels could generate more than 55,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, and there has been a 26% reduction in emissions since 30 June 2010. Electric and hybrid vehicles increasingly feature in our vehicle fleet with half of passenger vehicles due to be hybrid or long-range electric by 2022. Carbon emissions from air travel across the organisation continue to be offset via our own biodiversity programmes," said Hughey.

Urgency, action and collaboration

"Across the region we are collectively focused on climate change. Since the declaration a year ago, that focus has become more visible and more urgent," said Hughey.

"This organisation and our partners know the risks and we are taking action. We thank those members of the community who came to the regional council a year ago and asked for the declaration to be made, sharpening our focus and driving the urgency.”

Actions being taken include:

  • Environment Canterbury is one of many agencies urgently considering what climate change means for our region.  The Mayoral Forum has oversight of a Canterbury Climate Change Working Group (CCCWG) which brings together all 10 territorial authorities, Environment Canterbury and Ngāi Tahu as a region-wide partnership dedicated to the region’s response to climate change.
  • Environment Canterbury is committed to ensuring our communities have an improved understanding of, and resilience to, natural hazard risk, including climate change. This includes ongoing monitoring and research, and factoring the changing climate into hazard assessments, policy, planning rules and decision-making.
  • Canterbury continues to adapt to the effects of climate change through building high quality flood protection schemes. The Waimakariri Flood Protection Project completed in September 2019, protects over $8 billion in assets and significantly lowers the risk of break-out during major flood events. We also monitor and respond to extreme flooding events across the region.
  • Environment Canterbury's bus contract procurement process was completed in February. The new contracts will reduce public transport CO2 emissions by 14% within their first year with the introduction of 25 new electric buses and 39 new low emission Euro 6 buses. We are advancing innovative transport solutions, such as the on-demand public transport in Timaru.