Why would a city that’s proven incapable of explaining its scientific ingenuity want to join an international organisation which demands innovation as an entry card?
New Zealand has a minister of economic development, science & innovation among other things, Steven Joyce, who is determinedly pushing for New Zealanders to rise above being a nation of commodity traders. And Auckland Council’s founding planning statement, the Auckland Plan, is filled with aspirations to treat the environment better.
Whether it be from climate change or other scientifically mappable causes, large chunks of Auckland’s coastline are being scoured out. As a centre of bubbling property values, it would be handy for Auckland to have some idea about how much of this increasingly expensive land will remain above the tide in 10 or a hundred years.
All these are reasons for Auckland to be a centre of inquiry into climate, sea & atmospheric change.
And, if that’s the case, Auckland Council’s membership of the international C40 Cities climate leadership group should be a given. But it’s not.
The proposal for membership was put to the council’s Auckland development committee in March, but a decision was deferred when it looked as though a majority was going to reject the invitation. Cllr Christine Fletcher said on that occasion the report supporting membership of C40 was silent on the costs: “I think the business case hasn’t been well put. I would certainly like a lot more business information and it hasn’t been put forward today.”
Chief sustainability officer John Mauro returns this Thursday with another shot at membership, but with little more to convince doubters of its value.
C40 membership is free and direct costs are low, but to rise from observer to innovation status after the first year Auckland would need to produce some innovative research.
In his background report for Thursday’s meeting, Mr Mauro has pointed to likely accelerated implementation of the low carbon Auckland action plan as a benefit.
This was likely to mean easier identification of future emissions reductions, and associated cost savings, he said. “For instance, over the past 4 years, Auckland Council has saved or avoided at least $1.5-$2 million/year from reduced energy, waste & water use. While the council will be continuously seeking savings & emissions reductions, they will become more challenging to identify & implement in the future.”
Over the 7 years to 2018, he saw council savings of $12.7 million from sustainability measures. From there, Mr Mauro moved on to the potentially big positive: “Sharing best practice & innovation ideas with C40 cities will assist in identifying & achieving such savings which, consequently, have corresponding emissions reductions benefits.
“Strategically aligned international partnerships like C40 can be useful tools to drive implementation of the Auckland Plan & low carbon Auckland.”
Among specific benefits he saw for Auckland: “Access & collaborate with a global network of technical advisors with expertise to design & implement climate programmes & high-impact projects. Access a vast array of research with potential for peer-to-peer exchanges……
“Membership is meant to unlock ideas, innovation & best practice that lead to emissions reductions & cost savings to the council.”
Unlock ideas? That should have been top priority for the super-city council when it was formed in 2010, but to do so requires advanced thinking on things like providing infrastructure more imaginatively & efficiently across old boundaries. There is some evidence of advanced thinking, but it hasn’t been paramount.
The legacy Auckland City Council had a fine example of this 10 years ago, when boffin & one-term councillor Richard Simpson tried to explain some of the benefits of bringing the Digital Earth summit to Auckland – not just as a one-off, but if Auckland seized the opportunity and made itself a centre of expertise & foresight.
Mr Simpson co-founded New Zealand’s first 3D computer graphics firm, Cadabra, and expanded the business internationally. In 2012, he co-authored the world’s first manifesto of the digital earth, virtual nations, data cities movement to apply post-Google Earth (environmental simulation) technologies to the challenges of planning & managing the Earth’s resources to accelerate climate change solutions.
But 2½ years ago he left Auckland to become chief executive of SIBA (the Spatial Industries Business Association) in Queensland.
He says of that organisation: “Our members are significant producers, managers, innovators, users & adopters of spatial information & technologies. They are pioneers, providing inventive, value-added services to governments, business & industry and they range in size from large local & international companies & organisations to small- to medium-sized enterprises, many with 10 employees or less.”
In a presentation in 2005, he said the challenge for New Zealand was “to be a benchmark for sustainable practices”. From the 2006 Digital Earth summit, alone, he said some of the world’s top thinkers would go to speak at Auckland’s tertiary institutions, while the add-ons of future summits plus an international centre would brand the city as a place of foresight: “It could be a Club of Rome or a Davos (both economic summits) and brand Auckland. This is the extreme of technology, a mega-project.”
Auckland opted for the one-off.
16 March 2015: Council holds off joining international climate group C40
6 July 2005: Simpson the boffin councillor sets path for Auckland to become high-flying technology conference site, with a benchmarking brand
Attribution: Council agenda.