A stroll through the websites of the 109 Australian local councils that have passed a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) reveals a number of good things that other councils might emulate, but where are the Climate Emergency banners?
In 2019 Yarra City Council displayed physical Climate Emergency banners on all three of the Town Halls in its jurisdiction. This was a wonderful initiative, but what I hoped to find was a council website with an emergency banner across the top of its Home page, much like the COVID emergency banners that were displayed on many if not all council websites.
Not one of the CED councils in Australia has a Climate Emergency banner on its website.
Of course a CED should result in urgent tangible action, not just words, but a council doesn’t need to declare a Climate Emergency in order to take climate action. Declarations play an important public signal role, and at their best will engage an entire community in taking action.
CED councils are generally pretty good at reducing the carbon footprint of their own operations. 74 (68%) have signed on to Cities Power Partnerships (CPP) with pledges that tend to focus on council’s own operations, and 18 (16.5%) have joined the Cities Race to Zero.
At least 10 Australian CED councils (Adelaide, Bayside, Fremantle, Maribyrnong, Melbourne, Moreland, Surf Coast Shire, Sydney, Woollahra, and Yarra) have already achieved carbon neutrality for their own operations, in some cases prior to declaring a Climate Emergency. But a council’s own emissions are generally only about 1-2% of community-wide carbon emissions. Carbon neutrality for the entire jurisdiction is both necessary and significantly harder to achieve.
Making council CEDs visible
A lot of the point of declaring a Climate Emergency is its value as a public signal – a signal that informs the public of the need to act and that says what the entire community can and should do to deal with the emergency. But public messages need to be seen to be effective – ideally on the Home page of a council’s website.
How visible are those 109 CEDs on council websites?
53 council websites (48.6%) have a website page dedicated to Climate Emergency information. However often the page title is something ‘softer’ and more generic, like ‘climate change’ or ‘sustainability’, and the user needs to click through several menu layers to find it. 46 (42%) have environment, sustainability, or similar in their main menu, but none have ‘Climate Emergency’ as a Home page main menu item.
Just one council, Melville City Council, has a link to its CED information visible on its Home page, in this case as a popular search item labelled Climate Change Declaration. This links to a dedicated CED page entitled Climate Change Action. Huge kudos to Melville (but I can’t help wondering where the word ’emergency’ has gone).
Climate Emergency community outreach
Searches within council websites revealed quite a few good things CED councils are doing to inform and engage their communities, and which other councils could beneficially emulate. Search results were quite effective for finding Climate Emergency information at 56 (51%) of council websites, with half of those searches producing a significant number of hits. Searches at another 33 (30%) websites did lead to something relevant, such as the minutes of a meeting, but not much. (Local residents could be forgiven for thinking the emergency is not real if they need to use the search function to find information about it.)
Some councils quite explicitly ask their local communities to be part of Climate Emergency action, for example the action and advocacy page linked to from the Yarra City Council Take Climate Action webpage.
Altogether 56 (51%) of CED council websites contain a reasonably significant amount of information about how local residents and businesses can reduce their carbon emissions, but around half of those present it as climate/environment/sustainability action rather than explicitly framing it as being ways local people can help tackle the Climate Emergency.
Standouts are two councils (maybe more but I wasn’t specifically looking for this) who have set up dedicated Climate Emergency websites: the Zero Carbon Moreland website, and the Surf Coast Shire’s separate Climate Emergency website with its inspired Local Stories page.
|Climate Emergency visibility
|Number of councils
|CED banner on Home page
|CED mention on Home page
|CED in main menu
|Environment in main menu
|Dedicated CED page
|‘Climate Emergency’ search results
|Climate Emergency community outreach
|Sustainability community outreach
Strategies for engaging and empowering local communities
Tackling the Climate Emergency requires everyone doing their bit. Ideally the entire community will:
- SEE that their local council is acting like it is an emergency
- LEARN what they can do to help tackle the Climate Emergency
- KNOW that lots of other residents, businesses, etc., are also doing what they can (normalising Climate Emergency behaviour)
The recent PitchFest run by Surf Coast Shire Council invited residents to vote for which local projects should win two Climate Emergency Grants. That gave a clear public signal that Council expected and wanted to facilitate Climate Emergency action within the community, but not only that. Holding a public PitchFest added extra visibility for the grants themselves and, importantly, showed off some of the climate initiatives undertaken within the local community.
Some councils (I didn’t count how many) invite residents to sign up to receive their Climate Emergency e-news featuring actions taken by the council itself and also by the wider community. Another excellent strategy is to include Climate Emergency action stories submitted by residents on the council website.
19 (17%) of CED councils offer some sort of climate grants or awards. 13 (12%) offer some sort of financial help for climate beneficial actions, such as the Solar Savers scheme originally initiated by Darebin City Council and now emulated by other councils, and 7 (6%) offer bulk buy schemes. 23 (21%) provide links to state government schemes giving no- or low-interest loans and/or subsidies for measures that reduce emissions.
|Number of councils
|Climate Emergency grants / awards
|Council loans / subsidies
|State government loans / subsidies
Simply showing links to state government schemes that help finance emissions reduction measures might seem like a rather low bar, but it is something even councils with tight budgets and over-worked staff can do. To be effective it should be on the website Home page, not hidden way down in sub-menus.
To be really effective, links to state government schemes can be framed as ‘help for residents to take Climate Emergency action’. Simply framing it that way flags the expectation that everyone can and should help. The information at the links educates about the types of actions that reduce emissions, and the financial help makes it easier for everyone to do so.
What is the most effective Climate Emergency community engagement strategy by a local council that you have seen? Please tell us all in the comments box below. And do let us know if YOUR council adds a Climate Emergency banner to your website!
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