The declaration of a climate emergency at any level of government is not merely symbolic, as South Gippsland Action Group’s Lindsay Love suggests. Nor does it have to lead to higher costs for local government with no benefits for residents (Letters, October 27, 2020).
In fact, far greater financial costs could be incurred by council, and ratepayers, by a failure to respond properly to the climate emergency.
Specific and measurable outcomes that benefit all residents are achievable through climate emergency actions embedded in Council Plans and prioritised in programs and infrastructure budget streams.
Faced with serious threats such as reduced rainfall, higher temperatures and more extreme heat events, increased bushfire and flood risk, and rising sea levels, councils cannot simply sign over mitigation to “climate warriors”, as advocated by Mr Love.
Telling people in favour of a climate emergency declaration that they should just go out and fund “green energy” projects does not address council’s responsibility to act.
A responsible council can reduce emissions from energy consumption through its procurement of energy, by supporting renewable energy, and by supporting and advocating for sustainable energy options. Transport emissions can be addressed through fleet policies and advocacy and by identifying strategies for how transport systems can be shaped and controlled. Proper procurement and waste management policies and practices across all operational and capital activities can deliver environmental and social benefits. Planning and design regulations can reduce emissions and resources extraction and promote greater energy efficiency.
All these actions and outcomes, and much more, can be achieved by councils collaborating with residents, community groups and businesses who are willing and eager to engage in taking immediate action to address the climate emergency.
Council has a major role in partnering with communities, business and farmers to capture the new economic opportunities of renewable energies, energy efficiency, regenerative farming and carbon sequestration. Rather than a cost we have to bear, we can capitalise on the affordances offered by a sustainable low-carbon economy.
As well, we should be thinking of ways climate emergency action could help restore and revitalise democratic local government processes in South Gippsland, once we are again allowed to vote for a shire council.
Local government has significant opportunities and power to influence and shape our future. Citizen juries can help council consider how we implement a just transition away from carbon emissions that threaten our future and how we build a local economy that works for everyone, in balance with our environment.
Finally, the Victorian Local Government Bill 2018 specifies that councils must give priority to achieving the best outcomes for the municipal community, including future generations, and that mitigation and planning for climate change risks to ensure the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the municipal district is to be promoted and pursued by councils.
Climate change risk has been described as a “perfect storm” for local government. The Bill has a clear message for councils: Get your house in order – embed climate action in all council strategies, plans and actions, or risk judicial and administrative claims.
If you’re really worried about costs to council, then maybe take some time to focus on the financial impact a failure to properly govern climate-related risks could have on your rates, as well as your property values.
Tony Walker, Fish Creek.