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In the absence of national leadership, cities are driving climate policy

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The Conversation

Imagine a future in which every one of Australia’s 537 local government areas, including all our capital cities and major regional centres, achieve net zero greenhouse emissions. It might sound like a pipe dream, but it could be closer than you think.

A new Climate Council report, released today, tracks the climate action being taken at the local government level.

It gives myriad examples of cities, towns and local shires, in Australia and abroad, setting and achieving ambitious goals for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transport.

In a 2016 Climate Institute survey of attitudes to climate change, 90% of respondents indicated that the federal government should shoulder the bulk of responsibility for action, with 67% saying Canberra should take a leading role.

Yet given the current policy paralysis at Commonwealth level it is little wonder that some states seem determined to go it aloneon setting ambitious clean energy targets.

Meanwhile, it’s at the local government level where enthusiastic action to embrace a more sustainable future is really taking off.

For some, the inspiration for action was a pledge by more than 1,000 mayors, local representatives and community leaders to move to 100% renewable energy.

The promise was made on the sidelines of the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, at an event called the Climate Summit for Local Leaders.

Since then, US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement seems simply to have strengthened this resolve.

More than 350 US mayors responded to Trump’s decision by pledging to reach 100% renewable energy for their communities by 2035.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that transforming the way energy is used and generated in cities and towns worldwide has the potential to deliver 70% of the total emissions reductions needed to stay on track for the 2℃ global warming limit set by the Paris Agreement.

The IEA has described cities as the key to decarbonisation.

The leaders of some of Australia’s own major cities are certainly no slouches when it comes to climate aspiration:

Ambitions are also high at regional and local council levels. One in five councils surveyed by Beyond Zero Emissions indicated they were aiming for “100% renewable energy” or “zero emissions”.

Examples detailed in the Climate Council report include, among others:

  • Yackandandah, Vic: 100% renewable energy by 2022
  • Lismore, NSW: 100% renewable energy by 2023
  • Uralla, NSW: 100% renewable energy in 5-10 years
  • Newstead, Qld: 100% renewable energy by 2017
  • Darebin, Melbourne: zero net emissions by 2020.

Power to cities

To coincide with the report, the Climate Council is also today launching its Cities Power Partnership, a free nationwide program that aims to transform Australia’s energy future from the ground up.

Thirty-five councils, representing more than 3 million Australians (12% of the population), signed up to the program even before it was launched.

To join, councils identify five items in the “Power Partners pledge” that they will strive to achieve.

These items include increasing the proportion of renewable energy generated within the local area; improving energy efficiency; providing sustainable transport options; building community sustainability partnerships; and engaging in climate advocacy.

Participants will then complete a six-monthly online survey on progress. In return, the Cities Power Partnership will provide incentives for councils to deliver on their selected targets and to work together to help each other.

Members of the partnership will have access to a national knowledge hub and an online analytical tool to measure energy, cost and emissions savings of projects. T

hey will also be buddied with other councils to share knowledge; receive visits from domestic and international experts; be connected to community energy groups; and be celebrated at events with other local leaders.

Ultimately, the CPP is designed to help local communities sidestep the political roadblocks at national level, and just get on with the job of implementing climate policies.

These may be only small projects when considered individually, but the idea is to link them into a network that, together, can make a big difference to one of our most significant challenges.

After all, the only way to eat an elephant is to take one bite at a time.

Source: The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • john

    As has happened in the USA in Australia some towns some states are doing the heavy lifting, because those who live there are sufficiently educated to realise that the normal is not sufficient to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
    This local action will bring its own fruits of a betterment for the citizens in those areas and will lead to change in those areas that have been laggards.

    • Joe

      It really is amazing how things have moved so quickly here in Australia. From practically nothing, then roughly 10 years ago came the idea of mass install of residential Solar PV. It has generated a momentum in RE that is now unstoppable in spite of the lack of leadership from our Federal COALition Government. Home storage batteries, energy management systems, smart grids and more…its all happening as they say !

      • john

        True
        However it is the likes of the ACT that is showing a lead as well as others

  • Grpfast

    A case has been presented for years on why we don’t need local govt, state govt. Now I would suggest we aren’t needing a disfunctional group of vested interest “politicians”. The LNP is living in the 1950’s.

    • Hettie

      And they would like to be in the 1450s, with feudal rule.

  • D. John Hunwick

    For a democracy to flourish and live up to its promise of universal involvement in governing it is VITAL that all local governments are forced to listen to their local communities where the majority support RE (with their own option on PV cells). This the only non-violent way to disrupt (SUBVERT) the Federal leaders of Australia who collectively are hopeless at leading us to respond to the impact of climate change

  • Hettie

    Seems about the only thing that really requires the feds to act is getting the settlement period dropped from 30 minutes to 5.
    Legislation to override aemac’s interminable delays because they are “owned ” by the fossil lobby. The change could be implemented virtually overnight, and power prices would drop like rocks.
    And renewables would STILL be cheaper than coal and gas.

  • mick

    what gives me the screaming horrors ie shits is that locals will do the heavy lifting ,aus reaches our targets then the worthless p—- running the show stand up and yep we achieved the goal in sa this is an issue as the best progressive premier in aus may well go down the gurgler scuse the french

    • Joe

      I live in Sydney and I wish we had a Premier Jay over here. Whether Premier Jay survives the next election is still to be played out but what I do know is that he has unleashed something in the RE space that has awakened the whole country. In a sense the constant warring from Turdbull and his hand puppet Joshie against Premier Jay has done us all a big favour in bringing the issue of RE front and centre. As much as the ‘Coalers’ and their boosters hate it they can’t hide from RE anymore.