You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
At a meeting today councillors discussed whether to make the declaration, for which it would have followed in the footsteps of Dunedin City and other New Zealand councils.
However, Cr Michael Deaker changed the motion on the table during the discussion.
Its replacement said the council agreed Otago must continue to prepare for climate change and the emergency situations it would present in the region.
It followed that the council would give a high priority to adaptation to climate change, especially in flood and drainage schemes, South Dunedin and to minimizing its carbon emissions.
While some people saw declaring an emergency as the obvious response and next step, he thought the issue was too important for the "symbolic'' motion.
"I'm of the view that the single biggest existential threat to all of us is without question climate change.''
His motion passed eight to three.
This meant Cr Ella Lawton was unable to put forward a more directive motion which included the council creating an "ambitious science work programme" to better understand the impacts of climate change across Otago, advocating for greater central Government leadership and action, and increasing the visibility of the council's climate change work.
"Congratulations, we can do nothing, awesome,'' she said when Cr Deaker's motion passed.
A staff report said a decision to declare a climate emergency was unlikely to affect its work programme.
However, many councillors were still concerned about the wording.
Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said he had a problem with the word "emergency'' in relation to the climate.
Instead of the declaration the council could commit in the future to looking at its emissions from services it managed including public transport, and from its organisation more generally.
Cr Gretchen Robertson said she acknowledged climate change was an extremely important issue, but declaring an emergency did not hold the organisation to account.
There was quite a lot of investment already from the council in adapting the region to climate change.
If people wanted to influence its work they should submit on its annual plans, she said.
Cr Bryan Scott said he thought it was appropriate to keep the wording of a climate change emergency.
Dunedin environmental campaigner and 350 Otepoti spokesman Jack Brazil said it was ironic the council did not want to use the term climate crisis out of a fear of tokenism.
"They changed their motion to tokenistically do nothing and pat themselves on the back''.