Meet Low Carbon Kāpiti

Votes need to be posted by this Saturday, so check out our local government scorecards if you haven’t already. Today we talk to Jake Roos, founder of Low Carbon Kāpiti. 

Jake Roos established Low Carbon Kāpiti at the start of 2017 after working in local government for many years. “I could see that there were a lot of passionate people who care about the environment and the community but they were not working together, and they were not asking the right questions. It also seemed that Council was quite responsive to community groups as opposed to individuals. 

“And so I put it out there to everyone I could think of, should we form this group focussed on local climate action and will you help run it? And there was a lot of support that came through. So we did it.”  

Why did Low Carbon Kāpiti want to get involved in the Common Climate questionnaire?

We had already decided that we wanted to score candidates and highlight climate change as an issue, but we hadn’t figured out how to tackle it. So joining in and collaborating really solved a problem for us.

And why did you want to rank the candidates in the first place?

Low Carbon Kāpiti is a community advocacy organization, on the issue of climate change. We recognize that individual actions are important, but what’s probably a lot more important is what the decision makers do, the laws of the land and how public money is spent. That has more impact on climate change and emissions. 

So we focused on lobbying politicians, and elections are really important to make sure that the issues are highlighted and voters are aware of where different candidates stand. How important voters rate climate change as an issue is not up to us, but at least they can be armed with the facts. And if they want to vote for a climate friendly council, then they’ll have that information so that they can.

What other activity are you carrying for out the local government elections?

We are going to supplement the questionnaire which has been sent out electronically with going to candidates meetings and asking some key questions ourselves. Because some of the candidates we’re just completely unfamiliar with. So we feel like some face to face interaction might be quite useful to learn a bit more about them and also to fill in gaps if some people don’t respond to the questionnaire. And supporting other activities: the school strikers are running a meet the candidates panel. 

What are the issues in your region?

On the mitigation side, every area of the country has to cut their emissions, and that applies equally to Kāpiti. We had pushed the council to adopt a carbon neutral target for themselves for 2025, and that was agreed by the 2016-19 councillors. So we want the new council to continue that – not just give platitudes, but actually get into the nitty gritty of how they are going to deliver it. 

And then for council to support the public with reducing emissions to the limited extent they can. So a lot of that comes back to central government advocacy. For example, the Resource Management Act.y The council could regulate emissions of new developments, as part of administering the RMA, but the law says they’re not allowed toThey can’t introduce building performance standards that are higher than national building code requirements: that’s illegal. So advocacy is quite important. 

And then of course sea level rise and how we deal with that. Low Carbon Kāpiti doesn’t have a hard or fast position on what the answer to climate adaptation is. But we do want to keep close scrutiny on what’s happening and the stance the Council is taking. We wouldn’t want a situation where the risks were being increased through poor decision making. And then is a fairness question to address as well, but it’s very complicated.

Back to mitigation: What are the boundaries for the 2025 target, is that across all council activity? Is that including suppliers?

It should include procurement to an extent. It is difficult to get suppliers to play ball in terms of providing good quality carbon information. The council’s got one huge contract for road maintenance. So ideally that will be part of the carbon footprint, but that they just don’t have the data at the moment. 

And so apart from that, it includes all of the electricity and gas use for their vehicle fleet, the buildings, the water treatment plant and for sewage sludge disposal – a very significant emission source. So it’s about managing all of that. They’ve squeezed it down to 3,000 tons, so there’s been a big reduction over the last seven years, but we want them to set an example for everyone and go all the way, and they can do that. 

There have been some bad decisions lately in terms of spending money on gas boilers and diesel trucks, which they really didn’t need to do. Because they are completely unfocused on that issue. So that sort of thing needs to be nipped in the bud and then we need further investment of course, to convert everything to low carbon energy, electricity and then offset the remaining emissions.

And certain things might be able to be done with waste too. Waste is a big issue for some people. And they’d like Council to get back into running the waste contracts in the district. We’re a little bit agnostic on that, because we can see if they took control, they could do things better – potentially. There’s still quite a lot of things that make it difficult for anyone to cut waste emissions, just the way that the market’s set up in New Zealand. But that’s potentially something they could do, to help the wider district reduce their emissions.

What results do you hope to see or what have we found so far? NB You may want to update this based on your results

We have our candidate scores back. Sophie Handford, one of the leaders of School Strike for Climate in NZ is running in the Paekākāriki-Raumati ward and unsurprisingly got an A+. Also strong are newcomer Asher Wilson-Goldman and current councillor Janet Holborow, who are running district wide and Gwynn Compton, who is running for Mayor and districtwide. Martin Halliday was next in the rankings, who is running for Mayor and in the Paraparaumu Ward. These candidates showed a good grasp of the issues and solutions, and said that climate action was one of their top three priorities for the triennium. 

In the district council race, there are no others that really stand out based on questionnaire scores, and those that did not respond at all so have no score. However all the existing councillors voted for the climate emergency declaration and to go carbon neutral by 2025, so if they are re-elected we’ll hold them to that.  

What other groups are doing similar activities in your area or other areas?

Kāpiti Climate Change Action is a new group, which has a similar focus to us, so we’re working with them. In other areas of the country, I haven’t really heard of any who’s organized in the same way: an incorporated society, specifically focused on local climate action. There’s a lot of groups which are more nationally focused. But not a locally focused group, which is a fully independent advocacy organisation. Councils themselves have set up focus groups and similar things, ginger groups including community champions, to discuss the issues. But that’s not what we are. We are independent of Council.

There are groups like the Blueskin Resilient Community Trust: they’re like, what can we do to make our community  more sustainable and resilient, focussed on localism. They’re a bit different to us. They’re aligned with the Transition Towns movement, that was trying to side-step government and just get on with things.. In Kāpiti we also have ‘Energise Otaki’ a community group that’s been working to conserve energy and produce renewable energy in their town for the last 8 years. They’ve had success securing funding for some fairly large solar photovoltaic arrays lately, the proceeds from which will be used for community grants.  

There’s a lot of people who really care about the environment and are very well informed about the issues. So there’s great potential there, so it’s about using it well – because people can get burnt out fighting the wrong battles or fighting on their own. People power is a renewable resource, but renewable resources can be maxed out as well. Just because it renews, doesn’t mean that it’s  unlimited in terms of the amount of effort at any given time. So it’s about trying to pick the battles and to use the energy efficiently.

And the kaupapa of the group is, just join us. We want people to be passive backers, to say, we support what you’re doing, we’re happy for you to do what you’re doing in our name. And if people can sometimes chip in a bit of money or turn up to an event where we want to show strength in numbers, it’s fine to have that level of involvement. People can engage at any level – because some people just don’t have the time. And it’s handy when there are petitions and things where you need a maximum number of responses. Even if all you do is when you say, Hey, can you sign this petition or give this a tick yourself, it takes a few minutes in front of the computer. That might be all they can do, but that’s fine.

Low Carbon Kāpiti are on Facebook.

Author: Catherine Jeffcoat

Wellington-based communications manager.

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