Thanks to ShoppingFix for pointing out that at tonight's Strategy & Policy meeting, Wellington City Council will consider becoming carbon neutral. At first I thought that this just referred to the council's own operations, but on reading the report it turns out that they also intend for the whole city of Wellington to become carbon neutral.
That is indeed a lofty aspiration: reducing and/or offsetting the emissions from all the residents and businesses in Wellington would be a huge task. How do they intend to do this? The short answer is that they don't know yet. The long answer is that the process will take three steps:
1. Set an aspirational vision. An aspirational vision can be useful in galvanising support and inspiring action. For example, the Government has stated its aspiration for New Zealand to become carbon-neutral in the longer-term. Such a vision for Wellington could have value and would provide a framework for intermediate targets.All that this meeting can (potentially) agree to is step 1: revised targets would then then be decided on in September this year, with the subsequent work programme intended to inform the 2008/09 annual plan. The closest the report gets to suggesting concrete measures is to list existing council programmes (energy, transport, urban development, water management, waste minimisation) and mention a few in-house measures (appointing an Energy Manager, Sustainable Building Guidelines for Council buildings, and partnering with Nova Gas to generate electricity from landfill gas). The report also suggests a few broader policies, including Sustainable Building Guidelines for the wider community, urban development and transport planning around a compact growth spine, travel demand management and bus priority planning.
2. Consider an increase to existing targets. ...the Council’s existing emissions reduction targets are modest, both in comparison to those of other cities, and to what is eventually required to keep global warming at a level which can be reasonably managed. Targets for the short-term (2010), and medium-term (2020) should be re-evaluated, and a long-term target (2050 or beyond) should be set that approaches the aspirational vision.
3. Scope a work programme. The chosen set of intermediate targets to achieve an aspirational vision will need to be supported by a detailed work programme that is likely to achieve each target. This will provide practical and quantifiable benefits to the Council and the city.
Obviously, there's a lot of planning to be done before anything bolder can be suggested, but at the moment it does sound like just minor tweaks to the status quo. It's worth pondering this chart, showing sources of Wellington community CO2 emissions in 2001, from appendix 2 to the report:
There are several things that can be read from this:
- Switching to carbon-neutral electricity sources could make a major difference (so it's good news that Project West Wind's consent won't be appealed);
- Petrol, diesel & LPG make up 38% of Wellington's emissions, so unless something drastic is done about transport, the council's going to be planting an awful lot of trees;
- The council's report writers haven't learned that if there's one thing worse than a pie chart, it's a tilted 3D pie chart.
It's best not to be too cynical, though, and the council should be encouraged to set bold targets. The question is: can they back it up with bold action?