Bushfires and the climate emergency what can local governments do?

The recent catastrophic firestorms engulfing Australian forests, farmlands and communities have been heartbreaking and we at ICLEI extend our condolences to everyone who has lost loved ones or property or businesses.

It is also heartbreaking to witness the widespread damage to habitat and wildlife. 

This disaster brings home once again the reality that we are facing a Climate Emergency.  

State Governments are now issuing ‘catastrophic’ fire warnings – the first time this language has been used. More than 1200 local, state and national jurisdictions in 25 countries have now declared a climate emergency. Eleven thousand scientists worldwide have also declared a climate emergency, warning of ‘catastrophic threat’ to humanity. 

So what can and should governments do? Yes we should all be planning ways for transitioning rapidly from fossil fuels to renewables in order to play our part in reducing emissions. 

This will yield significant local benefits in terms of economic payback, more resilient power supply and a cleaner environment, but it is also important that all levels of government demonstrate that they are willing to play their part in limiting global warming. 

It is especially important that the national government show leadership through its climate commitments.

Equally important is for governments to assess the trajectory of future climate impacts and risks and prepare short and long-term plans to reduce risk and to adapt to climate change.

This means we should not just focus on better fire-fighting capacity but on using all the levers available to government – planning, regulation, infrastructure and service provision, social support – to reduce the potential damage and loss from climate change, both slow onset and catastrophic.

Local Governments are playing a critical role in responding to the fires and supporting their communities to recover from fires. 

It is very often the Mayor who is interviewed by the media to speak on behalf of the community about the real impact of the fires. 

But councils can also leverage their unique role as the level of government closest to the community to prepare robust climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction plans.

Strategies for adapting to disasters and climate change must be tailored to local conditions – only councils working with local residents and businesses can achieve this. 

ICLEI is ready to support any Australian local government in this important work.

ICLEI Oceania: icleioceania.org/; Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate &
Energy: gcom-oceania.org