Archive | Environment

The Build Act is new US anti-China weapon

In the hubbub over the US-China trade war, one element of it skipped my notice: an act passed through both chambers of the US Congress which will heighten tension, reduce environmental safeguards & politicise aid.

The Build Act (full title, the Better Utilisation of Investments Leading to Development Act) is overtly political in its requirement for projects to serve a US foreign policy purpose.

This will be done through a new organisation, the International Development Finance Corp (IDFC), which will replace the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), set up in 1969.

Sarah Brewin, an agriculture & investment advisor to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, wrote about the enactment of the policy change in an article for the Independent Media Institute, which appeared on EcoWatch last week.

Her key paragraph:

“The Build Act requires the IDFC to develop guidelines & criteria to ensure that each project it supports has ‘a clearly defined development & foreign policy purpose.’ The requirement that all projects serve a foreign policy purpose, combined with weakened environmental protections, could see the IDFC supporting environmentally damaging projects if they are seen to be in US foreign policy interests – for instance, if it was thought that if not financed by IDFC, the project would instead be financed by a ‘strategic competitor,’with debt, influence & diplomatic relations accruing to that competitor rather than the US.”

The Build Act advances President Donald Trump’s view that human activity is the cause of climate change, while also advancing his anti-China cause.

EcoWatch, 4 December 2018: A US-China investment war is quietly emerging, and the environment will be the ultimate casualty
Reuters article, 4 October 2018: Congress, eying China, votes to overhaul development finance
International Institute for Sustainable Development

Attribution: EcoWatch, Reuters.

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Rural transformation one key to low-emissions economy – but is it feasible?

Published 5 September 2018
The Productivity Commission released its final report yesterday on transitioning to a low-emissions economy – a 620-page work which points heavily at changes to rural land use.

One side of that is more forestry, and the other is a switch from cows to horticulture & crops.

Farmers – including “Queen St farmers” (investors from downtown Auckland, not the shop) – moved strongly into dairy in the early 1990s, converting much of Southland from sheep & beef. After Graeme Hart took control of forestry company Carter Holt Harvey Ltd in 2005, he sold land & forests and, in 2010, 29 farms converted to dairy were taken to market.

Converting less productive land to forestry has the obvious downside of a long lead time to harvest, but the Productivity Commission cited evidence to show horticulture was providing better returns than dairy on some land types & locations.

The other key factor the commission cited to achieve a low-emissions economy was a switch from fossil fuels to electricity & other low-emission fuels. While the fuel factor would affect everybody, changes in rural land use would wreak fundamental revisions in rural life – products, downstream production, community lifestyles, the required skills. Into the bargain there would be questions of land price, timeframes for phasing from one product to another, and finance.

Dairy farmers have been benefiting from very high returns and would be loath to switch to a less profitable future.

How, then, might this transformation happen?

The Productivity Commission turned first to a need to change if emissions were ever to be reduced, and therefore to apparent options – forests & crops.

Afforestation “will require sustained rates of planting over the next 30 years – mostly on land currently used for sheep & beef farming – potentially at an annual rate approaching the highest ever recorded (100,000ha in 1994).

In city-dweller terms, that’s like convincing yourself the building industry will produce 10,000 new homes at the flick of a switch because they’re needed, when the sector isn’t set up to construct at such a high rate – and the builders themselves see profits in expensive homes, not at the cheap end.

Construction has steadily risen over the last 5 years, but is nowhere near a level that would satisfy politicians, and will only escalate more rapidly through the government intervention starting to be seen in the KiwiBuild programme. As in a switch of product on the nation’s farms, intervention will be required to provide the necessary expertise.

Changes to emissions pricing needed

The way forward, according to the Productivity Commission report, is through more appropriate emissions pricing – the price an emitter pays for every unit of greenhouse gas they release to the atmosphere: “Effective emissions pricing provides a strong incentive to reduce emissions at least cost and provides a clear & credible signal to investors contemplating long-term investments in new production assets that have different emissions consequences.

“New Zealand already prices emissions through the emissions trading scheme (NZ ETS). But the NZ ETS needs reform to be effective. Specifically, higher emissions prices, increased coverage across the economy, and greater clarity about the future supply of emission permits are needed.

“The inquiry’s modelling suggests that New Zealand’s emissions price will need to rise to at least $75/tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, and possibly over $200/tonne, over the next 3 decades.

“Greenhouse gases have different atmospheric lifetimes. Some gases, such as carbon dioxide, are long-lived. They accumulate in the atmosphere so any current emissions irreversibly warm the planet. Others, such as methane, are short-lived so that the bulk of the warming effect of current emissions lasts for less than 20 years.

“All long-lived gases should be included within the NZ ETS. But biogenic methane from agriculture and waste should be treated differently. Putting biogenic methane within either a dual-cap NZ ETS or an alternative methane quota system will incentivise reductions of biogenic methane in recognition of its nature as a short-lived greenhouse gas.”

The stick

The report says New Zealand lacks clear & stable climate change policies, which has weakened incentives for change and undermined confidence in existing policies. It says the Government should establish:

  • legislated & quantified long-term greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets
  • a system of successive “emissions budgets” that, separately for short- & long-lived gases, translate long-term targets into short- to medium-term reduction goals, and
  • an independent climate change commission to act as the custodian of New Zealand’s climate policy & long-term climate-change objectives.

And the carrot

To encourage uptake, and catalyse the transformation to a low-emissions transport system, the report said the Government should:

  • introduce a “feebate” scheme, in which importers would either pay a fee or receive a rebate, depending on the emissions intensity of the imported vehicle
  • continue to provide funding for some electric vehicle infrastructure projects, to fill gaps in the charging network that are commercially unviable for the private sector
  • raise awareness and promote uptake of low-emissions vehicles through leadership in procurement, and
  • require imported new & used fossil-fuel vehicles to meet fleet-wide emissions standards – the report said New Zealand was one of a handful of developed countries without vehicle emissions standards, and risked becoming a dumping ground for high-emitting vehicles from other countries that are decarbonising their fleets.

Are the required rates of land-use change feasible?

The modelling suggests New Zealand can move to a low-emissions economy (ie, 25 megatonnes of net CO2e emissions by 2050) at an emissions price rising to $75-150/tonne of CO2e by 2050: “New Zealand could reach the more ambitious target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with emissions prices rising to between $150-250/tonne of CO2e by 2050. While far above the current level of around $24/tonne of CO2e, these prices are comparable with the emissions prices that it is estimated will be needed in other developed countries to deliver the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to under 2˚C.”

The report poses the question of feasibility, and says it could be done – but that requires landowners to be convinced there’s benefit in switching land use.

“The transition pathways (in chapter 3 of the report) require substantial changes in land use. Forest land will need to increase by up to 2.8 million ha, with a corresponding shift out of beef & sheep farming. A smaller area of land (up to 1 million ha) may also need to shift to horticulture (including cropping). Some of the shift to horticulture will be from dairy farming. For most pathways, the shift out of pastoral farming is substantially less than the fall of roughly 3 million ha between 1990-2015. Yet a large proportion of this fall was a shift to non-farming uses, and a significant proportion was the transfer of very low intensity high-country leasehold land into the conservation estate.

“The transition pathways will require an average of between 44-90,000ha of new forests to be planted each year over the 32 years to 2050. This is far higher than the average net 18,000ha planted each year between 1990-2015. New planting did reach a brief peak of 100,000ha in 1994 and averaged around 50,000ha over the decade from 1990-2000. While planting at the modelled rates is technically feasible, availability of suitable land for planting, and profitability are key determinants of further afforestation. Models always involve some uncertainty, especially when they are extended far into the future and beyond the historic price ranges of the data on which they are based.

“The modelled increase in horticulture land (100-200% under some scenarios) is also substantially faster than the 44% (or 38,000ha) increase in horticulture land between 1990-2015. Also, while ample land suitable for horticulture is likely available, apparently profitable opportunities are not currently being taken up.

“Overall, the rates of change in land use required to move to a low-emissions economy are comparable to the rates of change New Zealand has experienced over the last 30 years. While circumstances are different, this suggests that the changes are feasible and that the rural economy will likely have the capacity to adjust positively to new opportunities as they emerge.”

The report cites one submitter, Dr Andy Reisinger, deputy director (international) of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, who observed several factors that might slow the uptake of promising horticultural opportunities: “On paper, horticultural enterprises appear to have higher profitability than dairying in parts of New Zealand, but horticulturalists are not buying out dairy farms in large numbers. This is likely to be influenced by hidden costs, skills barriers, infrastructure, investment costs, risks, along with more systemic influences in terms of attitudes of banks, international markets, export and training mechanisms.”

Productivity Commission final report, Low emissions economy
Productivity Commission

Attribution: Productivity Commission.

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Tracking ideas Sun16Apr17 – King tides & what to do

King tides in Miami may bring forth solutions

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

King tides in Miami may bring forth solutions

The Miami beachfront after recent king tides.

Southern Florida was flooded last November, hit by king tides, and architects will look at solutions at a conference in Orlando on 27-29 April.

Normally such an event would pass us by. After Edgecumbe’s inundation, after what turned out to be excessive caution in Auckland (warnings about closing of the harbour bridge mid-afternoon before Easter, cancellation of flights for a storm that didn’t eventuate), now we’ll pay more attention to construction & site precautions, perhaps less to officialdom’s warnings.

The full heading in the US Architect’s Newspaper read, Facing rising sea levels & greater insurance risk, Southern Florida braces for relocations, new flood design standards & more. On a coastline like Miami’s – a rich people’s playground – the greatest concern is likely to be over the potential loss of insurance cover, and that’s likely to make them think of long-term solutions.

In New Zealand, alarm at millimetre-by-millimetre sea level creep can only make you hold your breath for a day or 2, and then you return to life as usual, which doesn’t include too much concern about climate change.

But, climate change or not, when high river flows run into exceptional tides – the photo above shows the flow from the beach-end creek battling out against the ebbing tidal flow at Stanmore Bay on 4 April – floods can rise quickly.

We know this, but our reactions remain slow.

Miami-Dade County chief resiliency officer Jim Murley said the Great Miami Chamber of Commerce’s second sea-level rise solutions conference on Friday 5 May would focus on building solutions, business opportunities & regional collaboration.

In the American way, business opportunities are likely to attract most attention. Building solutions may flow from that.

The Architect’s Newspaper, 12 April 2017: Southern Florida braces for relocations
Miami sea-level rise solutions conference

Attribution: The Architect’s Newspaper, Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Regular leads: Planetizen

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Tracking ideas Sat15Apr17 – How to beat floods, vertical farm for Shanghai

Look on the back of an envelope for response to flood scare
100ha urban farm to feed Shanghai

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

Look on the back of an envelope for response to flood scare

I read the heading, Flooding forces overhaul of building rules, and thought: Is there another way?

And then: Of course there is another way. There is always another way.

The immediate response is to say “No, you can’t build there”. Alternatives would encourage inventive architects, such as:

  • Change the design of houses so flooding doesn’t get inside
  • Do, as the owner of a house I pass every day on my way to the beach did, acknowledge that the land was once swamp and remained subject to some flooding, especially on the tide, and build garage & workshop downstairs, living quarters upstairs
  • Build on stilts, as many communities through Asia do
  • Alter coastal landscapes so rising seas are forced to take less invasive paths
  • Produce barriers that can be raised on threat of flooding – mechanical sandbagging.

The beachfront of grand unused baches

I swim at a beach where every shoreline house is a bach, or the multi-million-dollar equivalent, none occupied more than a few days/year so no homelessness there in the event of a flood, but a resthome and houses on the drained swamp would be affected.

Those grand beachfront baches are an example of changing lifestyles. The grown children don’t have time to look after the bach and are more likely to want to go on overseas holidays, the grandchildren might enjoy it for a week or 2 but are also getting used to grander escapades further afield. And the parents/grandparents don’t turn up because they’d be rattling round on their own.

Some of these baches have enough space around them for the games which no longer get played, but the question is there: Why does beachfront have to be so exclusive that nobody occupies it?

For the owners of these individual sections there is capital gain (though some have been held by the same families for generations), but there can still be capital gain if occupancy is more effective, such as apartments used year-round.

2 beaches up the coast, at the top of Orewa, it’s been done. 30 years ago, a group of investors bought a large site between the main road and the beach, built 2-storey units in a resort style with the intention of using some of the units themselves – and were sent bust through bank inflexibility & outrageously high penalty rates in the 1987 crash. All but one of the 8 were bankrupted, the other saved by investing through a trust.

From my drive-by observations, a development launched in good times, completed in hard times, has had variable success but these days is well used.

Saying no to coastal development for fear of occasional flooding or long-term inundation resulting from climate change cannot be a New Zealand answer: innate ingenuity should see to that.

Where do people want to live? And how to do it

I had a conversation about intensification last year with a property professional, who asked me: “Where do people most want to live in Auckland?” We both answered: “On the coast.” Then he posed a second question: “Where do authorities [government & council] want to see housing built?” He answered: “In places like New Lynn.”

Now I happen to think that New Lynn and many suburban villages like it have a tremendous future if new intensive housing is accompanied by the right kinds of other development – businesses, community amenities, education – and if transit lines encourage 2-way travel to suburban work beyond the standard shopkeeping.

But, in the current climate, the pressure to provide housing first comes way ahead of the social & occupational infrastructure (a wider range of jobs than is traditional in suburban centres), making for desolate suburbs & long commutes.

And the coastal side of the argument? Build apartment blocks & townhouses where individual palaces have dominated, we agreed. Expensive? Probably. Worth doing? Yes.

What about Edgecumbe?

Would these simple answers work for Edgecumbe, a whole Bay of Plenty town submerged when the Rangitaiki River burst its banks?

A torrent like that hitting Edgecumbe will defeat even the greatest optimist – today. Tomorrow, we need to search for answers because New Zealand is primarily a coastal country.

100ha urban farm to feed Shanghai

International architecture firm Sasaki Associates Inc (Boston & Shanghai) unveiled plans last month for a square kilometre (100ha) urban farm in the midst of Shanghai’s skyscrapers. Design writer Nicole Jewell wrote on the Inhabit website: “The project is a mega farming laboratory that will meet the food needs of almost 24 million people while serving as a centre for innovation, interaction & education within the world of urban agriculture.”

Fast Company named Sasaki’s proposal for the Sunqiao urban agricultural district, intended to have vertical farms next to office towers, as a finalist in its World-changing ideas awards.

Sasaki principal Michael Grove said at the awards: “Sometimes an idea that can have a big impact is so obvious that it’s a bit strange to think it hasn’t been done already. With leafy greens accounting for about 56% of the typical Shanghainese diet, the fact they are the ideal crop for hydroponic growing systems, and the cost of land driving buildings up instead of out, Shanghai is the ideal environment for the vertical farms that make up Sunqiao.”

The award winners included Hillary Fellowship’s global impact visa

Fast Company announced 12 winners in March out of 192 finalists & over 1000 entries for its first world-changing ideas awards.

I’ve just realised I did see these awards at the time but skipped by quickly after looking at the first of the finalists, which was an edible 6-pack ring. One of the winners was the Edmund Hillary Fellowship’s global impact visa (link below).

Inhabitat, 13 April 2017: Shanghai is planning a massive 100ha vertical farm to feed 24 million people
Sasaki, 20 March 2017: Sunqiao named one of FastCo’s world-changing ideas
Sasaki, Sunqiao urban agricultural district
Fast Company, 20 March 2017: Announcing the winners of the 2017 world-changing ideas awards

Earlier story:
Tracking ideas Sun26Mar17 – Melbourne plan review, value of transit, world-changing ideas

Attribution: Inhabitat, Fast Company, Sasaki.

Regular leads: Planetizen

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Smith skips the “however” in OECD environmental review

Environment Minister Nick Smith’s take on an OECD report on New Zealand’s environmental performance is that it says we are doing well. He skipped the word “however”, which makes frequent appearances in the OECD’s press release and the report.

All up, it’s a constructive report, as you would expect from an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development) unit headed by Dr Smith’s predecessor from the 1990s, Simon Upton.

Simon Upton.

Mr Upton was elected to Parliament as a National MP in 1981, when he was 23, and was appointed to the Cabinet in 1990, holding the portfolios of health, the environment, and research, science & technology. As environment minister he shepherded the Resource Management Act into law in 1991, and he was responsible for establishing the Crown research institutes.

When he resigned from Parliament in 2001, he went to Paris to chair the OECD’s Round Table on Sustainable Development, and in 2010 he was appointed head of the OECD’s environment directorate, based in Paris.

For yesterday’s release of the organisation’s environmental performance review of New Zealand, he was back in Wellington. That much was acknowledged by Dr Smith but, for the rest, his response to the constructive review was a glib use of the kind references in the report.

Nick Smith.

Dr Smith said the review “highlights New Zealand’s green credentials and the strong progress we have made over the past decade, as well as the challenges we need to address. This report highlights that New Zealand fares well in terms on environmental quality of life. We have good air quality, an exceptionally high proportion of renewable electricity, easy access to pristine wilderness and an advanced & comprehensive natural resource management system.

“This report shows how far we have come over the past decade. We introduced environmental pricing on waste in 2009 and on greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. We have introduced new national policy statements in areas of freshwater management, urban development & coastal management, as well as national environment standards on air quality. We have also made important institutional changes with the creation of the Environmental Protection Authority, new laws regulating activities in New Zealand’s huge EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and the new Environment Reporting Act 2015.

“We also concur with the OECD assessment of New Zealand’s future environmental challenges of climate change, freshwater management, biodiversity, reducing the complexity of urban planning & transport funding reform. This report reinforces the importance of the significant work programmes the Government has under way in each of these areas.

“This environmental report card will help us sharpen our future direction & environmental aspirations, as well as learn from the experiences of other countries. I thank the OECD reviewers & the examining countries of Australia & the UK for their contribution to this thoughtful report.”

Report reflects Upton’s constructive criticism

Many New Zealanders opposed to giving greater sway to environmental care in the 1990s regarded Mr Upton as a jumped-up little squirt. What he did was back his views with a formidable breadth & depth of information, and he looked for the positive & constructive.

That’s reflected in yesterday’s OECD review, which was worked on by over 30 OECD people.

Heading the project was a Canadian, Nathalie Girouard, who worked on economic policy & country studies when she joined the OECD in 1993 and co-ordinated its green growth strategy for 5 years, and research was led by a Russian who gained his master’s degree in environmental management in Amsterdam and is now a US citizen, Eugene Mazur, a policy analyst involved in various environmental performance reviews since 2003 (his next one is on Estonia) and spent 14 years on environmental policy reform in countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus & Central Asia.

If Dr Smith can get his RMA reform, the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, through Parliament in the final session of Parliament before the election – on the slimmest of majorities as his only support at the moment is the Maori Party – economic factors will carry as much weight as environmental.

That makes plenty of sense in many circumstances, but it would be very easy for the economic to quickly dominate the environmental assessments: concrete over the more hypothetical. The debate that has followed the 23 February announcement of the Government aim for 90% of rivers & lakes to be swimmable by 2040 is evidence that this government doesn’t rate the damage from high levels of nutrients entering waterways as highly as the public response suggests it should.

The OECD press release out yesterday began: “New Zealanders enjoy a high environmental quality of life & access to pristine wilderness. However, New Zealand’s growth model, based largely on exploiting natural resources, is starting to show its environmental limits with increasing greenhouse gas emissions & water pollution.”

Cleaning up lakes has been on Dr Smith’s agenda since National returned to power in 2008. The national policy statement for freshwater management was published in 2014 and the “swimmable” declaration was made a month ago.

OECD criticisms

Mr Upton said when he presented the report in Wellington: “While the country only accounts for a tiny share of global emissions, the review finds that intensive dairy farming, road transport & industry have pushed up gross greenhouse gas emissions by 23% since 1990. Despite generating 80% of its electricity from renewable sources, among the highest in OECD countries, New Zealand has the second highest level of emissions per gdp unit in the OECD and the fifth highest emissions/capita.

“Having largely decarbonised its power generation, New Zealand needs to ensure its climate policies are effective in curbing emissions in all sectors, notably transport & agriculture. This means strengthening the emissions trading scheme and ensuring sectoral policies are aligned with the need for a low emissions transition.”

Agriculture accounts for 49% of emissions – the highest share in the OECD – and the report suggests they should be incorporated into the emissions trading scheme or alternative measures developed to counter the pressures of farming: “The use of environmentally related taxes, charges & prices should be expanded.”

“Growth in intensive dairy production has increased the level of nitrogen in soil, surface water & groundwater. The nitrogen balance (the difference between nutrients entering & leaving the system) increased more than in any other OECD country from 2000-10.

“Aware of the need to safeguard water quality, New Zealand has begun a process of freshwater policy reforms with a clean water package of proposals in February that address some of the OECD recommendations. Further government support is needed to assist local authorities with setting rigorous goals and to speed up implementation.”

Urban planning

The review also looks at New Zealand’s fast-growing cities and suggests that a simpler urban planning system, less restrictive land use regulations and better co-ordination between land, transport & infrastructure planning could help ease the pressure. It adds: “Car ownership in cities is high and many vehicles are old & emission-intensive. Current vehicle standards & taxes do not sufficiently encourage a shift towards cleaner, more efficient technologies.”

The report says New Zealand should consider more systematic use of pricing instruments to achieve urban policy objectives. It said water charges had helped cut consumption, but legislation prevented use of volumetric charges for wastewater services, road tolls & congestion charges.

The report said there was wide scope to make better use of pricing instruments to encourage efficient land use: “Development contributions (levied to finance infrastructure) do not reflect the true cost of providing infrastructure to a specific area. This makes inefficient and use artificially cheap and potentially accelerates urban sprawl.

“Limited distinctions between development contributions across building types & characteristics – eg, size or energy efficiency – translate into weak incentives for developers to build high performance buildings or low impact infrastructure.

“Financial contributions (levied to reflect costs of development on the environment) are often charged at a fixed rate, rather than being based on the marginal environmental damage of development, and the Resource Management Legislation Bill proposed to remove them entirely.

“Property taxes (rates) are mostly levied on the basis of capital value rather than land value, which may favour greenfield over infill developments insofar as they are permitted.”

The report also advised changes to infrastructure funding policies: “Expansion of pricing instruments would also diversify funding options available to city councils. Many councils need significant investment to accommodate population growth, including in water & wastewater, roads & public transport infrastructure.

“The central government finances about half of local roads or public transport, but entirely finances state highways. This creates incentives for local government to opt for state highway over local road & public transport solutions.

“Funding heavily relies on property taxation (general rates), which implies large cross-subsidies from the general public and weakened incentives for councils to accommodate growth, as infrastructure investment may lead to a higher tax (rates) burden on the community.

“User- & beneficiary-based funding, eg through road & water pricing and better targeted development contributions, would reduce the burden on the public budget. At the same time it would contribute to better demand management and more efficient use of land & resources.

“There may be room for the tax system to capture windfall gains accruing to landowners from infrastructure improvement (eg, betterment levies) and rezoning land for urban use (land value capture) to pay for required infrastructure.”

The OECD’s recommendations on this segment include:

  • giving more attention to spatial planning, while simplifying infrastructure & transport planning requirements
  • broadening the scope of the national policy statement on urban development capacity to encourage good urban design outcomes & principles for sustainable urban development, and
  • facilitating a change to land use plans to reduce the scope for vested interests to thwart development of wider public interests.

One recommendation less likely to go down well is to repeat the Auckland super-city experiment, with adjustments, in other urban areas. For that to succeed, Aucklanders will need to be convinced that the value of amalgamation has exceeded its downside.

OECD NZ environmental performance review 2017
2014 OECD report: Do environmental policies matter for productivity growth? Insights from new cross-country measures of environmental policies
4 March 2017, Government release: River & lake targets need to be practical
25 February 2017: Conservation & environment science roadmap announced
23 February 2017: Claims of lowered water standards wrong
23 February 2017: 90% of rivers & lakes swimmable by 2040

Attribution: OECD report & release, ministerial release.

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Bennett progresses climate change talks with China

Deputy Prime Minister & Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett said on Friday China & New Zealand had experience & expertise to share about responding to climate change.

“China is a key player in the global response to climate change, and the implementation of China’s commitments under the Paris agreement will be critical for its success,” she said.

Chinese official Zhang Yong & NZ Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett.

Mrs Bennett was speaking after meeting China’s top official for climate change, Zhang Yong, vice-chair of the National Development & Reform Commission, in Wellington for the first ministerial dialogue under the NZ-China climate change co-operation arrangement memorandum, signed by the 2 countries’ leaders in 2014.

Mrs Bennett said: “Mr Zhang’s extended visit to New Zealand so soon after the Paris agreement entering into force underscores New Zealand’s standing within the international climate change community and the prospects for greater bilateral co-operation.”

She said the dialogue built on positive discussions she had last November with senior Chinese representatives at the COP 22 climate change negotiations in Marrakech.

During his stay, Mr Zhang is meeting Auckland Council, visiting the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre in Palmerston North, the Forest Research Institute in Rotorua and Te Mihi geothermal power station north of Taupo.

Attribution: Ministerial release.

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More consultation on hazardous substances changes

The Environmental Protection Authority plans to release documents over the next 3 weeks on proposed changes to management of hazardous substances.

The rules that govern the use of hazardous substances in the workplace are moving from the Hazardous Substances & New Organisms Act, administered by the authority, into a new Health & Safety at Work Act administered by WorkSafe.

The authority has run consultation on the changes in June & August, and said yesterday it would be seeking submissions again this month. It’s issuing 4 consultation papers covering:

  • classification, labelling, safety data sheets & packaging for hazardous substances
  • forms & information in hazardous substance applications
  • import certificates for explosives, and
  • hazardous property controls (to be released after the first 3 documents).


Changes to how hazardous substances are managed

Attribution: Authority release.

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Government announces Enviroschools contract & new strategy

The Government announced a new contract yesterday to support Enviroschools for the next 6 years and a new strategy for environmental education for sustainability.

Environment Minister Nick Smith & Associate Conservation Minister Nicky Wagner said the Toimata Foundation’s $11.4 million contract would support the Enviroschools & Te Aho Tu Roa programmes in early childhood centres, schools & kura.

Dr Smith said: “Education is a powerful, long-term tool for improving how we care for the environment. If people feel connected to nature and understand the problems of species loss, water pollution, waste & climate change, they will make better choices during their lifetime.

“Enviroschools has already involved more than 100,000 children, 9000 teachers & 85 partner organisations. This new contract will ensure the growth of the programme and also puts a stronger emphasis on science connections. We want schools engaging with their local science community, with the programme linking to the National Science Challenges and supporting A Nation of Curious Minds.”

Ms Wagner said the draft national strategy released for public feedback would be a framework to engage & connect people to their environment and to their community: “It encourages collaboration between a wide range of stakeholders to support projects & initiatives to advance social, cultural, environmental & economic sustainability in New Zealand.”

National strategy for environmental education for sustainability (Eefs)

Attribution: Ministerial release.

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Tracking ideas Sun3Apr16 – Red Hook, city travel

Red Hook’s path to an unswampy future
Getting around the best way you can

Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.

Red Hook’s path to an unswampy future

This item is local as a study in how New York neighbourhood Red Hook is starting to deal with bad weather – the kind that brought Hurricane Sandy in 2012, might revisit with another hurricane or might swamp, through rising seas, what used to be a swamp.

I also throw in – in case the New Yorkers want some more constructive ideas – some of the change occurring in Auckland.

Chemical company BASF organised a case study last year on low-lying Red Hook, Creator Space New York City, but also wanted to find solutions relevant to coastal cities globally.

Hurricane Sandy put much of Red Hook under water and set back years of redevelopment. The questions arising at the BASF event included: “How can we preserve Red Hook’s unique character & quality of life while also promoting its economic growth and safeguarding it against future floods? How can measures taken in Red Hook serve as a model for other cities?”

Ideas included green corridors, a coastal park, establish “a centre for job training & human services”, rethink the district’s public housing, and inspire change with a model city block.

The most glaring omission is this: Make it a place you want to be.

This one idea, I think, is the crucial one changing Auckland (downtown so far, but it’ll spread), and one which I think many critics of Auckland Council’s role in organising change don’t understand. The visible signs are streets that are friendly to walk, an atmosphere that’s receptive to inner-city residents, shops that are intended for city residents and the business & education communities, precincts that are becoming communities.

Another question, as much for Auckland as for Red Hook, is who the “you” above is. Do you remake a neighbourhood for existing residents or reshape for new ones?

A cover photo on the BASF study prompted me to look more closely at what I thought were wharves lined with cars – ha! the South Brooklyn marine terminal, just like Auckland – and I landed on a story about the disappearance of waterfront jobs from New York’s smallest container terminal, which a century ago was the busiest freight terminal in the world, so far not displaced by anything else.

In a way, that aerial view of the Red Hook wharves offers Aucklanders an idea of what might occur here with wharf extensions – or what might be a future if reclamation was reversed.

Planetizen, 29 March 2016: Saving coastal cities from climate change
BASF: Co-creating solutions for urban neighbourhoods in coastal cities: A look at Red Hook
Jordan Fraade in Next City, 26 May 2015: There’s money hiding in New York City’s waterfronts

Getting around the best way you can

City travel is changing everywhere. On a VerdeXchange panel in California, Lyft transport policy manager Emily Castor said: “The more viable it is for people to live here without owning a car, the more likely it is that they’re going to use Lyft frequently in combination with transit & other modes. We need to look at how we can create this robust ecosystem together.”

Planetizen, 29 March 2016: Creating an urban mobility ecosystem helps public & private actors
The Planning Report, 16 March 2016, edited discussion: Public & private pros opine on how ‘choice’ impacts urban transport

Attribution: Planetizen, The Planning Report, BASF, Next City

Regular leads: Planetizen

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Council backs status quo as its unitary plan mediation position

Auckland Council decided yesterday to reject a staff proposal to abandon or downgrade 10 of the volcanic viewshafts around the region, as a council position in mediation at the unitary plan hearings.

The council’s Auckland development committee had before it a proposal to remove 5 viewshafts under the proposed unitary plan and to downgrade 3 others from regionally significant to a new category of locally significant. Changes to height controls would obscure 2 others.

Landscape architect Stephen Brown, who presented an expert group’s evaluation to the committee, said the evaluation of all 87 viewshafts had taken 4½ months, and the panel of experts was divided at the end of it. He said some wanted another 20 viewshafts removed from the list.

Some submitters on the proposed unitary plan – notably Housing NZ – want almost all viewshafts to go.

Expert conferencing on the viewshafts finished on Monday and the council’s plans & place general manager, John Duguid, said the next mediation stage would be on 5 April. Hearing of submissions on the viewshafts resumes on 9 May, and the panel is scheduled to release its decision in August.

Planning consultant Peter Reaburn said in his report to the committee that, last August, the committee had supported a review of the criteria in the proposed plan for regionally significant views and the development of criteria for locally significant views, and had also supported reviewing the impacts of the viewshafts on development.

Back in the Town Hall to discuss the council mediation position yesterday, there was hardly a murmur in favour of abandoning any of the viewshafts, although some were already compromised.

Instead of supporting the staff recommendations, the committee agreed to reconfirm the council’s current position on volcanic viewshafts & height-sensitive areas, with only Cllr George Wood opposing retention of one viewshaft, of Mt Eden from a point on the Southern Motorway.

The viewshafts have been in council planning documents for 40 years, preventing developments from rising within them. However, Mr Brown said some views had been obliterated, some obscured by vegetation and there was a compelling case for deleting the shaft from the motorway.

Independent Maori Statutory Board member Liane Ngamane tried to get an understanding of how Maori values were assessed – and Mr Brown said it was “a purely technical analysis”, that the expert group hadn’t been asked to “go beyond the visual” and “the focus was not on values which we didn’t have the expertise to assess”.

Ms Ngamane: “Do you accept that that may not be consistent with the Maori relationship?”

Mr Brown: “We didn’t have at that point anybody with expertise on Maori values.”

Albert-Eden Local Board chair Peter Haynes and Orakei Local Board deputy chair & mayoral candidate Mark Thomas gave brief presentations to the committee.

Mr Haynes: “What is the one physical feature that distinguishes Auckland from every other city in the world? It is located on a volcanic field. Auckland in that respect is totally unique. Calling these maunga outstanding natural features is an understatement.”

He said the nature of the evaluation was solely related to the economic value of these maunga in development terms, presenting the shafts only as a cost, and commented: “Undermining volcanic viewshafts is a very quick way of undermining pursuing United Nations natural heritage status.”

He said the new maunga authority (Tupuna Maunga o Tamaki Makaurau Authority) opposed any reduction of the viewshafts.

Mr Haynes questioned the distinction of local significance: “You either protect viewshafts or you don’t. I’ve learnt that restricted discretionary [planning status] doesn’t give you any protection at all. That’s tantamount to no protection at all and it would only be a matter of time before such viewshafts are lost.”

Link: Committee agenda

Attribution: Council committee agenda & debate.

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