Accelerating the sustainability agenda

By Wayne Wescott*

It should come as no surprise, given recent media attention, that climate change is the issue of the decade. The good news is that Local Government is already taking action and has the power to change much more than you might think. The challenge for Local Government is to maintain our direction. We need to keep doing what we do better and resist the temptation to search for a new panacea that will change everything overnight.

New ideas are always welcome – at ICLEI Oceania we are generating many ourselves – but we don’t want to throw out our collective experience when adopting them. For example, we already know what issues need to be addressed: we must look at energy efficiency in our own operations as well as our communities, and we must make every dollar count in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to ensure that any new mechanisms, such as emissions trading schemes, are inclusive and accessible to local communities. Energy efficiency, particularly in buildings, must be part of the mix, as it would be unwise to concentrate on the energy generators only and risk losing the momentum and goodwill of local action.

Government needs to think broadly and include the whole region in any emissions trading schemes. This would not only pick up the significant efforts of New Zealand, but also impact on Indonesia, where ICLEI is already assisting ten cities to reduce their greenhouse emissions. ICLEI Oceania has been thinking hard about how to help. The evidence is in our approach over the last decade – and it works. Following our simple road map for sustainable development has resulted in real benefits. It might not always be glamorous to focus on what is right in front of us and make lots of small changes, but in the end it works.

Celebrating a decade of achievement

Aggregating the results of many small actions is a powerful approach. If one Council retrofits its library and reduces its energy usage, this is a good thing and important for that local community. But if 2,000 Councils do the same, and we aggregate the reductions and tell this story, we see the enormous potential of local action to change the world.

The nearly nine million tonnes of greenhouse gases abated by Local Governments in Australia over the life of ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) Australia Program is proof of this power. Over 80 per cent of the Australian and 75 per cent of the New Zealand population are now working on greenhouse abatement through this program.

ICLEI Oceania has just celebrated the achievements of Local Government over its decade of action in this region with a landmark conference, Accelerating Now!, held in Melbourne in May. We are encouraged by the energy of the 420 conference delegates and their commitment to accelerating local action efforts. Their enthusiasm bodes well for the future of local action.

Meeting future challenges

ICLEI’s role is to provide the right tools and to reduce the barriers to change at the local, state and national levels. People want action now, so our emphasis will be on building carbon neutral communities. At the same time we will be extending the CCP program to improve the ability of Local Government to adapt and to build resilience to the current challenges climate variability is creating. This brings together the two, often conflicting, political approaches to climate change – reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the changing climate.

ICLEI Oceania believes that doing one without the other is a recipe for disaster. Adaptation alone might be a critical first step for countries such as Africa or the Pacific islands that are affected by climate change while contributing very little to it, but it is not enough for developed countries like Australia. We cannot dismiss our impact on the basis of our relatively small population. Our greenhouse emissions are, in fact, arguably the highest per capita in the world.

New Mayors’ Council for climate protection

The Australasian Mayors Council for Climate Protection (AMCCP) has been established to smooth both of these approaches by strengthening Local Governments’ non partisan advocacy and action on climate change. Over 240 Mayors from Australia and New Zealand have been invited to take part in this initiative and their response shows enormous support for a local voice to influence the broader policy debate.

The AMCCP will develop the Australasian agenda for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving money while improving the quality of life. By engaging other spheres of government and the broader community, the AMCCP will encourage CCP Councils to commit to becoming carbon neutral communities.

As support for the carbon neutral agenda grows, the AMCCP will help CCP Councils to reduce energy consumption, increase the use of renewable energy and secure offsets for remaining emissions across their communities. Assistance will also be provided on adaptation initiatives with tools to build resilience.

The AMCCP will also use ICLEI’s successful strategy of leading by example. Participating Councils will encourage their local businesses, community organisations, schools, hospitals, universities, shoppers and householders to work in partnership with them.

*Wayne Wescott is Chief Executive Officer of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability – Oceania (ICLEI Oceania). For more information on the outcomes of Accelerating Now! and how to get involved with the Australasian Mayors Council for Climate Protection or ICLEI Oceania programs contact the Oceania Secretariat on (03) 9639 8688 or visit www.iclei.org/oceania