Urgent action needed to cash in on benefits of low-emissions lifestyle in Canterbury
Waiting for the Government to put the building blocks in place that will propel regions to make the necessary changes to set them up for success in the global fight against climate change will simply see Canterbury losing out on the valuable opportunities that exist right now.
This was the message of Dr Rod Carr, chairperson of the Climate Change Commission, at a Sustainability Showcase hosted by the Christchurch City Council on Friday.
Speaking at the event held on the University of Canterbury campus, Carr said it was easy to think of climate change as being about someone else, somewhere else and in some other time.
“But imagine what you would answer your child or grandchild if in 30 years they asked you: What did you know [about the climate crisis]When did you know it? What did you do? And the really challenging one, how did you let it get like this?”
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Looking at the global impact of climate change was certainly alarming and there was countless scientific evidence of the magnitude of the problem.
“This calendar year alone, there have been 29 climate-related disasters that have cost more than US$1 billion each,” said Carr.
“If we don’t fix the combustion of fossil fuels in the open air very quickly, we are going to live in a very different world very soon.”
But just because it was a global problem that needed global action, didn’t mean there wasn’t extraordinary opportunities for Canterbury to do good for itself, while also doing good for New Zealand and the world, he said.
Carr pointed out that Canterbury enjoyed about 2000 hours of sun a year, while solar technology was rapidly heading to a point where energy could be generated at one US cent per kilowatt. Wind in the region offered even more renewable energy opportunity.
“The infrastructure commission has estimated that between wind and solar, geothermal and hydro, New Zealand has the potential to generate three times the renewable energy that we are going to need this century. There is no lack of opportunity and Canterbury has its share of that opportunity.”
Carr said the key was to understand the barriers and enablers to facilitate the faster roll-out of renewable energy – and to do so immediately. “Because the rest of the world is going to catch on quickly, and the skills and technologies that we are going to need here are going to be in global short supply. Yes, it might be cheaper later, but you might not have a place in the queue. So get on with it.”
Making the region’s transport as green as possible was completely within its control, he said.
“We need to be open to experimentation, we need to own the behaviour change in our families, in our communities. We need to create safe cycleways to every secondary school in the region,” he said.
“The co-benefits of health from getting mobile – on your feet, on your bike, walking to the bus – should be built into everybody’s lifestyle. But we need to create a built environment where that is attractive and convenient.”
Speaking about agriculture’s impact on climate change, Carr said “blame them and shame them” was not a constructive way of engaging with farming communities. Constructive conversations needed to be held about the opportunities that Canterbury landowners hold to contribute to the decarbonisation of the region.
“Agriculture in New Zealand does substantially contribute to the foreign exchange we earn today, but to lock ourselves into a configuration of land use in this region, let alone in this country, is to ignore the reality of how the world will produce and consume protein by the middle of this century. The unsustainable will not be sustained.”
Yes, New Zealand’s emissions alone are not going to make a difference to the changing climate, he said. “But that is not an excuse for not seizing the benefits of a low-emissions lifestyle and reducing our vulnerability for high-emissions livelihoods.”
‘No need to panic’ about Christchurch urban forest
Speaking about urban forests, associate professor Justin Morgenroth from the UC School of forestry said it was a common misconception that urban forests were simply areas of remnant bush within a city.
While that was certainly part of it, urban forests also consisted of trees and parks, linear planted trees along streets, green corridors within cities, and smaller vegetation such as trees in pots and vertical green walls.
Morgenroth detailed the myriad of benefits of urban forests, including improving air quality, carbon sequestration, improving water quality, supporting biodiversity, and mitigating the urban heat island effect. It also improved physical and mental outcomes for the people living in the city.
It was thus a no-brainer that Christchurch should work to improve its tree coverage which has dwindled in recent years. The latest figures show 13.5% of the Garden City is covered by tree canopy, about 2% lower than in 2015-16, when it was 15.6%.
Christchurch City Council’s head of parks Andrew Rutledge said while there was no doubt the city needed to work towards protecting and improving the city’s leafy status, there was no need “to hit the panic button”.
“We don’t need to panic about our urban forest. It is really important that we take our time, we do it sensibly, we do it smartly and it lasts.”
He said he was wary of goals that used “catchphrases”, such as that Christchurch needed to become a “national park city” or “biophilic city” or “green city”.
“I would argue that is exactly the wrong thing to do, because I would expect a lot of the public would think, ‘we’re OK, we’re a national park city’, when in fact we’re a long way away from that, depending on what your view of a national park is. I think we should focus less on slapping a label on ourselves to probably make ourselves feel better, and actually focus on what we are actually going to do.”
Rutledge said one of the council’s goals was to retain existing tree canopy cover, particularly in a time when the city was under pressure to fill up available space with housing. It was important to care for and maintain trees to extend their life, consider greater protection measures for trees of importance, and increase the number of protected trees.
In addition, tree species needed to be chosen that are suited to our expected future climate, and space needed to be made for these trees. He said it was crucial that trees be considered part of the critical infrastructure in developing a sustainable city.
CHRIS SKELTON AND KAI SCHWOERER
Stuff journalist Charlie Gates, Press editor Kamala Hayman, and her father John Hayman race each other from Rangiora to Christchurch using different modes of transport to see which is fastest. So who wins? (Video first published in July 2022)
Providing ‘good choices’ for transport
Professor Simon Kingham from the UC School of Earth & Environment and chief science advisor for the Ministry of Transport presented a talk on changing travel in Ōtautahi, alongside Christchurch City Council head of transport Lynette Ellis.
Kingham said transport and road infrastructure not only impacted climate change, but also affected road safety, people’s physical and mental health, and road user behaviour.
Research has shown if you make it easier for people to travel longer distances and do it faster, they will travel further, said Kingham. “Congestion discourages some people from travelling. It either encourages them to travel by a different mode or at a different time – so you are suppressing latent demand.”
In contrast, relieving congestion – by opening up a new road for example – induces demand. “You don’t just move traffic around. You actually change the demand for travel.”
It was important to give people choices, said Kingham. “If we provide good choices, people will choose to walk, cycle and use public transport. For many people in Christchurch, that is not an option.”
Ellis said the council’s draft transport plan set the strategic direction for transport in Christchurch over the next 30 years. The plan identified three key challenges, namely the greenhouse gas emissions generated by land transport, road safety, and the relationship between transport planning and land use and growth.
It outlines a range of policies and actions to achieve an accessible low carbon city, and safe and liveable streets.
The council was working to achieve these goals through various measures, said Ellis, including reducing emissions by prioritising sustainable and active forms of transport, the implementation of low traffic zones and low speed neighbourhoods, and improving the public transport network, cycle network and walking network .