Council taken to court over lack of action on climate change

3:15 pm on 3 July 2019

The government supports declaring a climate change emergency in Parliament but redtape got in the way of doing so, the prime minister says.

Prime MInister Jacinda Ardern at Parliament 21 May 2019.

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick tried to pass a motion in the House in May but it was blocked by National and Jacinda Ardern says process and procedure also got in the way.

Ms Ardern said Labour did vote in favour of the motion and she couldn't see any reason why MPs wouldn't want climate change to be recognised as a matter of urgency.

"We're not opposed to the idea of declaring [a climate change] emergency in Parliament, because certainly I'd like to think our policies and our approach demonstrates that we do see it as an emergency."

The climate change declaration has been signed by 90 percent of the country's mayors and council chairs around New Zealand, and it calls for the government to be ambitious with its climate change mitigation measures.

However, Thames-Coromandel Council voted six to three against the declaration in April, much to the dismay of locals who were at the meeting to lobby the council to take action and sign up.

The council is now being taken to court over its decision in April not to sign the declaration.

Local environmental group, Hauraki Coromandel Climate Action, has applied to the High Court for a judicial review and an order that the council's decision be quashed.

Its chairperson, Denis Tegg, said the council acted unlawfully, ignored the Local Government Act, its own policies, science, and was out of step with its community.

"The whole issue is extreme and the council needs to front up and be accountable for the decisions it makes. When you look at the process it went through it's pretty appalling. Basically they ignored the science, we've known for decades now that climate change is a serious issue and they didn't even go there," Mr Tegg said.

Thames Coromandel Mayor Sandra Goudie

Sandra Goudie. Photo: supplied

He said the only material the council considered before making its decision was a report from Mayor Sandra Goudie which "failed to understand or did not accept the scientific consensus on the predicted impacts of human-caused climate change".

Mrs Goudie has been vocal in opposing the declaration, and told RNZ she was not surprised there had been more action from the climate action group. She declined to comment further.

Mr Tegg said climate change was already a major problem in Coromandel, with a storm early last year flooding homes and businesses on the Thames coast, and costing millions in repairs.

"The council's own figures say that up to half a billion dollars of their own infrastructure is at risk due to sea level rise. Then we've had other impacts like wildfires, we've had drought ... all of these issues are starting to pile up already."

He said the group would be setting up an online fundraising campaign to help fund the legal action.

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