With a lack of real commitment on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at federal level, many communities just want to get on with the job of addressing climate change. This is where the real action is. Communities see and experience the impacts of climate change, as do many councils, and have the power to press ahead with climate solutions and not be constrained by a national government of climate skeptics. Councils and communities can also show leadership, learning by doing, undertaking activities that are replicable and scaleable in regions across Australia.
Byron Shire Council in NSW is leading the pack on developing and implementing zero emissions solutions, partnering with Beyond Zero Emissions on the Zero Emissions Byron Project. The project involves Byron Shire transitioning to zero emissions over 10 years, adapting BZE’s Zero Carbon Australia plans across the energy, buildings, transport, land use and waste sectors.
This past weekend, Byron Shire Council and Beyond Zero Emissions hosted the project’s first community workshop to get the project up and running.
Dividing the project into the 5 different sectors allows groups to focus on areas where their skills and interests lie. It also ensures a holistic approach to emissions reductions and means that the majority of emissions sources are covered, with no gaps left unaddressed.
Council and BZE’s role are to guide and steer the project, and leave community members to do what they are best at, under the framework and vision provided by the project. A steering committee has also been established to oversight the project.
This is the first example of a community in Australia taking targeted action on climate change, and showing others what can be done at community level. It is an opportunity to demonstrate for others the community approach and lessons learned, so that others might follow. There is the opportunity here to replicate and scale the approach, to lead to substantial emissions reductions across the country. This is direct action as never seen before.
The profile of the project is also increasing, with Mayor Simon Richardson invited to speak on the project at the recent climate inter-sessional meetings in Bonn, Germany earlier this month. The project is being exposed to members of the international community, who are seeing that many Australians do care about climate change, and want to take serious action.
A vision for energy in the community might include a 100% renewable energy Byron. There are already a host of energy activities already underway in the Byron community. Options include installing rooftop solar systems across households, businesses and towns over a 10 year period. Over the same time horizon, energy projects including Community Owned Renewable Energy Mullumbimby (COREM) and the 100 Go Solar project could provide 100% renewable energy to Byron Shire through Australia’s first community energy retailer, Enova, which is based in Byron Shire. One would expect an expansion of the Virtual Net Metering project, a partnership of consumers, electricity providers, and Council to level the playing field for local energy by reducing charges for network use and allowing consumers to benefit from local energy generation. Council itself has undertaken a range of energy efficiency upgrades, is installing a 25kW rooftop solar system and has implemented methane capture and flaring at the local landfill.
A vision for buildings might encompass a 100% zero emissions buildings plan. This would involve modelling the different buildings types and emissions reductions possible from the Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan and assessing emissions reductions possible from 9 Energy Freedom actions in each building type. It will be necessary to assess and factor the likely trends and technological advances over the next 10 years, such as in battery storage. Council has already removed fees for secondary dwellings so as to encourage the small house movement and more sustainable and affordable housing in the Shire. The new Byron Bay Library has been designed to incorporate ecologically sustainable design principles and has achieved a 5 star green building rating. There are numerous courses and events available on green building design through the Byron Community College and the Green Building Centre.
A vision for transport could involve zero emissions transport in 10 years. This would involve assessing emission sources from transport in the Shire, across private vehicles, fleets, trucks, buses and rail, utilising and adapting BZE’s public transport model to enhance public transport system in Byron shire and improved interaction between the different transport modes. Council is already trialling an electric vehicle and is investigating opportunities for an integrated charge station network in the Shire to enable greater uptake, with a solar powered fast charge station already available. Northern Rivers Carpool, a regional government collaboration, aims to create a network of commuters, from Tweed to Clarence, to share their travel time and reduce travelling costs. The Carpool Project is a free and is an easy web-based service that matches travel details of like commuters. Trains on our Tracks – A community group passionate about introducing solar trains in parallel with bike trails as a more sustainable form of transport. A not for profit community group, Northern Rivers Rail Trail Association Inc, are passionate about preserving the 130km of disused rail corridor between Murwillumbah and Casino and converting it to a modern cycle and walking trail. Council has recently adopted a Byron Shire Bike Plan.
A vision for land use could be a scaleable revegetation program offsetting land use and other emissions in Byron. There are already a number of projects dedicated to creating a transparent and clean local food system, including the Byron Region Food Sovereignty Network. There are local organic communities that connect real farmers with real people to create an ethical food system. The local Landcare group is very active. Mullum Sustainability Education and Enterprise Development (SEED) conducts permaculture courses and education, support for community groups and teaches through demonstration.
A vision for waste could be a zero waste Byron in 10 years. The Council has already provided a $10K grant to fund local festivals to reduce waste to landfill. There is a Waste Wise Schools program where Solo, in partnership with Council, runs an education program that has reached 12 schools and approximately 2900 students. The new green waste organics collection system in the Shire is expected to divert around 3,000 tonnes of organic waste from landfill each year. Many other councils are doing similar activities in their communities, already demonstrating the trends underway.
The Byron community comprises many active individuals and groups committed to climate action. Many will say that of course this kind of action can happen in Byron, and in Byron only. But the same challenges apply here as in other communities. Community delivery of a zero emissions vision will need to involve participation of young and old, male and female, people from all walks of life. This community based approach to climate action provides a model for what could well happen at a scale in many communities across Australia.
Dr Stephen Bygrave is CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions, and an Adjunct Professor at UNSW.