New Zealand: Two regional councils declare a climate emergency

On 16 May 2019, two regional councils in New Zealand made history by declaring a climate emergency as the first councils in the country, vowing to put climate change at the forefront of decision making.

“At 11:49am on Thursday, Environment Canterbury councillors voted and made history, watched on closed-circuit television outside by 100 or more placard-waving, drum-banging and chanting activists and by staff, climate change advocates, members of the public and media inside the council chamber. It was veteran former Environment Court judge, Cr Peter Skelton, whose speech of support tipped the list of those in favour over to six councillors out of 11,” reported Paul Gorman for the New Zealand newspaper Stuff.

A few hours later in the afternoon, the Nelson City Council passed a similar declaration, 10 votes to three.

Other councils in New Zealand are expected to soon follow suit. A Christchurch City Council committee is scheduled to discuss the issue on 20 May 2019.

“By declaring a State of Climate Emergency, the two councils join 529 others in 10 countries, as well as the United Kingdom and Irish parliaments, in recognising that action on climate change needs to be prioritised at all levels of society and government,” wrote NZ Herald.

In council papers, Canterbury Council CEO Bill Bayfield had said a climate emergency would allow the council to “highlight the importance of climate change in everything it did”, even though the status had “no statutory or legal weight” for decision-making.


“This is just the tip of what needs to start changing.”
~ Shere Khan Silver, XR Ōtautahi spokeswoman


Canterbury Council’s declaration

Environment Canterbury Regional Council affirmed the following statement:

“Environment Canterbury recognises the importance of an urgent need to address climate change for the benefit of current and future generations.

The science is irrefutable – climate change is already impacting ecosystems and communities around the world, with increasingly frequent and severe storms, floods and droughts; melting polar ice sheets; sea level rise and coastal inundation and erosion; and impacts on biodiversity including species loss and extinction.

The IPCC’s Special Report in October 2018 stated that we have twelve years to turn greenhouse gas emissions around to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5-degrees, or face an uncertain future.

This requires ‘rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.
Everyone has a role to play in delivering the change required.

Our commitment
As such, Environment Canterbury declares a climate emergency and commits to continue to:

• robustly and visibly incorporate climate change considerations into Council work programmes and decisions

• provide strong local government leadership in the face of climate change, including working with regional partners to ensure a collaborative response

• advocate strongly for greater Central Government leadership and action on climate change

• increase the visibility of our climate change work

• lead by example in monitoring and reducing Council’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

→ Environment Canterbury Regional Council – 16 May 2019:
Environment Canterbury declares climate emergency
“Environment Canterbury has today declared a climate emergency, highlighting both the urgent need to address the issue, and the work already being done to help the region respond.”

→ NZ Herald – 16 May 2019:
‘The science is irrefutable’: Two regional councils declare climate emergency
“Environment Canterbury became the first regional council in the country to declare a climate emergency after councillors voted this morning and supported the action 9-2.”

→ Stuff – 16 May 2019:
Environment Canterbury applauded for declaring region-wide ‘climate emergency’ (video)
“Canterbury’s move into a state of “climate emergency” was met with rapturous applause from those who encouraged Environment Canterbury (ECan) to be the first council in the country to make the declaration.”

“Canterbury’s regional council has today become the first regional council in the country to declare a climate emergency.
An overwhelming number of members voted in favour of the declaration to declare a climate emergency in the region this morning.
The bold step had been called for by the environmental lobby group Extinction Rebellion NZ which protested outside the council’s headquarters last month.”


→ TVNZ – 17 May 2019:
Environment Canterbury becomes first council in New Zealand to declare a ‘climate emergency’ (video)
“Environment Canterbury chairman Steve Lowndes talks through what the vote means on TVNZ1’s Breakfast.”

“It was the moment protesters were waiting for. The crowd went wild after the decision was passed, putting Canterbury officially in a state of “climate emergency”.  Protesters chanted “we are unstoppable” as they rejoiced winning their campaign, Environment Canterbury upping the ante on climate change.


→ NewsHub – 16 May 2019:
‘Climate emergency’: ECAN declares Canterbury officially in a state of environmental crisis
“Environment Canterbury has declared a climate emergency in its region. The decision was taken at a controversial meeting, with protesters demonstrating outside.”



“Crisis is throw your hands up. Emergency is roll your sleeves up.”
~ Rachel Reese, Nelson Mayor

Nelson City Council’s declaration

Nelson City Council’s declaration was supported by Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, who submitted to the council’s annual plan by phone. He told councillors that making the declaration would “send an important signal to the community and to officials”. He said that though the word ’emergency’ might seem “very alarming”, it was in his view an accurate description of climate change and its effects.

“Humans have demonstrated in our history that we’re quite good at dealing with short term emergencies, but were not very well set-up, and tend not to handle very well, slow-moving crises and climate change is one of those that occurs over decades,” the minister was quoted by Stuff Newspaper as saying.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said she did not bring up the declaration lightly, saying it was “late, but not too late” to begin addressing climate change. “It’s about setting up a process, starting a conversation with our community to hear the concerns.”

Nelson City Council CEO Pat Dougherty said that effectively, the declaration would mean that every future activity plan developed by the council would have to address climate change.

“The use of the word emergency is conveying that for goodness’ sake we must start … climate change is already here, this is just a call to arms.”
~ Pat Dougherty, CEO, Nelson City Council


Agenda: Declaration of Climate Emergency


That the Council

1. Receives the report Declaration of Climate Emergency (R10219) and its attachment (A2191324); and

2. Declares a climate emergency (A2191324); and

3. Requests the Chief Executive to develop a programme of Council actions that will support the aforementioned declaration and that this be included the Council Annual Plan Deliberations report.

Agenda for the extraordinary meeting of the Nelson City Council on Thursday 16 May 2019 at 1.00pm

→ Stuff – 16 May 2019:
Nelson declares climate emergency
“Nelson has officially declared climate change an emergency situation. Mayor Rachel Reese said without the action of striking students and groups like Extinction Rebellion, her declaration would not have passed.”




Christchurch City Council declares climate emergency

“Ironically the costs will only increase if we don’t take action now. For every $1 invested in resilience, there is a return of between $4 and $10. In other words, there is a financial cost, so if we don’t invest now, we are simply deferring what will be a significantly greater cost in the medium term. (…)

Christchurch City Council has already set itself the target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. We are now working towards setting a carbon neutral target for the city as a whole in consultation with our communities. Cities have a large responsibility in addressing climate change and we are committed to working with other cities around New Zealand and the world to share knowledge, solutions and ideas.”
~ Lianne Dalziel, Mayor of Christchurch

→ Christchurch City Council – 23 May 2019:
Christchurch City Council declares climate emergency
“Christchurch City Council has declared a climate and ecological emergency.”

→ Stuff – 23 May 2019:
Christchurch City Council declares climate emergency to protect future generations
“Climate activists young and old cheered as the Christchurch City Council took a historic decision to declare a climate and ecological emergency.”



→ New Zealand National Party – 16 May 2019:
ECan climate change emergency not the answer
Press Release: “Environment Canterbury’s decision to declare a climate change emergency will only add another layer of bureaucracy and red tape to a complex issue, National Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.”

→ Vegan Society – 15 May 2019:
Call for the NZ government to declare a climate emergency
Press Release:  “We need New Zealand to declare a climate emergency – as the UK and Ireland have done. We need to act now, the science indicates that we have less than 11 years – possibly even only 5 years to make those difficult choices. Choices that benefit the next generation’s ability to make a life on Earth; rather than choices which benefit planet damaging industries.”

→ TV NZ – 11 May 2019:
Christchurch councils urged to declare climate emergency
“Christchurch’s Regional Council is chalking up increasing pressure from environmental lobby group Extinction Rebellion to declare a “climate emergency”.”