WSG writes to QLDC about Climate Action Plan to be adopted tomorrow [WSG, 11/03/20]

This morning we wrote to Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) about the Climate Action Plan which was released as part of their full council meeting agenda pack published on Monday.

[Letter on Wanaka Stakeholders Group Inc letterhead, sent at 9:12 am today]

The Councillors and QLDC executive, 

Queenstown Lakes District Council


(By email to QLDC CEO and Councillors)

Wednesday 11th March 2020

Dear QLDC Executive and Councillors,

QLDC’s Climate Action Plan 2019-2022 – TE MAHERE ĀHURANGI O NGĀ TAU 2019-2022

We have read and reviewed the QLDC’s Climate Action Plan.  We congratulate the council team on compiling a thoughtful, well-considered and meaningful document. We support some of the key initiatives that you have included (see attached list).  

We believe the council team tasked with consulting the community and compiling this Climate Action Plan is genuinely committed and the positive tone reflects what they have heard and what they themselves believe should be done.  Our concern lies with the lack of detail on how the goals will be achieved and, primarily, how Council addresses the fundamental issue of managing growth – in particular, of aviation-driven mass tourism.

The Climate Action Plan acknowledges this to be a substantial dilemma QLDC faces, as summarised on page 30 (31 of 36):

According to the Davos Declaration on climate change and tourism, everyone has to “rapidly respond to climate change, within the evolving UN framework and progressively reduce its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, if it is to grow in a sustainable way”. This is particularly challenging for the Queenstown Lakes District where the economy is built on international tourism, which relies on aviation. 

Just saying this is challenging without actually addressing how to meet the challenge is unacceptable, no less than politicians globally saying the same thing when confronted with the need to rethink how society operates. Action and a significant shift in policy is required if QLDC is to meet its targets. As the Climate Action Plan states, a key goal must be to: Consider climate change in all policy and decision-making.

Generalities expressed such as to “Require QAC’s airports to demonstrate industry-leading sustainability practices, aligned with the district’s emissions reduction master-plan” are meaningless and leave QLDC and QAC open to criticism for “greenwashing” if such plans are not decisive and bold.  Decisions to expand Queenstown Airport noise boundaries and develop Wanaka Airport to be jet-capable must be recognised as deeply flawed and antithetical to the document’s overarching and determining premise: “goals for the CAP are to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 across the whole district and be resilient to the local impact of climate change across the whole district”.

As a majority shareholder in QAC, QLDC should not be supporting or underwriting its CCTO’s plans to expand noise boundaries in Queenstown or construct a $300-400 million airport in the Upper Clutha that will ultimately (and well before 2050) double or treble the number of flights and passenger movements through the Lakes District.  Such decisions and actions now will condemn the Lakes District to significantly greater levels of carbon emissions and an absolute failure to abide by the goals and targets set by its CAP.

The rational, reasonable and logical path to meeting QLDC’s goals set out in its CAP is  to cap air traffic and visitor growth to what Queenstown Airport is currently capable of handling within the existing noise boundaries and to restrict Wanaka Airport’s capacity to limited, scheduled turbo-prop services. At this critical time in the planet’s efforts to address the fundamental issues of climate change, this would not only be the most responsible decision by council, it would give our region and our country a chance to take stock, to evaluate what part we can play in reducing carbon emissions by reviewing mass tourism as a de facto strategy and looking to more sustainable strategies. 

We also note that “keystone action 2” is to: Develop transformational options for net-zero emissions public transport.  While we applaud your “quick change” aim of becoming “an idle-free district by encouraging drivers to switch off engines when parked” as a short term action, there are much higher impact, immediate actions you can take.  It is simply unacceptable that you are not immediately assessing the region’s aviation emissions profile, and that you are leaving this to QAC to action. Further, any assessment of emissions created by aviation activities should also look at the direct impact any increased passenger movements will have on associated emissions, including buses, campervans and cars. This kind of analysis is something which can be achieved within a matter of a few weeks, from existing data, with numerous experts with international expertise available to start work on this now.

It is also unacceptable that you appear to be passing the buck by “advocat[ing] to government for sustainable aviation emissions reduction strategies.”  Whilst we should all encourage central government to play a role, surely it is down to the very businesses or organisations whose business activities create further emissions to lead emission reduction strategies.  As 75% owner in a business which causes significant additional emissions as it grows its business activities and increases shareholder value, this responsibility sits fairly and squarely with QLDC. These are clear, responsible and immediate decisions which QLDC Councillors can make this week, and would send the right message to the community.

Ultimately, council will be judged not on its words and glossy policy documents – but on the actual decisions it makes in the light of adopting these policies. Addressing the key drivers of growth is not something you can hide from! 

Finally, please note that this letter and our comments have been developed in haste, given that you have only published this document late on Monday and that your QLDC executive recommends that Councillors adopt it on Thursday.  While we understand this fits in with normal meeting notice requirements, this is an unreasonably tight timeframe for the community to digest and provide feedback on the final version of such an important planning document, with such wide-reaching relevance and potential for impacts.

We look forward to Councillors making decisions this week and into the future which reflect New Zealanders’ ever increasing concerns about climate change.

Yours sincerely

The Committee, Wānaka Stakeholders Group Incorporated*

Per Mark Sinclair

Cc list: Chairs of each of the five Wanaka based community associations / WSG membership

* WSG membership as at 22:00 Tuesday 10th March 2020 stands at 3,382 people. 

Appendix: Principles and goals we support subject to comments expressed in our letter.

Principles and goals set out in the QLDC Climate Action Plan which we support are:

  • Our goals for the CAP are to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 across the whole district and be resilient to the local impact of climate change across the whole district
  • Lead the conversation about sustainable tourism 
  • Consider climate change in all policy and decision-making
  • Take a ‘whole of system’ approach to sustainable tourism
  • Embed climate action into the DNA of the District
  • Establish baselines, targets and measures of success 
  • Explore incentives to drive behaviour change 
  • Identify and set targets and measures within the first six months of the plan being adopted
  • Seek opportunities to consider climate action in the context of community wellbeing
  • QLDC will utilise sustainable methods in all upcoming community and property projects in support of both climate change adaptation and mitigation
  • The challenge is for the entire system to develop a world-leading approach to sustainable tourism
  • Undertake an assessment of the aviation emissions profile. 
  • Advocate to government for sustainable aviation emissions reduction strategies. 
  • Require QAC’s airports to demonstrate industry-leading sustainability practices, aligned with the district’s emissions reduction master-plan.
  • Ensure that climate change considerations and relevant destination management concepts are incorporated into QLDC’s destination strategy. 
  • Advocate to government for a national approach to short term offsetting of international arrivals
  • The task to reduce emissions in an area of high growth is challenging.
  • This growth is contributing to the district’s higher than average emissions.
  • Climate adaption and mitigation are becoming commonplace in strategic planning in the tourism sector
  • Using a 2018 resident population of approximately 37,000, our annual gross emissions per person were estimated at 18.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The national average per person is 17.4 tonnes. 
  • The estimated emissions of a combined visitor and resident population of 62,763 are 10.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is still significantly more than New Zealand’s cities, including Auckland. 
  • The sectors where our emissions are high in comparison with the rest of the country are aviation, road transport and waste

Click on the image to open QLDC’s Climate Action Plan

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