In August last year, the Wellington City Council declared a climate emergency, and released a blueprint outlining intentions and objectives to make the city carbon neutral by 2050. With a 30 year horizon, it was hard to get past the irony of the program name “Te Atakura, First to Zero.” Hopefully, by then, Wellington will not be first to zero, as many cities will have reached that goal much earlier. But it was a start, and intentions were clearly laid out.

There was therefore a lot of anticipation about the implementation plan, meant to articulate how we planned to achieve these targets. But despite the climate emergency, there hasn’t yet been much sign of urgency.

It wasn’t till one year later (on August 6 2020), that the implementation plan was released, without any media announcement. So it was mostly unnoticed, which might have been intentional – the document is 55 pages long and its lack of ambition is shocking when considering what’s at stake. It’s empty of real actions that could change the course of Wellington’s greenhouse gas emissions and ensure the city does its part to mitigate climate change.

What should we have been able to expect from the implementation plan? There should be binding, bold and clearly aligned actions for the council to deliver, with requirements and delivery strongly linked. According to this document, most of the emissions are coming from transport, so this is where the strongest actions should have been found. Alas, the plan is full of “advocating” with plenty of “investigating opportunities”. In other words, the strategy relies on “best efforts” and “best intentions”.

On page 12, it states:

“… Transportation: At 53% of the city’s emissions, we need a rapid reduction in fossil fuel vehicles in favour of public transport, electric vehicles, shared mobility, cycling, walking and remote working. Aviation and marine account for almost 20% of this sector, but have limited immediately available solutions; therefore a move away fossil fuel road vehicles will need to be the biggest challenge of this decade.”

The airport’s emissions, which amount to 20% of Wellington transport emissions (25% of ALL emissions according to other reports) are left unaddressed. For the remaining 80%, the only substantial actions are more cycleways, and rapid transit which as we sadly know won’t see daylight for at least another 10 years and are far from under the Council’s control.

The implementation plan sees great opportunities in switching to electric vehicles which will be achieved by:

“… advocating to central Government for regulatory and policy changes for EVs and renewable electricity generation”

To say this is underwhelming is a euphemism: the Council is not committing to do anything but watch and advocate, debate and identify opportunities. Yet, countless cities have already set a firm timeframe to ban fossil-fuel from CBD streets in 2030, some by 2025.

This implementation plan was the perfect opportunity for Wellington to issue a similar statement, as suggested by Councillor Tamatha Paul:

“… Auckland City have committed to being fossil-fuel free CBD streets by 2030. I want us to declare the same thing.”

The implementation plan was the precise moment to declare exactly that, followed by a by-law to make it certain. Additionally, since EVs are the answer to less emissions, the council could have committed to make the new tunnel dedicated to EVs only, should the tunnel come before rapid transit. This is a missed opportunity.

Thankfully, the plan outlines one very sensible measure on page 18:

“Incentivising city-wide remote working – has the potential to reduce city-wide emissions …”

Yet this has been contradicted by some councillors who have called for the exact opposite after the lockdown, to “save the CBD” (suburban businesses, you’re on your own!) The Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency is even spending $75,000 to attract people back into the CBD. As does the mayor, who is calling for people to come back into the CBD:

“GREAT to be down to Covid Level One. Now let’s have all our people back in town – our business community and their employees need us all doing that! …”

Of course, the elephants in the room are the big contributors to the GHG emissions: aviation and marine activities. Here, while 92% of the public says emissions must be reduced “no matter what” (page 15), the Council decides … to do nothing, despite the 92 per cent, and despite the very real threat of climate change. This is behaviour commonly known as “procrastination’ that has led to the climate debacle we are in, a crisis so severe that experts estimate its economic cost will be 5 to 6 times the cost of COVID-19.

As suggested several times, the only way forward, if Wellington is serious about reducing its GHG, is to put a sinking cap on emissions from these big polluters. While not stopping people from flying, it would force the industry to adapt to the pollution it is responsible for. The Council should create a framework to contain the emission of its two biggest polluters, located in the middle of the city.

This is a timely reminder that, while the city has been trying to bring down its emissions, the airport’s have gone up by a staggering 45% since 2001, and will increase even more if the expansion plan goes ahead. In a time of climate emergency, the Council could commit to not issuing resource consents for the Airport’s expansion. Upon arrival of clean planes , the growth could resume, with strict conditions that emissions don’t increase.

Even with its core operations (“The Council itself”, page 36), the Council fails to set ambitious actions. It starts with a 2030 goal to convert its transport fleet to electric (page 39):

“Alongside identifying opportunities to reduce the size of the Council’s vehicle fleet, a December 2030 timeframe has been proposed to replace all Council owned fossil fuel driven cars, SUVs, vans and utes with zero emission electric replacements. Electrifying the fleet has the potential to reduce our corporate transport carbon emissions …”

While this is laudable (but note the “identifying opportunities” part), why did it stop there. There should be a change to the procurement process for subcontractors, setting up a minimum share of electrified tools, trucks and machinery to be eligible to work for the Council. A gradual increase over the years (20% minimum by 2025, 40% by 2027, etc) would give a firm indication to the industry it is time to undertake the transition, beyond the narrow perimeter of the Council owned fleet.

Finally, the implementation plan is not supported by reliable numbers. It starts, on page 12, by confusing the efforts that will be required, by which decade:

“… Council has committed to ensuring Wellington is a net zero emission city by 2050, with a commitment to making the most significant cuts (43% [from 2001]) in the next 10 years.”

The problem is that a couple of lines below, a table shows that Wellington has already reduced emissions by 10% in 2020 from 2001. With a reduction target of 43% by 2030 from 2001, the reduction between 2020 and 2030 is of 33 points. In the same table, the reduction target between 2040 and 2050 is of 32 points (from 68% to 100%). So, in this plan, the reduction efforts will be steep (33 points) between now and 2030, then relax a little (25 points), then steep again (32 points)! These numbers contradict the story that the commitment will be more significant in the first 10 years – 32 points (or a 43% reduction compared to 2001) is what’s needed to get to zero in 2050.

On page 18, the plan sums up all the 28 actions it has listed and concludes it has the potential to reduce emissions by … 14%! In other words, the implementation plan, with all its advocating, recognizes it will fail:

“This plan includes 28 committed and recommended actions with associated GHG reductions that can be measured. These actions are estimated to result in an 80,043 tCO2e reduction per annum, or a 14% reduction, in city-wide emissions from 2001 levels at 2030”

So the actions are not only unambitious and weak, but also they are insufficient to reach the targets the 2019 blueprint has set out … How can we, as a city, can be satisfied with that?

Overall, the implementation plan is a missed opportunity. It reiterates some lukewarm targets, set a year ago, and does not contain any new meaningful actions to significantly curb emissions in Wellington. It leaves the market to act on its own, and it hopes that Central Government will do the hard work, which makes the City Council a simple observer, with plenty of advocating to do.

Can Councillors and the Mayor say they are truly satisfied with it? Do they think it really lays mechanisms to curb the city’s emissions “no matter what”? Is there something more coming (another document?) which will gives confidence that climate change will not be left to luck in Wellington? Everyone knows that “economic urgency” is not enough to justify lack of action, so why is this plan so pale?

Opposition to the proposed runway extension is growing if attendance at the recent Guardians of the Bays information evening is anything to go by. A diverse range of groups, from business, community, recreational and environmental organisations are asking questions to peel away the public relations spin around the ill-conceived, expensive airport extension proposal.

Groups as diverse as Forest & Bird; various Residents’ Associations; Wellington businesses; Save the Basin; the Surfbreak Protection Society; Hue te Taka Society; OraTaiao: The NZ Climate & Health Council; the Wellington Underwater Club; 350.org and the Green Party, to name a few, were represented at last week’s meeting. It quickly became clear that everyone present was deeply concerned at the spin being put out by the airport company, and the potential cost it will have to ratepayers and taxpayers, and of course to the beautiful Wellington south coast.

The meeting was MCed by Bishop Richard Randerson, who has national standing for his work in faith-based and place-based communities. He made it clear that an airport extension does not make Wellington more progressive, particularly when the ratepayers and taxpayers are being asked to subsidise one of New Zealand’s wealthiest companies.

Dr Sea Rotmann, co-Chair of the Guardians of The Bays, outlined the group’s main areas of opposition in her presentation [gview file=”https://guardiansofthebays341400583.files.wordpress.com/2021/06/b54e9-gotb-info-evening-presentation.pdf”%5D where she blew away a few airport myths like:

  • There will be little impact on marine ecology – but their ‘experts’ didn’t even know that Moa Point was a breeding habitat for the critically-endangered reef heron, nor do they know what the infill material will contain.
  • There will be little impact on recreational activities – but they haven’t really done a great job at collecting the data to support this statement. Council officers have not yet referred the application to the Environment Court because there were so many inconsistencies and information gaps resulting in 46 questions and a further resource consent needed.
  • The extension will result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions – yeah right, especially seeing it is meant to increase long-haul passenger numbers by 16.1 million versus business as usual!
  • The extension will withstand rising sea levels and 8m waves – yet all you need to do is visit Lyall Bay in winter and you’ll see 10m+ waves on a regular basis, not to mention the issues around sea level rise and storm surges affecting all access roads to the airport.
  • Trust the airport and their ‘experts’, they know what they’re doing – this from an organisation that wasn’t even able to collect a full set of data because of the bad weather in Cook Strait, who have little idea what the infill material will be (but it may be contaminated dredge spoil from CentrePort), who wanted to hide construction noise under BAU aircraft activities, who didn’t know they needed a resource consent for stormwater discharge and who have commissioned 4 economic reports claiming bigger and bigger benefits, despite their methodology continually being savaged by an army of independent economists…

Tim Jones, who brings to the group valuable experience from the campaign against a proposed Basin Reserve flyover, ran over a few traffic facts – did you know that if the project goes ahead, 1.5 million m3 of fill will be transported from Horokiwi and Kiwi Point quarries by truck through central Wellington, along SH1 through both tunnels to the airport, often every 2 minutes and all during the night? And that the revised route through Vivian Street, Karo Drive, Wellington Road, Lyall Parade, Onepu Road, Rongotai Road, Evans Bay Parade may actually pose serious safety hazards?

Rob le Petit from the Surfbreak Protection Society reiterated the support of the surfing fraternity who love their surf and whose members include leading experts in planning, oceanography and the environment. Did you know that Lyall Bay is one of the birthplaces of NZ surfing, yet the airport are proving particularly sneaky by trying to make deals with the surfers promising them an untested ‘wave focusing device’ while on the other hand the airport is aggressively attacking the legal obligations that protect the Lyall Bay surf?

Keith Johnson is standing for Mayor because he is sickened by the lack of commitment by the current crop of would-be Mayoral contenders to fairness, accountability, economics and good governance. He is especially appalled by Wellington City Council’s championing of the runway extension. Dr Johnson is a transport economist and told the meeting that the cost-benefit-analysis ratio the airport has conjured up of 1.7 (now 2.3!) is nonsense and should more realistically be less than 1.

What’s more, not only do we not know how much it’s really going to cost, the benefits the airport wizards have created keep going up, up, up – like the length of the extension (or Pinocchio’s nose!) which has grown from 300m to 363m – yet the costs, we’re told, remain the same! We should be afraid, very afraid, about putting our trust into a project of this magnitude which carries so many uncertainties and risks.

Infratil lier plane

Wellington City Councillor and former airport planner David Lee asked who is going to fund this Great Big White Elephant? The Government’s said NO, the other Councils in the region have said MAYBE to the tune of $60m, with Wellington City Council earmarking $90m (in addition to the $3m they already paid up front). As David said – this level of corporate welfare STINKS. The big winner is the airport who is only contributing about $50m! And this still leaves a $100-150 million shortfall which Mayoral candidate Justin Lester is on record as saying that if the government doesn’t step in ratepayers, or investors – whoever they might be – will have to pay.

These are some of the many, many reasons why this airport runway extension is simply madness, and why so many diverse groups will fight it to the end. But the biggest killer of the project, seeing this is the whole reason why the Council is pushing this so much, was delivered by John Beckett, the Executive Director of the Board of Airline Representatives (BARNZ). BARNZ represents all 24 airlines that are flying into New Zealand, including the five that fly into Wellington.

John made it very clear that no long-haul airlines flying to New Zealand support this project, and the reason is simple economics: the aviation sector is extremely competitive with high costs and thin margins. Long-haul aircraft need high load factors in order to operate a route profitably. It is unlikely that any airline in Asia or North America would fly non-stop long haul into Wellington because the market is too small. Their first choice would be Auckland, and then Christchurch, on the grounds of population and proximity to tourism highlights. Wellington comes a distant third. As John pointed out, the route projections and cost-benefit analysis provided by the airport’s economists are overly optimistic, and BARNZ’s economic experts, NZIER, will be on hand to dismantle the airport’s arguments in court. Without additional flights attracted by the extension, it is also likely that airport charges will rise on all other routes into Wellington in order to cover the costs and profits.

To summarise why we need to keep asking questions about the proposed runway extension:

  • There is no proven demand for it and no long-haul airlines will come here and stay the course.
  • The real cost is not known and likely to be much more than the current forecast of $300 million.
  • The benefits are unreal and over-inflated – simply conjured up by the Airport wizards…
  • Only Wellington City Council has made a commitment to fund some of the extension, leaving a huge funding shortfall.
  • Wellington City ratepayers will pay for this folly disproportionately – in terms of inter-generational debt; cost overruns; interest charges; environmental, health and recreational impacts; ensuing traffic chaos; and cost increases for every passenger and anyone using the airport, for example when parking a car.
  • Wellington Airport is in a highly risky location, both in terms of safety and impacts from climate change such as rising sea levels and other environmental catastrophes, which are already endangering access.
  • It will destroy so much of what people most love about Wellington: the Lyall Bay surf, the rugged south coast, the little blue penguin and reef heron nesting habitats, fishing, diving and the collection of kai moana, not to mention the joy it brings to everyone when we get orca visitors
  • Climate change (which threatens our economy, health & well-being) and the global agreement to move towards zero net climate-damaging emissions have been completely ignored in the airport’s cost-benefit ‘analysis’.
  • The cost-benefit analysis, when done properly, shows an actual return of investment of less than 1. That means that this is a financial loser where we are set to gain less than a dollar for every dollar spent!
  • It represents economic incompetence on the part of our politicians whose lazy thinking sees the runway extension as the answer to all our economic woes – when they are the last people we should rely on to ‘pick winners’. Justin Lester even used the Chair of Infratil, the majority shareholder of the airport and a multi-national company, in his election video. And when he got asked about this on his facebook site, he swiftly deleted the questions!
  • It provides a corporate handout to a large, very wealthy company with a billion dollars to spend which it is choosing not to invest in Wellington’s runway extension. Infratil is laughing all the way to the bank because it thinks it is getting away with taking your rates for their airport, which will end up being poured down Cook Strait.
  • This is nothing but the badly thought-out vanity project of some politicians who want to ‘leave their legacy’ by building a Great Big White Elephant on our South Coast.

We have developed a handy submission guide that can be used by every person and group wanting to join us in the Environment Court to fight this environmentally damaging case and colossal waste of ratepayers money.

If you want to join us, please subscribe to the Guardians of the Bays and help us ensure that Wellington does progress – but in the smartest, most sustainable and positive ways, not with out-dated ‘think big’ projects and corporate welfare.

 

To the sound of bugles bicycle bells, the Council Annual plan 2016-2017 arrived yesterday.

Link: Council 2016 – 2017 Annual Plan

Wrapped up with the 2015-2016 proposal is the “Draft Low Carbon Capital Plan,” where we minions get until 29th April to hand in our feedback.

2016 Low Carbon Capital Plan – adoption of a plan to reduce emissions in a constructive and business-friendly way. The plan details how the Council plans to reduce carbon emissions in the city and from Council operations.

Link: 2016 Draft Low Carbon Capital Plan

Open up the Low Carbon plan and you get an angel riding a bicycle. I think it’s an angel, I can’t be sure from that angle. They do appear to have a bell though so that’s nice.

halobike.png

The 2016 Low carbon plan is 46 pages of stuff that has already been said 3 years ago in the 2013 climate change plan.

Anyway….open up page 10 of the 2016 Low Carbon Plan and it says….

Page 10: On the other hand, we have a major international airport within the city limits, so we are credited with the emissions of nearly all of the region’s domestic air travel. This creates multiple complex challenges – with less forestry we aren’t able to offset as much; and with aviation being a substantial contributor to our transport emissions, greenhouse gas reductions will be driven by the availability of international solutions for aviation such as biofuels or gains in aircraft efficiency.

Basically saying throw your hands up in the air because there is nothing you can do about it at a council level. Sounds like the basin reserve.

This is on par with the 2013 Climate Change Plan on pages 38 & 39 where it says ‘major shareholder, nothing we can do, the airlines themselves will sort it yada yada.’

The 2013 Climate Change Plan also shows this chart showing the Wellington City greenhouse gas inventory 2009/2010 with aviation pumping out 199.8 kT CO²-e & 17.5% of total emissions in Wellington.

aviation3.png

The 2013 Climate Change plan does actually say, The Council will work with the airport to assess the climate change impacts of the runway extension and identify mitigation opportunities. So do keep an eye out for what that is amongst the $500 BAZILLION in economic benefits.

In the ‘2016 draft low carbon plan,’ it has 46 pages and it only mentions aviation twice, the rest is token gestures on silly targets. Note they didn’t hit the 2013 target. Whoops.

Page 15:However we failed to meet our 2013 target of a 3% reduction in emissions with the city registering a 1.5% increase for that period.

Cripes, up 1.5%, better get the local industrial people to do some carbon swaps on the exchange then.

Point is, where do these numbers come from? If the local boy racers leave their cars running in the car park, who is standing next to the exhaust collecting CO² particles?

No one. It’s all statistical modelling in excel 2013. Probably.

The table below is the current council website for emission targets for 2013. I cannot work out where they have got these figures from, they do not tally anywhere.

Every other number shown post 2013 has been lifted from the 2014 URS Greenhouse gas inventory report, a report with the councils name on it. “Prepared for Wellington City Council.”

Council website http://wellington.govt.nz/services/environment-and-waste/environment/climate-change/greenhouse-gas-emission-reduction-targets

wcc

Look at Aviation on the council chart, already up to 19% and 244 thousands of tonnes of CO² in only 3 years. Remember the 2009/10 figure was 17.5% and 199.8 thousands of tonnes of CO² ?

Now go to the council commissioned 2014 URS Greenhouse gas inventory report and have a look at this table for Wellington City..

If you squint the only thing that tallies with the council figure is the domestic aviation figure 244 thousand tonnes in 2012/13.

This is ‘APPENDIX B WELLINGTON CITY EMISSIONS OVERVIEW.’

emissionsmobile.png

Can anyone get in touch and tell me where the council got their figures for their chart on their website, because their figures do not tally with the 2014 URS report?

  • For 2012/13, if you add up petrol, diesel, bus diesel, bus elec, rail elec, rail diesel, light fuel, lpg you get 453 thousand tonnes.
    Is that what the council have put down as their 2013 455 thousand figure for land transport?
  • Do the same for 2009/10, add up petrol, diesel, bus diesel, bus elec, rail elec, rail diesel, light fuel, lpg you get 474 thousand tonnes (not including marine diesel at 0.943).
    In the councils chart it shows all transport minus aviation at 397 thousand tonnes…..Who knows what is going on here please?

Anyway, have a look at these from the 2014 URS greenhouse gas report

  1. Aviation emissions rising

emissions.png

2. Aviation has increased 50% from 2001, almost equal to petrol emissions.

Page Summary XV: “Regional emissions from aviation have increased by approximately 50% from 2000/01 levels. For Wellington City, aviation emissions are almost equal to that of petrol emissions.

3. Aviation figures do not include international travel

Page Summary X: Due to data limitations, the study does not assess emissions from international aviation and international shipping.

4. Data based on 2006/07 fuel usage & international travel missing which is another ~25% on top which makes aviation ~305 thousand tonnes of CO².

Page 30: Chart showing aviation, fuel data from 2006/07, no international travel, which we are told expanded 11% this year 2015-2016.

aviation93'.png

5. Self explanatory

Page 73: Reductions in petrol and marine fuel use were offset mostly by an increase in aviation fuel use.

6. No international aviation emissions

Page 84: “Emissions from domestic aviation have increased significantly over the reporting period. The same is expected for international air travel. However, at this stage, emissions from international aviation have not been included, due to lack of data. This may represent a significant source of emissions for the Wellington City GHG Inventory and the Wellington Region as a whole.

7. Airtravel emissions on the up

avi949.png

 

But what does this all mean Adam?

This stuff is only a poke at statistical modelling. Who knows what the real picture is, there is only the one 2014 URS report. Whilst keen on geography, I am not a scientist, can we be sure this is anything like reality? It’s guesswork right?

You are not being shown accurate aviation data in any of the councils papers because there is no international flight emission data. I repeat, NO INTERNATIONAL flight emission data. We know in the last year international flights increased 11% alone.

Aviation is only shown for domestic travel, so all of the council papers above where it says aviation is ‘17.5% or 18% or 19% of total emissions,’ is total bullshit.

If you pull in what URS guesstimate it could be, ~305 thousand tonnes of CO² which puts aviation at 23% of total emissions using the council website figures.

In 2013 nearly a quarter of all CO² emissions in Wellington are flights in and out of the airport.

The next greenhouse gas report is due out next month, let’s see what it includes this time around and what the figures are and what the council puts out.

So whilst everyone is obsessed with the look-at-me-I’m-so-green, I-am-greener-than-you, bicycle PR sideshow, can we have a proper discussion about what the airport emissions actually look like please?