School Strike 4 Climate NZ organisers Sophie Handford and Raven Maeder delivered a clear message to over 600 local government mayors, chairs, chief executives and councillors at the recent LGNZ conference: make climate change a priority.
“If you could boil it down to one thing, what we’re calling for is bold and visionary leadership from everyone in this room,” said Maeder.
Although the experienced youth organisers may have expected a frosty reception, the response was far from it. Councils are on the front line in the battle against climate change, leading on both mitigation and adaptation measures. LGNZ established the mitigation focused ‘Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration’ in 2015 and a number of councils have called climate change emergencies to increase central government’s focus on establishing a national adaptation framework.
“Local government needs to put mitigation and adaptation at the centre of all planning, development and council operations,” stated Handford.
“We demand that local government put in place comprehensive adaptation plans to safeguard their communities against the effects of climate change. We need to begin building community and ecosystem resilience now.”
While climate change is typically considered a generational issue, the high rate of mayors and chairs both signing up to the declaration and calling climate emergencies is evidence of a strong appetite among councils to front foot climate change issues, particularly around adaptation.
“It’s only fair that young people are hacked off about the lack of leadership around climate change when they see the piecemeal response to the single biggest threat to our existence,” said LGNZ president Dave Cull.
“Right now we’re responding to droughts, floods and fires as they arise. What we need is a coordinated response to ensure that the impact of these events is minimised in future, and that activities we undertake and enable don’t make the problem of climate change worse in the future.”
“Sophie and Raven’s message really put our work in perspective – there’s not many issues that are bigger and to address climate change we need a cohesive, national approach to how we deal with climate change’s effects.”
“The challenge for councils is that we can only respond with the scope of the law as it exists now, which largely without climate change in mind. We need central government to do its part, and urgently, because right now we’re responding to climate change with one hand tied behind our back.”
LGNZ are continuing to advocate for a joined-up national approach to climate change, as highlighted in the ‘Vulnerable…’ report on sea level rise, which revealed $14 billion in local government infrastructure is at risk from sea level rise.
“I want to see bold and visionary leadership, and we’re already seeing that across the country,” continued Maeder at the LGNZ Conference.
“I’ve been really inspired by what some local leaders have been doing - mayors that are standing up to fossil fuel companies and putting the needs of their community, both present and future, first.”
“I just hope that we continue to see that and that together we can really ensure that we have an Aotearoa that is liveable for future generations.”
Video of the ‘Climate change – a stitch in time’ presentation can be viewed here on lgnz.co.nz.