Dunedin is the latest council to declare a climate emergency, and has brought forward its net zero carbon policy by two decades.
It was a matter to close to home for many on the city council, with the city having declared flooding-related Civil Defence emergencies between 2015 and 2017.
That flooding, particularly in low lying areas such as South Dunedin, could be directly attributed to climate change, the council heard on Tuesday.
More than 500 councils worldwide have declared a climate change emergency, including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
* Wellington council declares climate change emergency
* Auckland Council declares climate emergency
* Are councils walking the talk with the 'climate emergency'?
* Flooding wreaks havoc in Dunedin
* Risks to low-lying South Dunedin revealed in sea-level rise maps
* Weather eases after widespread flooding in Dunedin and Otago
Councillor Aaron Hawkins warned "the clock is ticking" and doing nothing was not an option.
The council originally aimed to reach a net zero carbon target by 2050, but that was brought forward to 2030.
Mayor Dave Cull said younger people, who would be more affected by climate change, deserved to be heard on the issue.
The cost to council was not what it did, but what it did not.
Cr Lee Vandervis warned the country could do nothing practical in that time, and questioned the projections over sea level rise.
"We don't have a climate emergency, we have a debt emergency," he said, in reference to the city's infrastructure.
The city would be better spending money on bigger pumps and pipes to protect flood-prone areas, he said.
Cr Jim O'Malley said the Dunedin City Council supporting the declaration would place increasing pressure on central Government. That happened with the nuclear-free movement, he said.
He cautioned it was not just South Dunedin facing issues over future flooding, with the Dunedin Airport and much of the Taieri just 1.2metres above sea level.
Cr Kate Wilson said she would rather die trying than "not at all", while Cr Damien Newell said "we need to be on the right side of history".
Cr David Benson-Pope said smoking causes cancer, but for a long time people believed big tobacco arguments.
He did not care if it was classed as a crisis or an emergency "because it is sure as hell both".
Other councillors would not support the declaration.
Cr Mike Lord took issue with the use of the word "emergency", believing it would alarm citizens.
Cr Conrad Stedman, a former police officer, said an emergency was having a shotgun pointed at your face and that word "puts the fear of God in people".
Andrew Whiley, who also did not support the declaration, urged those councillors who supported the move to take the bus, install solar, and not buy bananas from South America.
Mother-of-three and biologist Jennifer Shulzitski, of Extinction Rebellion, delivered a dire message on climate change to council.
Dunedin could be a model of change, she said, and "we need to act like our lives depend on it".
Other speakers addressing council included the Senior Climate Action Network and Northeast Valley School.
Student Jonty Dixon, 9, told councillors in researching climate change she was concerned about "how scary" the situation was to her fellow school students.