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Dumbo is in the house

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

*Update, the Tonkin and Taylor report refered to in the Climate Action Plan is now in the public arena.  The Community Inventory report notes that the per capita carbon footprint of Queenstown residents is 18 tCO2e/person and 50% of this is made up by transport.  You’ll need to check the report to understand the scope of things that may be generated within our bondaries, but emitting carbon outside (like, air travel).

Last week’s full meeting of the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) was full of ironic twists and turns. We declared a climate emergency, adopted a pretty comprehensive climate change action plan, finger-wagged towards Queenstown Airport’s growth plans and enabled Destination Queenstown (DQ) to collect more dollars for tourism promotion, all in one weird meeting.

Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Sonata McLeod kicked things off with an expert, sobering, science based presentation that was followed by an emotional plea from an 11 year old activist.  That story is detailed here.


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We declared an emergency, but were clearly a bit uncertain about where to put the sandbags.

Up next was the climate action plan which informed the sand bag question.  We’ve been working on this plan for a year now and the fact that many think it doesn’t go far enough, and many others think it goes too far, indicates it’s probably about right for starters.

Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) then presented its amended (this link takes you to the tracked changes version so you can see the difference between the draft and the final) Statement of Intent (SOI), broadly covering a growth mindset across both Queenstown and Wanaka airports.  I was unhappy.  The document was little changed from the draft we received in March and in my mind failed to answer the serious questions raised by council and community following receipt of the draft.  Council had requested a response to climate change and community concerns among several other things.  There was a carbon elephant in the room that needed outing and there was no attempt at all to even acknowledge its presence. Nor did the airport address the clear pushback to expansion plans that it had received from its two host communities, despite requests and plenty of time to think about it.  This is why I said I wouldn’t receive their SOI and voted against doing so along with four other councillors – Penny Clark, Ferg, Calum McLeod and Quentin Smith.  The SOI was received, six voted for it with caveats that essentially require the airport to revisit the SOI and at pace. Details of that local government drama are well covered here. I suspect the airport will pay attention this time, a 6/5 vote with caveats in an amended motion is not to be ignored – otherwise the board is at risk.  

Somehow, these events exhausted everybody and the extra funding for our tourism promotion organisation sailed through without a murmur, despite its failure too, to recognise tourism fatigue, climate change and the dire need to invest in more diverse economic development.  DQ might do well to reflect on all this. Our tourism business, for practical purposes, our ONLY business, based in huge carbon, needs a rethink.   Fair to add that the council wasn’t actually able to influence the quantum of the DQ funding, that is decided by members.  But it was able to comment, and didn’t.

So what and what’s next?

As Paul Callister and Wallace Rae state in a Pure Advantage series of articles, we need “Courageous new strategies…” to decarbonise.  The article  Can New Zealanders keep flying while reducing their carbon footprint? Certainly under current technology and a dire need to reduce carbon footprints the answer is a firm, fun-killing, No.

In the second article of the series, author John Lang contemplates the  UK committee on climate change and the lessons we might learn.  One important lesson, noted by Lang, is that our per capita footprint in NZ is double that of the Brits.

A sobering lesson for our tourism industry is that under the UK policy direction, Brits soon won’t be flying here for their vacations. Here’s why:

One economy return trip London to Auckland pumps 7.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I worked this out here, a site which handily offers to offset these tonnes for you – we are likely past the moment of offsetting, but that’s another story.

my climate

UK’s net zero carbon economy by 2050 commitment leaves little carbon budget for vacations to New Zealand when you consider the figures. tells us that current per capita global emissions are 4.9 tonnes per year.  This means that those flying are not only far exceeding their own budgets but also those of everyone who can’t afford, or choose not to fly.  Bluntly, flying is using everyone’s resources.  How long will we have social license for that?

Also quoting the UKCCC, Rebecca Macfie writing for Noted says our average emissions per person need to reduce to two tonnes a year by 2050.

“According to the UK Committee on Climate Change, if the world is to keep within the Paris climate accord goal of less than 2°C of warming, average carbon emissions per person need to reduce to two tonnes a year by 2050… Keen on a mid-winter break in Bali? That’ll be 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalents. Tempted by a cheap flight to Sydney for a show or a weekend of retail therapy? Add 816kg of climate-warming emissions to the bill.”

Currently, New Zealand’s per capita emissions sit at 18 tonnes, nearly 50% of this comes from agriculture, fuel combustion is the other biggy at 38% according to this Stuff story which quotes from a Nature Climate Change Journal  article.

Air NZ has achieved huge gains in fuel efficiency, but its carbon footprint continues to rise – the gains absorbed and exceeded in more and more flights and more and more tourists attracted by more and more promotion and cheaper flights.

In Queenstown, tourism is the only game in town, but it can’t hang in there for long in its current form.  In a presentation to the Otago University’s Tourism School Policy Programme in March, Professor Stefan Gosling told us that 70% of a visitor’s carbon footprint is created in getting to NZ, of the 30% left, 70% of that is spent on transport within the country.

Back to the Nature Climate Change Journal article as reported in Stuff:

“The most obvious source of a potentially longer-term reduction in tourism growth is climate change,” the authors noted. “The global move towards reducing carbon emissions, and New Zealand’s focus on transitioning to a low-emissions economy, is likely to have a significant and long-term impact on New Zealand’s tourism industry.”

There will come point where people post to their social media sites: “Say no to flying” in the same way that not long ago they were posting “Say no to single use plastic bags”. In New Zealand, this could be an economic body blow, especially as our number 2 industry (dairy) has a similar herd of elephants to contend with.

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