Climate change costs could fall on ratepayers: WDC


June 11, 2019 - 147 views

Waitaki ratepayers could end up on the hook for climate change-related costs, Waitaki District Council chief executive Fergus Power has warned.

In the chief executive's report to the council, tabled at a meeting yesterday, he notes Environment Canterbury, Christchurch and Nelson had all recently declared a climate emergency.

"Ratepayers may face significant legal costs due to a lack of government action on adaptation policy, according to a leading legal opinion obtained for Local Government New Zealand by Jack Hodder QC,'' he writes.

Mr Power said yesterday climate change had featured in his report simply because "several pieces of legislation'' were under way dealing with climate change.

"And these are clearly going to have an impact on New Zealand as a whole and on our communities,'' he said.

"One of my roles, obviously, is to keep elected members appraised of developments and to connect the dots, if you like.''

Mr Power declined to answer whether his comments were at odds with Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher's position on the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration, when Mr Kircher said in February that signing the declaration could negatively affect the district's ratepayers.

"That's not really something I would or should comment on, that's a decision for elected members to make,'' Mr Power said.

Mr Kircher was one of nine South Island mayors who did not sign the 2017 declaration on behalf of his council.

The declaration states the signatories recognise an "urgent need to address climate change for the benefit of current and future generations''.

"You're signing something that is potentially creating liabilities that we don't know how big they are. What we're doing is getting on and dealing with it ourselves,'' Mr Kircher said at the time.

In a March statement, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) president Dave Cull said Mr Hodder's report showed the tough position councils were in.

"Without a national climate change adaptation framework, councils are in a grey area when working out how to protect their communities,'' Mr Cull said.

"[LGNZ] engaged Mr Hodder to give councils a better understanding of their climate change litigation risks when operating in this grey area, and what could happen if the courts start setting legal precedents rather than the government.

"Without the appropriate national standards and legislation, the government is at risk of allowing a situation where the courts will develop legal rules, which would likely result in ever-changing requirements and tensions that would hinder proper planning and implementation of adaption measures.''

Mr Power yesterday said he was not suggesting the district needed to declare a climate emergency.

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