Leading Canterbury's response to the climate emergency

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Environment Canterbury chairwoman Jenny Hughey says responding to climate change is her main priority for her newly elected council.

“I believe we should listen to the science,” she said.

“The scientists are telling us at a planetary level we are in a climate emergency and we need to be taking action to reduce our carbon emissions and change the way the planet is heading. We are at a time in history that we shouldn’t let pass.”

Ms Hughey is part of the first fully democratically elected ECan council since 2007, which will govern until the next local body elections in 2022.

She follows a strict vegan diet which the United Nations said could help fight climate change, and fully supports ECan’s decision in May to declare a climate emergency.

Responding to it would be a priority under her leadership. She attended several climate change protests throughout the city.

“This time we are really interested in focusing on climate change as one of our leading portfolio groups and the portfolio group will look at pushing the whole organisation extending the tree planting efforts, so that will be like a nature-based response, that will be one of the first cabs off the rank,” she says.

Jenny Hughey. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Jenny Hughey. Photo: Geoff Sloan
The Government also aims to plant one billion trees by 2028, which would require doubling the current planting rate.

A study from University ETH Zürich in Switzerland estimated a worldwide programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions produced from human activities from the atmosphere.

British professor Thomas Crowther who led the research said it showed forest restoration was “overwhelmingly the top” climate change solution.

The latest greenhouse gas emission projections show New Zealand making small progress but still falling significantly short of international commitments.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, designed to keep global warming below 2 deg C, New Zealand pledged to bring its carbon emissions to 30 per cent lower than what it was in 2005, by 2030.

But in the Fourth Biennial Report released last month, the Government projected New Zealand to achieve a nine per cent reduction in gross emissions by 2030.

Leading climate scientists also believe the 2 deg C goal is not ambitious enough, thinking 1.5 deg C would be a more suitable target.

Leaked drafts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summary to policy-makers in 2018 highlighted what difference a 0.5 deg C change to the global temperature could make.

It stated that limiting the global temperature to a rise of 1.5 deg C rather than 2 deg C would save 10 million people from losing their homes to rising sea levels, it would lead to a 50 per cent reduction in the global population experiencing water scarcity and also a 50 per cent reduction in species losing half of their geographic range.

A large part of the globe is already feeling the effects of climate change. Climate change is being blamed as partly responsible for last year’s fires in California and the ongoing bushfires in Australia.

Australia is running about 1 deg C above the long-term average. As a consequence, chief executive of the Bushfires and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre Dr Richard Thornton said fire seasons were starting earlier and “the cumulative fire danger” in many areas was growing.

Australian National University climate scientist Dr Imran Ahmed said climate change was a direct link to the bushfires.

“Because what climate change does is exacerbate the conditions in which the bushfires happen,” he said.

In New Zealand, last month went down as the 35th above-average temperatures.

Niwa forecaster Nava Fedaeff said it had been 35 months since the country had experienced a month below-average temperatures, something she attributed to climate change.

Environment Canterbury headquarters. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Environment Canterbury headquarters. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Mrs Hughey thought the world was “at a time in history which we shouldn’t let pass.”

Leading what is the first democratically formed regional council since 2010 when the John Key-led Government sacked councillors and replaced them with Government commissioners, she felt she had the right team to take action against climate change.

“They are absolutely fantastic, could not have asked for a better group it’s amazing and they are all in different but overall are in sync around responding to the climate and working together with the public.”

The gender-balanced council which consists of seven women and seven men has a strong focus on the environment with freshwater ecologist Lan Pham, environmental scientist Nicole Marshall, environmental consultant Megan Hands, geologist Vicky  Southworth and research scientist Dr Elizabeth McKenzie who has a master’s degree in geology.

Mrs Hughey herself also has a strong background in environmental issues having previously acted as an environmental inquiry commissioner.

She saw community leadership as essential to combating climate change.

“I am very keen for ECan to be reaching out to engage with the community and get ideas from the community because really the way forward is not one person’s idea, the more brains that can work on it the better, especially with the problems we are facing.”

She labelled the level of nitrates in Canterbury’s drinking water as a key concern of hers.

“My main issue is the health of people and their ability to live on the planet, we have got to have safe drinking water.”

In June, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey warned the region’s drinking water could be undrinkable in 100 years from nitrates from dairy farming entering the water supply.

The national nitrate limit is currently set at 11.3mg/l.

A Danish study last year found a link between nitrates in drinking water and bowel cancer.

The study of 2.7 million people found people exposed to nitrate levels above 9.3mg/l had a 15 per cent greater risk of getting colorectal cancer compared to those with exposure of less than 1.3mg/l.

Dr Humphrey has previously said some nitrates were already showing up in shallow, private bores throughout the region at levels above the maximum level.

Mrs Hughey thought it was possible for nitrate reductions to coincide with a strong farming industry.

“We know that solutions are things like riparian planting and reducing the level of fertiliser going into the land and farmers have come on board with that, so that is good progress.

“ECan is already working on the is already working on the issue and working with the farmers,” she said.

Ms Hughey saw increasing public transport ridership as key to responding to climate change.

Statistics from the city council show transport represented 53 per cent of the estimated 2,485,335 gross tonnes emitted in Christchurch in 2016.

“I think personally there is possibly an avenue to consider charging less for students and people with disabilities, areas like that.

“Science is telling us we have got a high level of car numbers per family in Christchurch so we have to do some thinking around reducing that,” she said.

However, Mrs Hughey was not convinced by free public transport, which was a fundamental policy of John Minto’s mayoral campaign.

“I’m not sure about the research around making the buses free, someone has to pay for the buses, that is the trouble.”

Environment Canterbury councillors

Jenny Hughey
Christchurch North East
Peter J Scott
South Canterbury
Claire McKay
North Canterbury
Grant Edge
North Canterbury
Ian Mackenzie
John Sunckell
Tane Apanui
Christchurch North East
Phil Clearwater
Christchurch South
Vicky Southworth
Christchurch South
Megan Hands
Christchurch West
Craig Pauling
Christchurch West
Nicole Marshall
Christchurch Central
Lan Pham
Christchurch Central
Elizabeth McKenzie
South Canterbury



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