It is likely that Auckland city could experience a rise in average temperatures of between 0.2°C and 2.5°C by 2040, and 0.6°C and 5.8°C by 2090 depending on the earth’s emissions are managed. This is compared to a temperature increase in New Zealand during the last century of about 0.7°C. According to the Ministry for the Environment, which released these figures, by the end of the century Auckland is projected to have about 40–60 extra days per year when maximum temperatures exceed 25˚C, and frosts are likely to become rare as hens’ teeth. The city could also lose one to three per cent of its rainfall by 2040, and three to five per cent by 2090.
While this may sound balmy, it means by the time my grandchildren are in their 50s, droughts with a severity that Auckland currently only experiences every 20 years will occur every five. This could threaten agricultural production and put pressure on the city’s water supply, including hydroelectric power generation. Extreme weather events like the tornado that killed three people and damaged 150 homes in Hobsonville last December, as well as widespread flooding, will become more common.
Then there’s Auckland’s iconic coastline. Last year the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research predicted sea level rises of 0.5m to 1.5m by 2100. Another study by the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington warned that the rate of sea level rise is likely to increase towards the second half of this century, meaning action cannot be delayed. The Institute even goes so far as to suggest a retreat from sea-front homes and businesses in Mission Bay, Kohimarama and Kawakawa Bay, although it acknowledged that the unpopularity of such an approach means it is unlikely to be pursued.
Auckland Council has set a target to achieve a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, based on 1990 levels. According to the Plan: “This will require a transformation from a fossil fuel-dependent, high energyusing, high-waste society to an ‘eco – or liveable – city’. This is typified by sustainable resource use, a quality compact form, an eco-economy, and transport and energy systems that are efficient, maximise renewable resources and minimise reliance on fossil-based transport fuels.”
The Auckland Energy Resilience and Low Carbon Draft
“The focus on carbon emissions is very much front of mind and we can never let that slip.”
Action Plan, which will be released for consultation and submissions in March 2014, is the Council’s primary means of making this happen. It suggests a host of opportunities for lowering the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. These include the provision of greater transport choice, as well as reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and the car for transport, a programme that is already underway with the announcement of the $2.86 billion city rail loop. The Council will also look to reduce energy consumption in Auckland’s buildings through its regulations and consenting processes and manage peak demand in electricity through the increasing use of ‘smart’ meters and electricity control systems. It already provides eco-design advisors offering free, independent advice to designers, builders and home renovators to increase the energy efficiency of buildings.
The Council is also investigating the diversification of Auckland’s electricity generation with small-scale wind and solar electricity generation as well as larger projects. This looks promising; a recent study from the University of Auckland suggests that New Zealand is close to the point where the price of electricity supplied by ‘distributed generation’ could be the same or less than the price of grid-supplied electricity.
Interestingly, this research also suggests that an extensive solar-powered suburbia with electric cars may actually prove more efficient than the more compact city currently being envisaged, where future city expansion will be limited to reduce the need for long urban commutes in cars. This demonstrates how the approach to tackling these issues may need to evolve with changing circumstances and new technologies.
Auckland Council also intends to use its planning powers to try and avoid the potential damage climate change could inflict on the city’s infrastructure and population. This will include designing developments to take account of possible sea level rises and managing a retreat from certain low-lying coastal areas if necessary. The council is also considering actively promoting self-sufficiency and resilience, as has been previously exemplified by movements like Transition Towns.
Mayor Len Brown says: “The focus on carbon emissions is very much front of mind and we can never let that slip. I can’t impact what people are doing in Beijing, Zurich or New York, but I can impact what people are doing here in Auckland. It’s not about smacking people ’round the ear, it’s about leading by example.
“I think buy-in is very good, especially in business. Where business once lagged behind our young people, in terms of sustainable thinking, they are now leading the way.”