In early February, a group of councillors and senior officers from Mornington Peninsula Shire, Victoria, attended a presentation about the financial and liability risks to Council, business and the community if climate change action and mitigation is not integrated across Council activities now.
Sarah Barker, Special Counsel at international law firm Minter Ellison, spoke on the approaches being taken by corporate organisations worldwide including the World Economic Forum, global banks, rating agencies and insurance agencies, to address climate change risk in their operations.
Barker stressed the issue has progressed far beyond a purely environmental impact and is now a serious financial consideration for industries and communities across the globe.
Shire Mayor, David Gill, said Council welcomed the opportunity to learn more about global approaches to climate change risk.
“It was great to hear from an industry expert and reinforce the knowledge that our efforts to adapt Council operations and support our community are in line with global trends.
“Sarah presented a different lens on the potential risks to our community and highlighted the Peninsula’s vulnerability to sea level rise in low lying areas.
“The productivity of our agricultural sector is also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change through increased drought, increased frequency of storms and the intensity of storms causing flash flooding.
The Mayor said Council was working to ensure the Shire and community were well equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to prepare for these risks and reduce liability.
The Shire’s long term commitment to reducing the region’s vulnerability to climate change traces back to the Sustainable Peninsula initiative in 2001 and has been held up as an example of successful community engagement of residents and community groups, motivating them to contribute to the Shire’s agenda.
In 2006 the Shire had its first serious discussion with residents about climate change hosting the Your Community Your Future Forum.
This was followed up with a series of ‘Community Conversations’ supported by an information kit for households titled ‘Climate Change: what are we doing about it’ which gave credibility to the Shire’s position with the science on climate change impacts for the region.
A three stage community engagement program followed by a comprehensive risk assessment and response strategy gained community commitment to adaptation initiatives.
A member of the international Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, Mayor Gill said, “Council has an active ongoing program of identifying our key climate change risks to infrastructure, the environment, service delivery, finance and our community and setting actions and controls in place to minimise these risks.”
Councillor Simon Brooks, one of five councillors in attendance, said, “Council regards climate change risk and working with our communities to adapt and mitigate against climate change, as one of our highest priorities.
“We have an obligation to limit impact and also a need to lessen liability to our ratepayers long after this Council term is over.
“The knowledge gained today will help us continue to make change at an operational level and plan for the future impacts of climate change.
“Sarah explained that the risks have now been well and truly identified with the recent World Economic Forum placing climate change and its impacts as the single biggest threat to the economic and political order”.
The Shire’s Manager Climate Change, Energy and Water, Melissa Burrage, said Council had been proactive in leading the way for the community to take action.
“We’re determined to shape a council and community prepared to respond to the impacts of climate change across all areas of our operations, especially planning, infrastructure, finance and the environment”.
Council is actively reducing its own operational emissions and plans to become carbon neutral accredited by 2021. Recently Council also adopted a new Climate Change Community Engagement Strategy designed to help the community reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be better prepared for the impacts of climate change.
As part of the Strategy, the Shire has set a target reducing community greenhouse gas emission by a minimum of 2.9 percent annually and is working towards zero greenhouse gas emissions for the Peninsula.
Council has established the Eco Living Display Centre that offers residents opportunities to learn how to reduce their water, energy and waste in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
Best Bites awards program encourages local food businesses to use environmentally sustainable business practices.
The Climate Ready website is a combined information service for the cities of Bayside and Kingston and Shire of Mornington. It presents information on the impacts of climate change including drought, heatwave, extreme storms, flash flooding, and bushfire; and includes a risk assessment for residents’ own property. As the federal government pulls together a climate policy to take to the election, councils like Mornington use science and good business practice to lead their communities in preparation for the future.