It's not the climate, it's the politicians

OPINION: The upcoming local elections will be important for many reasons, but the overwhelming priority is how our region will deal with climate change.

In March this year the President of the UN General Assembly said "Eleven years is all we have ahead of us to change our direction," citing the findings of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. "2019 must be the year of climate action at all levels," she stressed.

The report details how difficult it will be to control climate change if we do not make dramatic cuts in the next decade –a reduction of at least 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Otherwise irreversible changes will occur to some critical ecosystems on which we rely.

We will pass a point of no return for these ecosystems. Slower action will leave it for our descendants to spend trillions of dollars fixing the mess we have made, and result in widespread disasters and millions of unnecessary deaths. The time to fix the climate is now; it will never be cheaper.

Regardless of what happens with the Zero Carbon Bill proposed by central government, it will fall on local governments to both initiate significant mitigation activities (to reduce emissions), and plan adaptation programmes (to deal with the destruction we will not be able to avoid).

We are in a tight spot.  To meet the urgent UN targets to avoid the worst outcomes ordinary folks need government actions to facilitate the changes required. 

From a technical perspective we know what needs to be done. Project Drawdown ( has listed and ranked 80 evidence based technologies and practices that will lead to a safe climate. New technologies may be useful frosting, but we need to realise we already have the cake. 

Many of the proven solutions involve agriculture and forestry, areas in which NZ excels.

We need to make best practices common practices in these areas.

So the challenge is not technical, it's political.  The big question is whether our politicians will put partisanship aside and take the climate challenge seriously and make it easier for all of us to reduce our emissions and prepare for the changes we cannot avoid.

But are our local politicians and candidates taking the climate challenge seriously enough? 

The recent series of articles in the Leader summarising the climate positions of the various mayoral candidates in Tasman District indicates there is no candidate with a strong climate position.

Tim King sees climate change as important, but he is not prepared to declare a climate emergency and take action as though the situation is urgent. Brent Maru feel it is an important issue but does not seem to have a plan to deal with it, and intends to rely on citizen input.  Dean McNamara doesn't seem to think that climate is important enough to deal with as a critical situation, and Maxwell Clark admittedly doesn't know much about the issue, although he has other environmental concerns. 

Some candidates for Tasman and Nelson Councils have taken strong climate positions, and Nelson is fortunate to have a Mayor running for re-election who has acted decisively and declared a climate emergency.  She has also put resources aside to take the next steps.  

How our local councils deal with climate change will be the most important issue that will affect the lives and well-being of all current and future residents of the Tasman and Nelson regions. 

How much attention we citizens pay to the climate issue, and vote accordingly in the upcoming election, will determine the future of climate safety.

* Jack Santa Barbara is a retired business man and a member of Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman. He lives in Motueka.

 - Stuff


Last updated 05:00, Sep 26 2019