Students call for Dunedin climate emergency

University of Otago students Trevor Waikawa (left) and Max Harvey call for a climate emergency declaration while addressing councillors at yesterday's Dunedin City Council economic development committee meeting. Photo: Gregor Richardson
University of Otago students Trevor Waikawa (left) and Max Harvey call for a climate emergency declaration while addressing councillors at yesterday's Dunedin City Council economic development committee meeting. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Dunedin could soon join cities around the globe in declaring a climate emergency, and may also accelerate its push to become carbon-neutral.

Both initiatives were signalled after two University of Otago students, Max Harvey and Trevor Waikawa, yesterday urged Dunedin city councillors to take action sooner in the race to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The pair were speaking during a public forum at the start of the Dunedin City Council's economic development committee meeting.

Mr Harvey told councillors that, as the amount of carbon in the atmosphere passed 415 parts per million, both civilisation and the natural world were in peril.

There was now more carbon in the atmosphere than at any time in human history, and a recent United Nations report had warned as many as one million species were at risk of extinction - 4000 of them in New Zealand.

Such was the ecological damage delivered to the planet in recent years, scientists had now concluded a sixth mass extinction was already under way.

Mr Harvey said time was running out and small steps were no longer enough.

''We need to be sprinting,'' he told councillors.

He urged them to declare a climate change and ecological emergency, as other cities in New Zealand and overseas had done.

Earlier this month, Environment Canterbury and Nelson City Council both declared climate emergencies, and Christchurch City Council has since signalled it is likely to do the same.

They would be following in the footsteps of more than 500 cities and councils around the globe, including cities such as London and Vancouver, which have already make declarations.

But Mr Harvey said more action was also needed at a local level in Dunedin, starting with a fresh report examining the state of the city's environment.

The city should also focus on finding ways to discourage or ban single-use plastics, and investing in solar energy generation and tree planting, he suggested.

The students' ideas were challenged by Cr Lee Vandervis, who said he supported them but could not see how they would influence climate change.

Responding to a question from Cr Christine Garey, Mr Harvey stressed the urgency for councillors to act.

''Why are you in politics? Do you understand what science is?''

Councillors needed to take urgent steps over the next 10 years, as previous targets - like Dunedin's bid to be carbon-neutral by 2050 - might be too late, Mr Harvey said.

At the end of the meeting, Cr Aaron Hawkins asked with ''some urgency'' for a report outlining progress against the council's environment strategy, and on whether the council should declare a climate emergency.

Cr Jim O'Malley asked for the reports to consider shifting Dunedin's carbon-neutral goal from 2050 to 2035.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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