Newsroom’s survey of hundreds of candidates for council and mayor around the country shows the majority want to speed up emissions reductions, Marc Daalder reports
Local body candidates are broadly supportive of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Newsroom contacted more than 1500 candidates for council and mayor in this year’s local elections with a range of questions on climate policy, Three Waters, infrastructure, finance and more. Of the 600 who responded, 59 percent said they would vote in favour of more intervention to reduce emissions in their districts. Another 19 percent backed the status quo.
“We all have a responsibility to reduce climate emissions. The debate has been had and won by the climate,” Grey District council candidate Kate Kennedy said.
Kāpiti Coast mayoral hopeful Murray Lobb said local government should lead by example.
“There is much to be done by council to reduce emissions and much to be done on mitigating the effects of climate change.”
There were some respondents who opposed further action – about 11 percent said emissions-cutting programmes should be rolled back.
Kerry Neal, running for mayor in Nelson, said councils didn’t need to act on climate until the “hypocritical” central government decarbonised its own schools, hospitals and other buildings heated by fossil fuels.
In Whanganui, council candidate Dave Hill said New Zealand’s emissions made up so little of the global profile that “it does not matter what we do. Any cuts or reductions will not make an iota of difference worldwide”.
These comments were mostly outliers in the responses to Newsroom’s survey, however. Other candidates spoke about the impacts climate change was already having on rural communities or the difficult necessity of building electric vehicle-charging infrastructure in remote areas.
Perhaps for this latter reason, electric vehicles were not generally seen as a priority for council investment. When asked to select any number of priority transport modes, public transport won out with 66 percent support. Others that received a majority of respondents’ approval were walking, cycling and roads.
Ferries, which are only relevant in a handful of areas, saw the least support at 11 percent. Micro-mobility options like e-scooters were backed by 23 percent of candidates and EVs by just under a third. Rail, also not a ubiquitous option, was supported by 36 percent of respondents.
Current Timaru councillor Barbara Gilchrist, seeking reelection, said she supported investment in active transport infrastructure but that State Highway 1 also needed more funding for maintenance.
Just a bit north, in Selwyn, council candidate Samantha Samuel said the region’s existing rail infrastructure could be made more accessible to the public.
“Railway lines run from the city through many rural towns like Kirwee, Darfield, Sheffield and Springfield. It would also be desirable to work with ECan on creating affordable, efficient train services on the existing network. This would reduce traffic volumes and air pollution and provide commuters with a choice,” she said.
On housing density, another issue with climate implications, two in five respondents favoured greater intensification. Just 8 percent wanted less intensification, while satellite development and the status quo were each backed by 14 percent.
In comments to Newsroom, candidates repeatedly stressed the importance of aligning intensification with transport corridors – especially cycleways and public transport.
“I support inner city intensification, urban living and apartments which are close to amenities and recreation so people can reduce and or avoid using a vehicle,” 24-year-old Timaru council candidate Troy Titheridge said. “Walkable and accessible suburbs with cycleways, with amenities all close by is my vision. Many suburbs at present rely on a vehicle to go to the shops which for some is a long drive with traffic congestion and more cars on the road.”
Newsroom also asked candidates to answer questions about how they would vote on adapting to the impacts of climate change. As Nikki Mandow reports, a majority backed either maintaining (40 percent) or accelerating (21 percent) the pace of managed retreat of homes and businesses from areas vulnerable to climate impacts.
Just 11 percent wanted to slow down the limited existing programmes for coastal retreat.
“Managed retreat is one option of many,” Dunedin City Council candidate Chriss Hamilton said. “We need to first be informed by experts, complete a cost/benefit analysis of the options and make a decision that solves the problem but limits the negative impact on ratepayers.”
On the opposite end of the country, Far North councillor and mayoral hopeful John Vujcich said managed retreat should be conducted systematically, based on sea level trigger heights, but that stop banks should be deployed “where practicable”.
The other adaptation policy polled by Newsroom was the Government’s plan to put climate hazard information on property LIMs. When asked if they would vote in favour of this, 65 percent said they would. Just 11 percent said they opposed the proposal, with another 11 percent saying now wasn’t the right time.
Those who raised concerns about the idea were mostly worried about the quality of the information that might be put on LIMs.