Just when Auckland thought it had gone hard and early on climate action, a global grouping resets the bar. Tim Murphy reports

Auckland Council is likely to up its action on climate change after a global coalition of cities raised the bar for ongoing responses to the environmental emergency.

To remain a member of the C40 group of 97 cities around the world, Auckland must agree to improve its commitments by adding at least one new policy, show evidence it will meet its 2030 goals to reduce emissions and, by next year, begin work on out-performing C40 targets in at least three areas.

C40, which includes cities like Los Angeles, New York, Guangzhou, Melbourne and Seoul and claims to represent centres accounting for 25 percent of global GDP, set the new standards from January 1. Auckland Council’s environment committee meets today to consider its response, and has been told it would not meet the new ‘leadership standards’ unless it adopts new actions. If it cannot commit to the extra initiatives, Auckland would fall out of the C40 grouping after five years’ membership.

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Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has made much of the city’s involvement with C40 and the council’s staff are recommending councillors sign up for the new criteria to continue membership.

The city has adopted a climate plan, Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri which aims to cut emissions in half by 2030, has declared a climate emergency – and is planning investments on climate issues as part of its 2021-31 long term plan.

Continued membership of the C40 group would maintain access to research and technical assistance, including help developing the city’s climate plan and provides a forum for Goff and the city to demonstrate Auckland’s “leadership on a national and global stage” officials have told councillors.

“We’ve done the easy bit, to set up a plan…. It would be hugely worrying or embarrassing if we did not want to sign up to these goals.”
– Richard Hills

If the committee agrees to the extra commitments, councillors have three years to find one new climate policy.

Environment committee chairman Richard Hills told Newsroom it was too early to say what that might be. “In three and a half years time we would absolutely have new ideas.

“We’ve done the easy bit, to set up a plan…. It would be hugely worrying or embarrassing if we did not want to sign up to these goals.”

Analysis provided to the committee says meeting the C40 standard of halving emissions by 2030, which is in Auckland’s plan is” not plausible without bold, ambitious action from a range of stakeholders.”  

The city can only do so much, and needs central government and industry support. Hills says: “We can’t affect industry as much as government can and we cannot do the rapid uptake of EVs [electric vehicles] as they can.”

C40’s programme board has already reviewed Auckland’s climate plan, declaring it “compliant with exception”, meaning that while C40 considered the plan to be compliant with a 1.5°C pathway, it wanted more specific adaptation goals and to see a “robust” plan to implement them by October 2021.

In return, Auckland had provided C40 with case study information on divesting from fossil fuels and moving towards zero emissions.

C40’s new participation standards will make it mandatory for Auckland Council to put its climate action plan at the forefront of “all relevant city decision-making processes or governance structures”  and to target two sectors in the city for special attention on emissions reduction.

Work is underway to “integrate climate considerations within procurement, business case and broader political and organisational decision making”, officials have told the committee.

Auckland will also be obliged to try to persuade five non-C40 cities to commit to a climate plan which would help meet the Paris Agreement target of restrict emissions to 1.5 percent growth globally.

One new focus will have to be on “consumption emissions”  that come from goods and services like food, clothes, transport and utilities. “The focus on consumption emissions recognises that urban consumption is a key driver of global emissions… but cities can have a significant impact beyond their geographic borders by influencing global supply chains,” the council report says.

However it acknowledges that is a big ask for a city, needing “broad stakeholder engagement as consumption emissions are generally not in the direct control of a city administration, rather influenced by consumer behaviour and industrial production processes and activities.”

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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