video of Onkaparinga Council debate of Climate Emergency Declaration motion

Climate Emergency Declarations: Why and why not?

In Australia, 22% of local councils have declared a Climate Emergency so far, the most recent being Onkaparinga City Council on 30 January 2023. You can watch the video of the debate concerning that motion at the 1:35:50 mark here.

Background information included in the agenda item stated that 15 councils in South Australia and a total of 112 nationwide had already declared a Climate Emergency (actual figures at that date were 16 and 116 respectively). This is not at all unusual. Arguments in favour of local council declarations have almost always cited the number of local and/or global precedents at the time the Climate Emergency motion was proposed.

The intended implication appears to be that such declarations are considered a good idea by numerous Councillors elsewhere and that passing the declaration motion would not be particularly radical or controversial – or perhaps that failing to do so is falling behind on current expectations.

However, one Onkaparinga Councillor seemed to think it significant that 78% of councils – the rest of the 537 local councils in Australia – had not passed a Climate Emergency Declaration motion. He wondered what their reasons were.

Number of CEDsTotal councils% of CED councils
Aust Capital Territory11100.00%
New South Wales3912830.47%
Northern Territory1175.88%
South Australia176825.00%
Western Australia111387.97%
Percentage of councils that have declared a Climate Emergency in each region of Australia

Local councils who have not declared a Climate Emergency

Unfortunately I don’t have comprehensive data on councils that have not (yet) declared a Climate Emergency. I have a record of 17 councils where such a motion was proposed and rejected, but there might have been a few more. Some of those simply voted down the declaration motion. Some amended the motion to remove the ‘climate emergency’ part then passed a more generic climate action motion.

I can’t be sure without contacting all the rest, but I suspect that in most cases council has not yet had a Climate Emergency Declaration motion on their agenda so has not yet voted either for or against. I’ve heard of some areas where lobbying efforts by local climate campaigners have fallen on deaf ears. Or, perhaps like my own area one or two Councillors react positively but they don’t want to propose a declaration motion until they are confident it will be supported.

However, is it that most non-declaring councils simply haven’t thought about a declaration, perhaps due to there being no active community campaign in their area, or do they actively oppose the concept? (Or do both cases amount to the same thing?)

Community support for Climate Emergency declarations

While a show of community support is often helpful there is not necessarily a clear correlation between community support and the outcome of a Climate Emergency Declaration motion. Observed success patterns amongst Australian councils include:

  • a concerned Councillor takes full initiative to propose and successfully achieve a declaration with no input from the local community
  • a concerned Councillor announces an intention to propose a motion, with members of the local community then providing a show of support via emails, deputations, attendance at the council meeting, or similar
  • local climate campaigners take the initiative to start the process via a petition, contacting Councillors, etc. They find a supportive Councillor to propose the motion and then organise deputations and community attendance at the relevant Council meeting.

Councillors proposing declaration motions have an easier job if they can show community support for their motion, but in some council areas even a huge and sustained show of community support has failed to achieve success. Ultimately the fate of the motion will depend on the opinions of the elected Councillors and the dynamics between them.

Declaring a Climate Emergency at a second attempt

At least six councils in Australia, including Onkaparinga, rejected a declaration motion the first time one was proposed but eventually passed one. In Onkaparinga’s case this might have been because there had been council elections in the meantime with new Councillors appointed but that wasn’t the case for some others.

The first attempt at a declaration motion failed at both Adelaide City Council and Holdfast Bay Council but both passed one several months later without any change in Councillors. In both cases there was a strong showing of community support at the first attempts, then no community involvement in achieving the subsequent successful attempt and no publicly obvious reason for the change of heart.

Post-declaration action planning

An amendment to the Onkaparinga motion added the following:

That a report come back to Council’s July 2023 meeting outlining the potential cost and investment opportunities and any reports from councils who have already declared a climate emergency for Council to enhance the Climate Change Response Plan 2022-27 in line with the Climate Emergency Declaration.

Happily there is a strong culture of mutual sharing between Climate Emergency councils, and progress reports are available from some of them (eg. Yarra City Council). Many have now published their Climate Action Plans, and links to those are in Column K at this Google spreadsheet. There is also a random collection of some of the less obvious post-declaration actions in various countries on cedamia’s Council post-CED actions page.

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Coffs Youth Climate Alliance members with Councillor Cassell after council Climate Emergency Declaration

Climate Emergency trends in 2022

An overview of:

  • New Climate Emergency declarations
  • Local council Climate Emergency action reporting
  • Country-specific trends
  • VECO achievements
  • Klimakrise declarations in Norway
  • A new and worrying misuse of ‘climate emergency’
  • and a huge missed opportunity in the UK

New Climate Emergency declarations

The most recent Australian local council to declare a Climate Emergency was Coffs Harbour City Council. A long campaign by the Coffs Youth Climate Alliance (pictured above) was instrumental in getting the motion by Councillor Cassell over the line.

There were seven new declarations in Australia during 2022: Albury City Council on 28 March, Nillumbik Shire Council on 26 April, South Australia State Parliament (both Houses) on 31 May, Liverpool City Council on 27 July, Derwent Valley Council on 28 July, Whitehorse City Council on 12 September, then Coffs Harbour City Council on 8 December. In addition, Knox City Council upgraded their earlier ‘recognition’ to a Climate Emergency Declaration.

Globally there were 79 new declarations in 2022 (see the ‘Fact sheet’ tab of cedamia’s CED record sheet), the lowest annual count since the global spread of declarations began in late 2018. But there might have been more. I suspect that some are not reported in the media now that declarations are less novel, and declarations in some countries might not have been reported in English-language media.

At the local council level the 2022 declarations included 27 in USA, 9 in the UK, 8 in Canada, and 27 in Japan.

Officials displaying Peru's Climate Emergency declaration document
Emergencia Climática declaration in Peru

There were also two new national declarations: Peru in January and Vanuatu in May, meaning there are now 40 countries that have at least one Climate Emergency declaration either at the local or national level.

Local council Climate Emergency action reporting

These days the ‘climate emergency’ news articles in my daily Google Alerts feed are less often about new declarations. Instead an increasing number of articles report on newly adopted Climate Emergency Action Plans or give progress reports on plans and targets adopted earlier.

A lot of the action plans have taken 1-2 years to develop. That might seem awfully slow for an ’emergency’ response, but the focus seems to be on ‘getting it right’. In many cases there has been initial consultation and analysis of baselines, then development of a draft strategy, and finally a lengthy public consultation process. It’s understandable that all takes time, but I’ve often thought it would be good to pick one or two no-brainer actions – actions that anyone could predict would be part of the action plan – and to implement those immediately to show their communities they are serious about taking action.

One local council is now doing just that. Port Hope Municipal Council in Canada declared a Climate Emergency just last week. They plan to develop an action plan during 2023, but as an intermediate step they have asked staff to identify 3 priority actions to be adopted within 60 days.

Country-specific trends

After a while climate action plans all start to look much the same. (You can see quite a few of them in Column K of cedamia’s CED record sheet.) The required solutions are similar for most local jurisdictions in developed countries. Even so, some trends have emerged over the last year or so.

Banning the use of fossil gas in new buildings is becoming a feature of some action plans, particularly in Canada, California, and New York. In almost all US action plans, there is a strong emphasis on equity, on not leaving behind black and brown or other disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Two major responsibilities for larger UK local councils are local public transport and social housing. Accordingly their action plans tend to include decarbonisation of public transport and energy efficiency upgrades for social (and other) housing. Housing insulation schemes and replacement of gas and oil for home heating are particularly common themes. Tree planting and rewilding are also very common elements of UK action plans.

Local councils in Australia have a relatively narrow range of responsibilities and control – not quite just ‘roads, rates, and rubbish’, but close – so it’s not surprising that their action plans focus first on what they can control easily, that is, their own operations. Many seem to focus first on stationary energy, meaning solar panels on their own buildings, LED street lighting, and the VECO scheme below. Some are making a start on electrification of fleets, but that is harder due the high cost of EVs in Australia.

VECO achievements

We reported in an earlier blog article that Queenscliffe Borough Council had achieved a 73% reduction in emissions from it’s own operations in the first year since declaring a Climate Emergency. A large part of that achievement was due to participation in the Victorian Energy Collaboration (VECO) power purchase agreement whereby 51 Victorian Councils signed up to buy renewable electricity. Collectively this has resulted in a reduction of 172,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over its first year.

Over the last week or so there have been yet more happy reports of the emissions reductions and cost savings achieved from other participating councils over the last year: Ballarat (12,000 tonnes and 25% cost saving), Moonee Valley (6,000 tonnes and $92,000 reductions), Bass Coast Shire (2,000 tonnes and $30,000 reductions), and Greater Shepparton (6,406 tonnes and $99,571 reductions).

Hopefully other regions in Australia will be inspired to develop similar collaborations, or perhaps they are already working on doing so. It must be an enormous amount of highly challenging work for the core organisers, but once the groundwork is done it sounds like a no-brainer for individual councils to sign on.

Klimakrise declarations in Norway

Extinction Rebellion die-in in Norway

With the addition of Norway, the number of countries shown in the global list as having at least one Climate Emergency Declaration made a sudden jump from 39 to 40 in December 2022, but this didn’t represent new activity. According to this article, quite a few local governments in Norway declared a ‘klimakrise’ back in 2019. So far we’ve only been able to confirm and add three of them due to a rearrangement of council boundaries in 2020.

At first glance ‘klimakrise’ looks like it means climate crisis, not climate emergency, and if that were so these declarations would not be added to the global list. However, it now appears that klimakrise does equate to climate emergency – please correct me if I am wrong!

The Extinction Rebellion banner in the photo above uses klimakrise whereas an equivalent English-language banner would use ‘climate emergency’. But perhaps a more convincing hint is provided in the agenda notes for one of the Norwegian declarations. It refers to the climate emergency declarations in the UK as being precedents and it refers to those UK declarations as being ‘klimakrise’ declarations.

A new and worrying misuse of ‘climate emergency’

This MalayMail article on 22 December 2022 contains the following quote from the Home Minister:

For the moment, there is no need to declare a Climate Emergency because the situation (flooding) is still under control.

This was in response to a motion from another MP “seeking the Dewan Rakyat to declare a climate emergency and discuss immediate flood mitigation measures”. From the context it is clear what they really mean is a declaration of flood emergency, not a climate emergency declaration in the usual sense.

Then, the very next day I saw this article title in Yes! Magazine: Social Connections Save Lives During Climate Emergencies. Here they are using ‘climate emergencies’ (plural!) to refer to extreme weather events such as storms, heat waves, and cold snaps.

That’s not what ‘climate emergency’ means! Those weather events are flood / storm / heat / cold emergencies. They may well be more dangerous as a result of our changing climate but, unlike the climate emergency, these climate-related emergencies are isolated symptoms not the huge underlying cause.

Missed opportunity in the UK

Screenshot of UK government energy saving campaign website
Screenshot from the campaign launch press release

The UK government is spending £18million on a public information campaign called ‘It All Adds Up’. That includes a new dedicated website containing fairly comprehensive information about what everyone can do to reduce their energy bills by reducing their energy use. Some tips involve no cost and immediate savings. Others involve up-front costs but promise savings in the longer term

It’s all excellent information, but climate does not get a mention at either of those links. The list of tips is actually a pretty good match for the climate actions listed on local council climate emergency pages as ways everyone can reduce energy use in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the sake of everyone’s climate future.

With very little change the ‘It All Adds Up’ public information campaign could be transformed into a UK government campaign asking everyone to do their bit to help tackle the climate emergency. All the suggested actions could be badged as climate emergency actions – actions that everyone can take because, happily, doing so will also save them money.

Does this matter?

If the outcome is the same (lower energy use), does it really matter how it is ‘sold’ to the public? I think it matters greatly, for two reasons.

Firstly, it will take action and effort by everyone to turn the climate emergency around, and giving visibility to climate action efforts by lots of ‘ordinary’ people will help normalise taking climate action for its own sake. By focusing purely on the financial benefits of reducing energy use, the above campaign effectively makes energy saving actions invisible as climate actions. They become financial benefit actions. This is such a waste when reducing energy use is a large part of what many of us can do (and are doing) to help tackle the climate emergency!

Secondly, by focusing purely on energy poverty and financial savings, there’s an implication that the campaign is only relevant for poor households. Anyone who is rich enough to not care about high energy bills is not expected to do anything. But for climate reasons everyone should be reducing energy use, and perhaps that applies even more to rich households than to ones who are struggling.

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Chart showing emissions reductions from switching to all-electric homes

Engaging Australia in Climate Emergency action

Average annual per capita carbon emissions in Australia are 15.37 tons CO2-e according to the interactive map in the 3 October 2022 Guardian article on tracking Australia’s progress. And according to recent detailed analysis from the Climate Council, entitled Switch and Save, the national average for the emissions reduction achieved simply by stopping use of fossil gas and switching to an all-electric home is around 2 tons CO2-e per year. That’s per household, not per capita, but it still represents a significant contribution to tackling the Climate Emergency.

The above chart shows the carbon savings over 10 years in each capital city.

Map showing per capita carbon emissions by country

The above map (scroll down the article at that link to see the interactive map) shows Australia really is not doing our ‘fair share’. Only three countries have higher per capita emissions: Mongolia (26.98), Kazakhstan (15.52), and Saudi Arabia (17.97). Even Canada (14.2) and the US (14.24) are slightly lower, and New Zealand (6.94) and the UK (4.85) have much lower per capita figures.

Resource for Climate Emergency councils in areas with reticulated fossil gas

Fossil gas might still be needed for some industrial uses and as backup electricity generation, for now at least, but it really is not necessary for households and most businesses. Vast regions of Australia have never had mains gas available and they get along fine. Increasingly other people too are choosing to live in all-electric homes.

With its Switch and Save publication, the Climate Council has provided a valuable resource that local councils can use to encourage behaviour change in their local community. Even as recently as 10 years ago, gas appliances were a sensible choice. Gas was cheap and electric appliances were much less efficient than they are now. A much higher proportion of grid electricity was from coal-fired power stations than it is today, so fossil gas seemed like a lower-carbon option at the time. But all that has changed.

How many Australian households continue to use gas appliances just because that is what they have become used to using? They are familiar, or that’s what their house already had when they bought it, and unless they are energy nerds they might still think ‘gas is better’.

The Climate Council analysis debunks that myth. Click here to go directly to the pdf download. It contains details of the potential financial savings from going all-electric, and for those not yet familiar with new and efficient electric options it explains how heat pumps and induction cooktops work. It also has clear explanations of the climate benefits of switching away from fossil gas. Not only do all-electric homes have lower carbon footprints right now…much lower if they also have rooftop solar…but the grid is rapidly becoming ‘greener’.

Behaviour change for tackling the Climate Emergency

A recent publication by the UK House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee – In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals – states that:

without changes to people’s behaviours now, the target of net zero by 2050 is not achievable…32 per cent of emissions reductions up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.

I’ve not seen similar analysis for other countries, but given that local council carbon emissions are only a very small percentage of overall community emissions, household-level behaviour change is clearly critical.

And behaviour change relating to how people choose to warm their homes, heat water, and cook dinner is an effective place for councils that have declared a Climate Emergency to start. It is something everyone can do. It has immediate practical climate and health benefits, and as the Climate Council analysis shows, it will ‘pay for itself’ relatively quickly via reduced energy bills.

The last thing we need is households locking in continued high levels of carbon emissions by installing new fossil gas appliances when all-electric households will get closer and closer to generating almost no emissions as the grid approaches 100% renewable electricity.

Applying behaviour change thinking to getting off fossil gas

The Welsh Government as just launched for public consultation its draft Strategy for Public Engagement & Action (2022-2026). Its 4 E’s framework – Exemplify, Engage, Enable, Encourage – seems well suited to achieving a switch away from fossil gas. Even so, the very first challenge is cutting through the information overload and grabbing the attention of householders so that the 4 E’s can be implemented. Partnering with a wide variety of local organisations, like Greater Bendigo Council is doing, can help with that.

Exemplify: Lead by example. Report the motivation for and results of replacing gas use with electric appliances in council’s own operations. Make visible and celebrate getting-off-gas case studies from local climate champions (households and businesses).

Engage: Provide knowledge and involve the local community in decisions. Knowledge is particularly crucial for counteracting the clever and misleading gas industry advertising that claims gas use reduces emissions. Draw on the detailed analysis in Switch and Save to show the climate and cost benefits of all-electric homes.

Enable: While the above two E’s focus on making people want to switch to all-electric homes, the ‘enable’ step focuses on helping local households overcome the barriers that so often prevent putting those good intentions into action. This is an area where local councils can make a huge difference, for example:

  • Heat pump hot water systems are more expensive to buy than gas systems even though they have lower operating costs, so make sure people know about state government schemes that subsidise the upfront cost
  • Offer bulk buy schemes of high quality appliances installed by reliable companies to remove the guesswork for people who are unfamiliar with the various electric alternatives
  • If your council already has a Solar Savers scheme giving interest-free loans for solar installations, or even if it doesn’t, set up a similar scheme to cover the upfront cost of going all-electric
  • The end of life of a gas appliance is a perfect opportunity to replace it with an efficient electric appliance, but the quick and easy default option would be to replace like with like unless the householder had already researched and planned for an electric alternative. Can local councils help with that? Perhaps council could invite householders to pledge in advance to replace gas with electric and give them a number to contact for priority service to install their new electric appliances promptly when their gas appliances fail.

Encourage: Primarily this is an on-going consistent public narrative that normalises the choice to have an all-electric home, but it might also include incentives and reward schemes, regulations such as bans on gas connections for new builds, and emotional appeals and narratives.

A bit more about the Climate Council analysis

For a report entitled ‘Switch and Save’, its not surprising that it devotes more space to financial savings than to carbon emissions reductions. However, any local council initiative to encourage residents to switch to all-electric homes should focus primarily on its effectiveness as a climate mitigation tool. The resultant savings on energy costs can be presented as being a helpful enabler rather than the main motivator. Why?

If tackling the Climate Emergency requires widespread climate-motivated behaviour change, and it does, then it is vital to normalise that sort of behaviour change via showing that ‘everyone is doing it’. We all know we can’t do it alone.

Rooftop solar could have become a very visible indicator that ‘everyone is taking climate action’. This could have encouraged people to join in society-wide climate mitigation efforts, but it hasn’t. There has been so much focus on solar as a cost-saving mechanism that a street full of houses with solar panels simply looks like a street full of households who wanted to save money.

If switching to an all-electric home is promoted primarily as a cost-cutting measure its usefulness as a climate action engagement avenue would vanish. In contrast, information showing that it is an accessible and effective way of reducing household carbon emissions right now is empowering. It gives everyone who currently uses fossil gas a way to ‘do more’.

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Weather map showing record temperatures in the UK and CASBE zero carbon plans

From Climate Emergency to Climate Catastrophe and CED action

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed a change in the language used in media articles. ‘Climate catastrophe’ is nudging out ‘climate emergency’ in reports of climate impacts. But also, and this is not new, there have been numerous articles about actions being taken by climate emergency declaration (CED) councils.

Climate catastrophe

The devastating and continuing flooding in Pakistan is causing death and destruction on an almost unimaginable scale. The UK recently reached record high temperatures not expected till 2050 (top image) and is currently experiencing an early ‘false autumn‘. Many parts of the world are experiencing either massive fires, flooding, heatwaves, and/or water shortages and famine caused by droughts. Many of the great rivers of the world are starting to dry up.

Flood evacuees living in tents in Pakistan
Flooding in Pakistan

Impacts are becoming horrendously obvious. For everyone and all levels of government, doing anything less than ‘as much as possible as soon as possible’ is inexcusable. Even if ‘as much as possible’ is genuinely very little, it is still worth doing.

Meanwhile, back in May, the World Meteorological Organisation predicted there is a 50:50 chance of global temperature temporarily reaching the 1.5°C threshold within the next five years. But 1.5°C is sounding increasingly arbitrary given the catastrophic impacts that are occurring already at about 1.1°C.

Council climate emergency actions

The examples of local government climate actions below are just from very recent news articles, making them a fairly random sample. They’re not necessarily the ‘best’ actions, or ‘enough’, and these are not the first or only local governments already taking these actions. Hopefully any that are not will start to think they can (and should) emulate these examples, or work out the most cost-effective measures for their own local circumstances. It is crucial that local councils leverage the maximum climate benefit from their limited resources as quickly as possible. You can see other examples of climate emergency actions by local councils here.

Knox City Council, Victoria – from ‘acknowledgement’ to ‘climate emergency declaration’

Knox City Council passed a resolution acknowledging the climate emergency back in September 2021. They upgraded this to a ‘declaration’ in late July to indicate a higher level of climate ambition, as discussed in our July blog post, but this week it received media attention again, with a focus on budget implications – $30 million over 10 years – and planned actions.

The actions include advocating for zero carbon developments, replacing street lights with LEDs and powering them via a wind energy power purchase agreement, installing solar panels and EV chargers, hosting educational webinars for local businesses and residents, developing a Biodiversity Resilience Plan, including tree canopy analysis and a habitat corridor plan, and tackling ‘heat islands’. These are all fairly typical climate emergency actions that any council can emulate. No rocket science required – just a heightened resolve to get on with the job.

Wellfleet Town Council, USA – Climate Emergency public workshop series

Screenshot showing Climate Emergency workshop series by Wellfleet Town Council

This small town of 2,750 in Massachusetts declared a Climate Emergency in September 2020. Now it is holding a series of three public workshops entitled It’s a Climate Emergency! What we can do!

The first session was Household Electrification and Energy Conservation, the second next week is Electrifying Transportation, and the final one will be Solar Photovoltaic Arrays.

Queenscliffe Borough Council, Victoria – 73% reduction in emissions in one year

Queenscliffe Council adopted its Climate Emergency Response Plan in May 2021, containing 49 actions designed to reduce the entire Borough’s carbon output to zero by 2031. Since then they have managed to reduce the emissions from council’s own operations by a whopping 73% in just one year.

Again no rocket science. The bulk of that reduction was achieved by deciding to purchase 100% renewable electricity for all of its operations, including council buildings, tourist parks, street lights and public facilities. They also started kerbside food waste collection.

Plans to achieve further reductions include swapping its vehicle fleet for electric vehicles, disconnecting remaining gas services, and investing in more sustainable building and construction methods. Mayor Ebbel hopes council’s achievements will inspire residents to “take the next step on our journey to becoming a more climate-friendly community.”

Derwent Valley Council, Tasmania – engaging entire community in climate action and advocacy

Derwent Valley Council declared a Climate Emergency just recently, in July 2022, and they have now added a new Get Active On Climate page to their website.

Screenshot of Get Active on Climate webpage by Derwent Valley Council

They clearly recognise that engagement of the entire community is key, and are refreshingly up-front about expecting everyone to do their part.

Jersey, UK – subsidised commercial energy auditor training and audits

Jersey has a population of just over 100,000 so is similar in size to a large local council despite being a subnational government. Their subsidised auditor training is an intriguing precedent for tackling community-wide emissions and one which local councils might consider modifying to suit their own communities.

Jersey already had a Home Energy Audit scheme whereby home owners can apply for very generous subsidies to cover most of the cost of the audit. They are now starting to offer subsidised training for commercial energy auditors. Soon they will also be offering subsidies to help cover the cost of commercial audits.

For home owners and businesses, key barriers to energy efficiency upgrades are the unknowns. They probably realise an audit and energy efficiency measures will ‘pay for themselves’ and would happily pay for the up-front costs themselves, but who can they trust to perform a reliable audit? Do they need and can they afford efficiency improvements, and if so who can they hire to do a reliable job on the improvement work?

A carefully implemented scheme that overcomes those barriers with some sort of reliability and quality guarantee may well be sufficient with only small, if any, financial incentives from local government. But it seems prudent to make sure any recipients of audit subsidies follow through by taking at least some of the recommended actions. Possibly a council could offer reimbursement of the cost of the audit after a specified amount of efficiency upgrade work has been completed?

Leicester City Council, UK – mapping and costing of 2030 carbon neutral pathway

Leicester City Council hired experts to map out a 2030 carbon neutral pathway for the entire community and analyse the up-front implementation costs – from £900milllion to £5billion over the next eight years. This could create an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 local jobs.

The pathway focuses on three main areas: buildings (35%), active transport and electric vehicles (14%), and energy. The buildings component includes retrofitting energy efficiency measures to around 65,000 properties and around 100,000 homes swapping their gas boilers for heat pumps.

Council already had a Climate Emergency Action Plan and has already achieved significant reductions in community-wide emissions, but this new report makes it clear that even more ambitious action is necessary and will inform development of their second action plan to cover 2023 to 2030.

Yarra City Council, Victoria – zero carbon developments

Yarra City Council is a member council of the Climate Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment (CASBE) involving 31 Victorian councils. They are pursuing a planning scheme amendment that builds on existing local Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) Policies. The project aims to deliver revised and elevated ESD targets, including targets for zero carbon developments.

Sefton Council, UK – drop-in sessions to inform community engagement strategy

Sefton Council already has a Climate Emergency Action Plan and a 2030 target to make its own operations carbon neutral, but now it has launched a public consultation to collect views on how the entire community can tackle climate change together.

Feedback from the consultation will be used to produce a Climate Change Community Engagement Plan for the next phase of their climate action plan.

Sydney City Council, NSW – net-zero policy for new developments beginning 2023

The City of Sydney has just unanimously endorsed energy controls that require applications for new office buildings, hotels and shopping centres, and major redevelopments to comply with minimum energy ratings from January 2023. This is part of council’s plan to achieve city-wide net-zero emissions by 2035, recognising that 68% of the city’s total emissions is from hotels, apartment complexes, and commercial office space.

The new controls focus on increased energy efficiency, on-site renewable energy production and offsite renewable energy procurement.

Shipley Town Council, UK – Citizens’ Jury

Town councils in the UK are the lowest tier of local government and don’t have a lot of resources, but Shipley Town Council (population 15,483) is using some grant money from the National Lottery to cover the costs of holding a citizens’ jury.

Every household in Shipley has been sent a letter inviting them to become a member of the 25-person jury to ensure a cross-section of residents can have their say on the question: How can we work together in Shipley to limit climate change and its impacts while protecting our environment and health?

Quite apart from whatever solutions the jury might come up with, even just the invitation letter sent to all households will ensure everyone knows about council’s climate emergency declaration and could inspire new enthusiasm to take action.

3 UK councils – grants to low-income households for efficiency upgrades

Three UK councils, Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, and North Somerset, jointly secured £2.7m in government funding to enable them to give energy efficiency grants to low-income households. Householders can apply for Home Upgrade Grants of up to £25,000 to install efficiency measures such as loft, underfloor, and wall insulation, air source heat pump central heating systems, and solar panels.

To be eligible a house must currently have a low energy performance rating and use oil or coal for heating. This reflects a point made in this article by Alan Pears, namely that the best bang for buck in terms of climate action comes from improving the energy efficiency of buildings with very low star ratings rather than from making further efficiency improvements to buildings that are already relatively efficient.

Only one of these examples is unique!

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen many media articles reporting similar actions by other local councils that have declared a Climate Emergency.

The one action that I’d not seen before was the Jersey scheme offering subsidised training for performing energy efficiency audits. A carefully planned scheme combining auditor training with something that removes the barriers for the entire community to improve the efficiency of their buildings could be ground-breaking. It might provide an inspiring example of how a council could leverage relatively small financial contributions from their limited budgets in order to achieve widespread investment by the entire community in tackling the Climate Emergency.

Please leave a comment if you know of other ways local councils can leverage their limited resources to achieve big community-wide achievements!

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Chart showing the difference in cumulative emissions from Indigo Shire

Climate Emergency actions and target dates

Journalists and others who blithely repeat the myth that Climate Emergency Declarations (CEDs) are ‘just symbolic’ or ‘just words’ would do well to set up Google Alerts on ‘climate emergency’. I routinely see news about post-CED actions taken by local councils. These include bans on fossil fuel use in new buildings, insulation schemes for low-income homes, adoption of Climate Emergency Action Plans and carbon neutrality targets, allocation of budget for climate strategies, rewilding and tree planting, tackling waste, renewable electricity projects, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, climate events and drop-in centres, and so on. You can see plenty of examples on cedamia’s Council post-CED actions page.

Some examples receiving media coverage in just the last two days include a new repair cafe supported by Godalming Town Council in the UK and, from the Abingdon Town Council website, a Climate Conversations event. Incidentally, Item 1 of council’s ‘Key Objectives’ listed on the Abingdon website homepage is:

1. To respond effectively and speedily to the climate emergency.

Town and Parish councils are the lowest tier of local government in the UK and have very limited powers and responsibilities compared with Australian councils and mid-tier UK councils. My impression though is what they lack in scope they make up for with effective community engagement – possibly the main game given the need for everyone to tackle the Climate Emergency.

Emissions reductions achieved by Indigo Shire Council

Also just yesterday, and on a different scale and the other side of the globe (Australia), this Council Magazine article reported the outcomes at Indigo Shire Council resulting from the first year of their participation in the Victorian Electricity Collaboration (VECO) scheme. Under that scheme, 46 local councils collaborated to secure a power purchase agreement to buy all their electricity from two Victorian wind farms. 26 of those councils, including Indigo Shire, have declared a Climate Emergency and Indigo Shire has set a target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.

Participation in the VECO scheme has reduced Indigo Shire Council’s emissions from their own operations by 1,100 t CO2-e over the last year.

EMissions reductions achieved by Indigo Shire Council

The biggest reduction has been in their Scope 2 emissions, which includes the indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity.

To put that 2021/22 total emissions figure of 19 t CO2-e in perspective, the average per capita emissions per year in Australia in 2020 was 19.9 t CO2-e. Simply by buying 100% renewable electricity, Indigo Council’s own operations now have slightly less negative climate impact than the everyday living of one ‘average’ Australian. (The per capita figure for the UK is 7.3, and much of Europe has similar relatively low figures.)

What difference will achieving local emissions reduction target dates make?

It’s not completely clear from the Indigo Shire website whether its 2035 net-zero target applies to the entire community rather than just to council operations. Assuming it does, and if the target is achieved, this will result in the 16,490 people living in the Shire producing a total of 2,625,208 t CO2-e between 2020 and 2035 and net-zero after that. If instead the community only reaches net-zero by 2050 in line with the national Australian target, they would produce 5,086,341 t CO2-e by 2050.

Chart showing the difference in cumulative emissions from Indigo Shire

Of the 112 CED councils in Australia, 50 have announced clear community-wide carbon neutral or net-zero target dates ranging from 2025 to 2050.

Chart showing the GHG emissions to 2050 from council areas with earlier target dates
The emissions column shows t CO2-e between 2020 and 2050 assuming net-zero is reached by the targeted year

If all 39 of the councils with target dates earlier than 2050 achieve those goals, they will emit 702,033,215 t CO2-e before reaching net-zero. If instead those communities only reach net-zero by 2050 in line with the national Australian target, they would produce almost twice as much: 1,348,951,171 t CO2-e by 2050.

Chart showing cumulative emissions from CED council areas in Australia with earlier targets

Setting ‘as soon as possible’ as a carbon neutral or net-zero target date

Some local councils in the UK and USA have simply set ‘asap’ as their community-wide target. Is this a cop-out, or is it the only serious target to set?

The above charts show the significant benefit from setting target dates earlier than 2050, but climate impacts are already dangerous. Every tonne of emissions between now and reaching net-zero will only make things worse. Even achieving a 2025 or 2030 community-wide target will do that.

From that grim perspective, a seriously implemented ‘as soon as possible’ target, based on thinking that every tonne of avoided emissions will make future climate impacts a little less bad, seems like a logical choice.

It’s tricky! Setting ‘asap’ might leave a lot of wiggle room. Some people might think it means tomorrow and some might think anything earlier than 2050 is not possible. Setting a specific date makes a council’s ambition less ambiguous, but the down side is that it suggests the adopted date is sufficient to achieve a safe climate…and that we don’t necessarily need to act just yet.

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