26 Jul 2019

Whangārei District Council declares climate change emergency

12:34 pm on 26 July 2019

Whangārei District Council is the latest local body to formally sound the alarm over greenhouse gas emissions, by declaring a climate change emergency.

An artist's impression of the proposed Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei.

An artist's impression of the proposed Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangārei. Photo: SUPPLIED

It's been warned that without urgent action, Whangārei coastal communities will be under water in the decades to come, and rising sea levels could also threaten the city's $26 million Hundertwasser centre.

The council chambers were packed yesterday with members of the public, and more people waiting outside, in support of a move to declare that climate change is a threat to the Whangārei community, its biodiversity, its economy - and the life-supporting capacity of the planet.

Most Whangārei councillors spoke in support of declaring a climate emergency, with the vote being carried seven to two.

Whangārei local Sam Wu opened the public forum at yesterday's council meeting with a plea on behalf of mothers and children.

"I'm just an ordinary mum asking for a safe and secure future for my babies, and I'm here to speak for all the mums and all the babies. Please don't stand in the way for our chance for survival, don't delay any longer. You must take responsibility now."

Environmentalist Chris Bone runs a charity that helps communities dealing with climate change in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

He urged councillors to face up to advice from Ministry for the Environment advice that Northland should prepare for sea level rises of up to 1.7m in the next 100 years.

If that happens, it would mean much of Waipu, Ngunguru, and parts of Matapouri and Tutukaka will be flooded.

"WDC must take action now, starting with a declaration for a climate change emergency and followed by the next years with urgent and meaningful action. Not to do so now will put a huge financial burden on future generations and I, for one, am not prepared to stand aside and let that happen," Mr Bone said.

"In addition to coastal inundation, large areas of Whangārei CBD will be under water including the $26 million Hundertwasser centre, have a look at the map, this will be under water in 100 years."

Veteran Ruakaka environmental campaigner Margaret Hicks also urged the council to act while there was still time.

She said she first noticed weather and sea patterns were changing 40 years ago.

The problem was that climate change was obvious to anyone in Iceland or Antarctica, where ice shelves were melting, but not so much in Northland, Ms Hicks said.

"We don't see anything very much here, although I think you must've noticed that this winter is much more warmer than normal, you have people walking about in their shorts and t-shirts, you don't normally have that in winter in the so-called winterless north."

On the other hand, farmer Phil Halse said the government - not councils - should be taking the lead on climate change and footing the bill.

Councillor Shelley Deeming also said the community should be asked for its views.

However, councillor Trish Cutforth said polls showed that eight out of 10 New Zealanders were worried about the climate, and councils needed to plan and budget now to minimise the impact.

Whangārei is now one of 13 councils from Auckland to Dunedin who've declared climate change emergencies.

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