Election 2023: Green Party announces climate-safe communities plan to protect towns, cities from flooding

The Green Party has announced an election policy focused on building cities around the needs of people and cutting emissions, while also committing to build light rail in New Zealand's three biggest cities. 

Party co-leader James Shaw on Sunday announced the climate-safe communities plan which aims to both cut emissions and protect communities from the impact of climate change. 

"Our plan will slash emissions, bring nature back to our towns and cities, and protect our homes and communities from future extreme weather," Shaw said. 

"The three yearly election merry-go-round of empty promises about who will build the most roads is tiresome and, frankly, irresponsible, especially in the wake of the two climate disasters Aotearoa has already experienced this year." 

Shaw said climate change is prominent in everyday life and the challenge is to stop the "climate crisis" from getting out of control and to prepare for what cannot be avoided.

If elected, the Greens' wide-ranging plan includes a new $750 million Urban Nature Fund to empower communities to create jobs restoring and protecting nature in towns and cities.

"We will also set rules to make sure developers and councils are working together to construct more resilient homes and buildings designed to handle extreme weather, and ensure greater use of green spaces that not only provide a space to relax, but filter and drain flood waters," Shaw said. 

The plan will reshape the places Kiwis live to meet the three priorities of 'people first', 'space for nature' and 'climate-friendly travel'. 

'People first' is focused on reshaping communities around the needs of people instead of motor vehicles, with green streets for children to plan on and move around safely. 

The plan would also create more paths and pedestrian crossings, reducing speeds near schools and local shopping areas, more slow zones and play streets off main roads, to free up streets for local communities to use, instead of being shortcuts for through traffic.

'Space for nature' is focused on lining streets and neighbourhoods with trees to provide shade, absorb carbon and provide habitats for native birds. 

"Most of our cities are built near harbours or rivers, and were once covered in trees," the announcement said. 

"But many have lost, and risk losing more of, the shade and cooling that trees provide, at the same time as creating more hard surfaces such as roads, roofs and driveways that soak up heat and release it throughout the day - making cities and towns uncomfortable places to be as temperatures increase.

"With all these hard surfaces, flood risks become worse. When there is intense rainfall, stormwater runs along roads and footpaths, washing pollution into awa and moana."

'Climate friendly travel' will see light rail in New Zealand's three biggest cities - Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch - connected bike lanes and footpaths so more people can make short trips without using a car and support for councils to operate buses directly - making public transport a genuine public service.

Light rail has been a hot topic in this election cycle with Labour committed to building light rail in Auckland while National has said it would scrap it. 

The Greens said just one in four people in Auckland have access to reliable public transport and it's also getting more expensive. 

Between 2016 and 2019, the share of income spent on transport by those in the lowest 20 percent of households skyrocketed from an already high 16 percent to a horrifying 28 percent, according to the Greens. 

"When people cannot afford to get around, the impacts can be devastating. Tens of thousands of people are forced to miss out on opportunities such as work, education, and meeting up with friends and whānau," the announcement said. 

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the plan will make sure everyone has what they need to meet life's essentials. 

"This is our plan to bring our towns and cities into balance with a healthy climate and thriving nature," Davidson said. 

"Imagine sending your kids off to school on their bike, knowing that on the way they'll meet up with their friends, who are also on their bikes - and together they'll get to school along a protected path, instead of driving through traffic. 

"Imagine jumping on quick light rail to get to work instead of crawling along gridlocked roads. Or living in communities with streets lined with trees, new parks, clean rivers and birds soaring overhead instead of concrete and tarmac."