Climate leaders become beneficiaries as budget cuts axe community funding
A climate change educator is wondering where the next generation of climate leaders will come from if sweeping Auckland Council budget cuts are passed. Auckland mayor Wayne Brown is seeking to plug a $375 million shortfall in Auckland Councils budget. His proposal includes a $20m cut to a wide range of community, and arts funding . This includes reducing local board operating funding by $16m 5% of the total budget local boards oversee. Also on the chopping block are climate action related programmes funded by general rates including stopping or reducing the Climate Action Grant, and reductions in environmental services. READ MORE: * Flood-damaged Auckland homeowners won't be compensated, mayor Wayne Brown indicates * Clock ticks on Auckland's climate deadline, but where is the 'urgent' action? * 'This is about what's fair': Flooded Aucklanders ask mayor for rates relief * Auckland's place among climate-leading cities is in peril Freelance climate change co-ordinator Sophie Grace says the proposed budget cuts would be turning community climate leaders into beneficiaries. On Wednesday mayor Wayne Brown indicated a softening of budget cuts to services such as CABs and the Southern Initiative, but climate initiatives were not mentioned. Over the past five years, Grace had received numerous local board grants and had been employed by companies working with Auckland Council to run programmes and initiatives around sustainability. Grace was also a part of a regeneration army made up of 25 volunteers, some of who were beneficiaries. They visited different communities doing street clean-ups, educated more than 300 school children on climate change and sustainability, cleared essential storm water systems , and cleaned public spaces that had been neglected, vandalised, or misused. The activities were funded by the Albert-Eden Local Boards Eco-Neighbourhoods programme, which sought to promote sustainable living across local suburbs. We had people in the regeneration army who were beneficiaries and on a mental health disability benefit. It brought us all together and gave us employment focused on climate action but now, all of us have lost our work, Grace said. Most of us had gone on a whole journey of learning about climate change , and also teaching about it at the same time but all those opportunities are being taken away and theyre more than likely going back to being beneficiaries. In 2019, Auckland Council declared a climate emergency with the organisation saying it needed to ensure financial capital was directed towards meeting its climate ambitions . We know our natural environment is in a state of decline and our communities are flooding and yet, the same organisation we turn to for reprieve and support is proposing cutting essential funding, Grace said. Albert-Eden local board chair Margi Watson said during a meeting last week, 1701 submitters in the area stated they did not want to see funding reduced for community climate action sustainability. She said if the mayoral proposal remained unchanged in June, cuts to regional and local services would be harshly felt throughout the community. Rachel Kelleher Auckland Council general manager environmental services said feedback from the draft Annual Budget 2023/2024 consultation is currently being considered by the councils Governing Body, with final decisions to be made in late June. If the draft budget was adopted as proposed, there would be reduced funding for programmes that support and deliver climate engagement and behaviour change initiatives and youth-focused sustainability/environmental education, she said. Kelleher said a number of boards had invested in local climate initiatives, but it was not possible at this time to confirm what, if any, changes there would be. Auckland Council had a small Community Climate Action team who work with communities and provide oversight and delivery of local board funded programmes focussed on climate. We also have a Sustainable Schools team who deliver sustainability programmes, predominantly through schools.