Local government and climate change

Why should people interested in climate change be interested in local government?

Understandably for a global problem, much of the focus for climate action is on national leadership.

Labor is working hard at the national level in defence of the Clean Energy package, including the Climate Change Authority, and now there are Tony Abbott’s threats to the Renewable Energy Target, his reckless or knowing untruths about renewable energy and electricity prices and a new campaign against renewables – on spurious health grounds, of all things, while Morwell in Victoria is shrouded in coal smoke.

But local action is essential too.

Labor seeks to be active in local government because of the vital difference that local governments make in people’s lives. Local government roles are particularly critical regarding climate change issues.

Engagement through local government provides an avenue for people to be directly involved in climate action, even at a time when Tony Abbott’s gang is trying to reverse national action to meet the emergency, and when most States have Coalition Governments which are not facing up as well as they should to their responsibilities on climate issues.

Labor supporters who are seeking to support and participate in climate action should seek out their Labor local government representatives. If there are representatives not taking clear enough action, help them to see how to do so.

In some local government areas where there is not a strong Labor presence, it is worth getting in touch with other good people in local government who are acting on climate change issues because they recognise the interests of their local communities.

Weren’t there claims about local government in Tony Abbott’s campaign against climate action?

Yes, Tony Abbott’s gang tried to make costs to local government a feature of their campaign against climate action. The claims were to the effect that there would be huge costs for councils, which would flow on to ratepayers.

These claims were wildly exaggerated and made no mention of the compensation for taxpayers and pensioners which was an essential part of the Clean Energy package, or other measures to assist with adjustment.

  • Greg Combet caught them out in false claims about impacts of carbon pricing on council trucks.
  • Wayne Swan caught them out falsely claiming that landfills would all be subject to carbon pricing:

The majority of landfills and the majority of councils in Australia will have no liability under the carbon price. The landfills have to be big enough to be liable.

We have had further spreading of misrepresentation by the member for Flinders in relation to councils. What he failed to say in mentioning the City of Wyndham is that the City of Wyndham supports the carbon price.

A government member: Whoops!

Mr DREYFUS: Whoops, indeed.

What roles do local governments have about climate change?

As noted by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility:

Local governments play a critical front-line role in Australia’s response to the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise. … Local government authorities are at the forefront of managing the impacts of climate change through land-use planning, development consent and asset management and protection.

While climate change impacts are manifest at the local level, the responsibility for adaptive action cannot lie solely with local government. Effective adaptation requires coordinated national leadership to support decisions made at the local level.

Unfortunately, for the moment we cannot confidently expect positive and effective national leadership to support decisions made at the local level on climate issues, from the irresponsible Abbott government.

But local governments are acting, including through national and regional networks. Even Tony Abbott can’t really expect us to think the local government bodies taking climate action across Australia are all inner urban lefties or socialist extremists.

The Australian Local Government Association has indicated that:

  • Climate change is one of ALGA’s top 5 priority policy issues
  • ALGA recognises the importance of evidence based policy making
  • ALGA supports a price on carbon, in particular a market based approach to drive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
  • ALGA acknowledges that there will be significant impacts resulting from climate change that cannot be avoided
  • ALGA has a vital interest in climate change policy

Where can I find information from local government associations ?

Local government associations each have climate change pages.

As well as overall resources they provide links to initiatives across Australia, from coastal to city to rural and remote communities. All except Queensland provide a range of public information including

  • land-use and climate change (sea level rise and bushfire issues)
  • guidelines and / or workshops for developing a climate change action plan;
  • case studies on planning, adaptation, distributed energy, community engagement and energy efficiency

Queensland’s LGA has a climate change site too but provides this for members and others with www.qld.gov.au addresses. There are good collections of Queensland resources compiled in papers by Professor Heather Zeppel at USQ.

In the Australian Capital Territory, the responsibilities usually handled by local government are administered by the territory government. Under Labor the ACT Government has been very active on climate change issues.

Where do I find information on initiatives by regional networks of councils?

What initiatives have there been by councils?

Information below is based on a very quick web tour in February 2014. Apologies in advance for omissions. Please send us more information about initiatives you know of or are involved in!

National sources

  • You can find more information from the local government portal at the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility including case studies
  • In August 2013 councils in five states (NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia) formed a research partnership with the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (established by Labor in government nationally) to develop practical steps for embedding climate change adaptation into the short, medium, and long-term planning of local governments. A Guidance Manual is due for publication in early 2014.

Western Australia

Queensland

As noted the Queensland Local Government Association has a climate change page, but this is accessible for .qld.gov.au email addresses only. For some local government bodies in Queensland, climate action is happening but is best found online by searching with google or similar rather than through the councils own website navigation and search.

Some Queensland councils don’t have express climate change plans but do have climate change in their disaster plans. Some Qld councils that don’t yet have climate change plans have it on their operational plan for development. There are some outstanding initiatives, but the need for State and Federal government leadership appears clear.

  • Blackall-Tambo council climate change page, central Qld
  • The Brisbane City plan for action on climate change and energy is dated 2007 – time to update people?
  • Cairns climate change page links to a series of interlinked plans and actions and plans include annual indicators across mitigation and adaptation.
  • Gold Coast joined worldwide Cities for Climate Protection in 1997. Gold Coast’s climate change page notes that the first recorded council response to climate science was in 1977! See Gold Coast’s climate change strategy 2009-2014
  • Ipswich council climate page has less information than some others on council’s own plans, but contains good information and advice for residents
  • Isaac regional council is supporting the Witness King Tides project to document sea level issues
  • Among its energy efficiency initiatives Logan City council records that its ammonia based chiller (although common in industrial settings) was the first in an Australian office setting. This innovation has been prompted by Labor’s clean energy legislation. People who have followed the carbon pricing debate in Parliament will know that freon refrigerants are far more powerful greenhouse gases than CO2; that John Howard’s government recognised the need to restrict these gases; and that despite this Tony Abbott and his crew opposed any action about synthetic refrigerants and told extravagant untruths about the ruinous effects which Labor’s legislation in this area would have.
  • Mackay council included climate change in their community consultation for planning towards 2031
  • Mareeba shire council has sets of home energy audit toolkits for loan
  • Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast councils have partnered in providing smart homes info
  • Redland council climate change page including climate change strategy
  • Rockhampton 2050: Technical Report on Current and Future Climate Hazards was supported by local and the (Labor) Federal government
  • Sunshine Coast council’s climate action includes an initiative to build a 10MW solar farm which was deservedly featured in national media
  • Tablelands Regional Council climate change page
  • Torres Strait council identifies extremely serious climate change issues, cultural and physical
  • Townsville: Coastal Hazard Adaptation Strategy

Tasmania

Northern Territory

Under Labor climate risk assessments in vulnerable NT communities has been part funded by the Commonwealth. Will that continue?

  • The Northern Territory Local Government Association climate page
  • Belyuen council: climate risks include sea level rise, more intense cyclones, disease risks
  • Coomalie council Climate Change Risk Assessment
  • Darwin City Council
  • Tiwi Islands Climate Change Risk Assessment: As the assessment says, highly resilient communities but increasingly exposed to extreme events
  • Wagait Climate Change Risk Assessment
  • West Arnhem Climate Change Risk Assessment

Victoria

  • Municipal Association of Victoria climate page links to some of their range of work – there are more climate change documents on their site too
  • Eight South-East Victorian councils have banded together on greenhouse abatement and climate adaptation programs for the Western Port region
  • Ararat is reducing emissions by using wood waste from transfer station to heat local indoor pool
  • Tea Tree Gully council reports on treatment plant, aquatic and recreation centre re energy efficiency and renewables
  • Towong Shire was the first council in Australia to facilitate a community purchasing program for solar home energy systems. The Pure Towong Energy community renewables program focus on barrier reduction and community engagement provides a model for success

South Australia

NSW

  • NSW Local Government Association climate change page has workshop package for developing action plan, case studies on action
  • NSW rural council Eorobodalla adopted revised coastal development approach after considering climate change
  • Kuringai accepts climate change increases bushfire risk, incorporates into landuse planning; conducts Building Climate Wise Communities workshops
  • Lake Macquarie council plans for sea level rise, flood risks from climate change
  • NSW central west: Parkes adopts distributed energy plan, instals solar PV on all major infrastructure assets; roll-out of Parkes Solar Communities Project
  • Parramatta: energy efficiency for carpark saving 33% energy for ratepayers, reducing CO2
  • Uralla: community forum to produce consensus recs for climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Rural NSW Wellington, Blayney, Cabonne shires plan climate action together
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