In 2019, Michelle Kennedy founded the Auckland Climate Festival. Four years on, it’s a highly anticipated event on the environmental calendar, with more than 155 organisations, including Britomart, hosting events that focus on building a better climate future. 

MELINDA WILLIAMS Hi Michelle. Could you start us off by introducing yourself and explaining what your role is at the Auckland Climate Festival?

MICHELLE KENNEDY Ko Michelle Kennedy toku ingoa. I’m the founder of Auckland Climate Festival and CE of social enterprise Six Generations. I set up the festival in 2021 and have led the design and delivery of it each year since. Because we are facing a climate emergency, we believe a coordinated whole-of-society response is needed, which will enable us to move faster and better than if we do it alone. As cities are key points of change and Auckland needs bold changes to ensure that our communities and te taiao thrive into the future, we bring the city together through a month-long, inclusive festival curated for and by Aucklanders to celebrate, catalyse and accelerate climate action. The festival activities support learning and knowledge-sharing opportunities that drive behaviour change, celebration and support for positive, bold climate action, more collaboration and unity in a strengthened network and more equitable considerations that reflect community aspirations. My core role is to set the overarching vision and framework for the festival and encourage organisations across industry, community and government to come together to host events, initiatives or activations as part of the festival. I start by identifying and connecting in with those who demonstrate leadership and commitment to leaving a positive legacy for Tāmaki Makaurau, many of whom are already “active” in the climate space, and then also identifying and reaching out to others who may not be but are well placed and have a responsibility to drive change. I also engage closely with our iwi host partners who hold space and guide the direction of the festival each year. This is an incredibly rich experience and ensures that we are authentic, led by wisdom, are regenerative in our practices and build from a deep understanding of the place.

MELINDA Thinking about the mood of the 2023 festival, what was your read on the mood of participants? It seems like there has been a rapid increase in awareness and people being enthused to take action on climate, and yet coupled with that, there’s also a rapidly increasing awareness that we might’ve left things a bit late, which can be demotivating. 

MICHELLE Most people feel all the feels around it and that was certainly reflected in the mood of the festival. The Anniversary Day flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle really hit home the impacts of climate change in Tāmaki Makaurau, and many people recognised that we have a lot to do to build resilience into the hard and soft infrastructure of our city, and to make some very real and courageous changes to the overarching systems that underpin our society that are clearly not serving us well. 

NEXT / Find out how New Zealand Geographic approaches sustainability as an organisation, in an interview with publisher James Frankham.