Our Wellington

News | 9 June 2021

We 'need to do all we can' to fight climate change

When you first meet Alison Howard she doesn’t seem too scary. But once the typically calm, mild-mannered manager of Wellington City Council’s Climate Change Response team starts talking about what awaits us if we don’t take climate change seriously, things get a little frightening.

Wellington City Council's climate change response manager Alison Howard with blond hair and glasses, wearing a bright orange top and a black lanyard, looking away from the camera as she gives a talk behind a podium with black wall behind her.

First comes the fact that we’re already experiencing more droughts and floods, weather variability and higher temperatures due to a one degree rise in global temperatures.

Then there are the dire predictions of global sea level rise, coral reefs disappearing and the mass extinction of species.

Add to that this fact: a world that’s four degrees warmer – our current trajectory – can only sustain one billion people but there’s more than seven billion of us already.

There’s plenty to be worried about, yet Alison’s approach to talking about climate action aims to encourage a change in how we live, rather than simply scare us.

“I usually start friendly, then frighten the bejesus out of people and then pull them back from the abyss with meaningful ways to make a difference, individually and collectively.”

“There’s a fallacy that business as usual is available to us, but the reality is our current lifestyles will lead us towards significant political, social and economic upheaval, which will significantly and negatively impact our children’s futures. We need to make dramatic changes now to achieve only a 1.5 degree increase by 2050 – our collective future is worth fighting for!”

In 2019 Wellington City Council declared a climate and ecological emergency, putting protection of the environment and climate change at the front and centre of its decision-making. Since then efforts have been made to put a climate change lens over all Council activity and now this work is being driven by Alison’s dedicated climate action team.

“There’s now five of us in the Climate Change Response team and our shared focus is on implementing the Te Atakura – First to Zero plan,” says Alison.

Recently $27 million of funding was allocated to climate action initiatives over the next ten years as part of Council’s Long-term Plan, on top of the $226 million investment in cycleways and planned investments in zero- and low-carbon transport options through Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

Wellington is a city of art and culture.

“This growth in resources reflects Council’s commitment to acting on our climate change emergency declaration. We’re focused solely on Wellington’s future – what does a joyful, abundant, low-carbon 2030 look like, and how can the Council help bring that Wellington into being?

"It’s definitely going to take leadership but even more importantly partnership – with Māori, business, central government and Wellingtonians going about their lives in new and more satisfying ways.”

Alison says our shared change journey involves everyone at Council, as well as the community.

“Every day we get to make decisions that can impact positively on our city’s future, like choosing to walk, bike or use public transport to get to and from work, or making choices about the suppliers we use, or how we help our community embrace climate action.”

Prior to joining Wellington City Council, Alison was Head of Sustainability at Meridian Energy. She’s also worked as sustainability strategy consultant for Deloitte and a wind farm engineer.

Alison first got interested in how sustainability and the environment intersect when she worked for a prawn wholesaler in accounts payable.

“Once I got used to counting $100,000 in cash at a time, all covered in fish scales, I realised how dependent our business was on well-managed fisheries with quotas, limited licences and fewer boats. It was a real lightbulb moment for me that business is more successful when it’s sustainable.” 

Building strong relationships is also really important to Alison.

“Climate action, like all good things we want to happen, is not a solo effort. It requires partnerships, relationships, teams, collaboration, and listening to others with deep empathy and compassion.”

While the work of the Climate Change Commission will shape the way climate action will unfold in the coming decades, Alison encourages everyone to act and advocate for change immediately.

“There are things you can do today that will impact positively on climate change. Move around without fossil fuels, eat far less meat and dairy, buy things to last and be passed on to your children. Protest, submit, vote - we only have eight years left to halve our carbon. It’s an emergency, so we all need to do everything we can!”