Adopted almost a year ago, the emergency declaration opens an opportunity for locals to be active in addressing climate change.
It made the news recently and it got people paying attention: City of Sydney has declared a climate emergency.
It’s great news, but did you know that our own council, the Town of Victoria Park, has had a climate emergency declaration in place for almost a year?
At the moment, there are 710 jurisdictions around the world that have acknowledged the climate emergency, including Canada, Portugal and Ireland, as well as the cities of London, New York and San Francisco.
Although the movement started in Darebin, Victoria, in 2016, only 25 of the 547 Australian councils have adopted a declaration of emergency. Vic Park is one of just 3 in Western Australia, along with Fremantle and City of Vincent.
“It was an unanimous decision by Council”, says Vic Park Councillor Bronwyn Ife, who moved the motion, seconded by Councillor Ronhhda Potter, in August 2018.
“Climate change is everyone’s business, we can’t shift the blame anymore. As councillors, we are community leaders and we need to encourage the community to switch away from fossil fuels”, says Cr Ife.
The declaration should be a public signal indicating that government and society will be mobilised in emergency mode until the emergency passes.
But the feeling of an emergency has been lacking in Vic Park.
Councillor Ife says the declaration has informed the Town’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which identifies 71 actions to address identified risks to the Town’s services.
But it’s not enough. “I want this to be about mitigation”, she indicates, adding that climate change should underpin the Town’s every policy and action.
“We don’t need to yell about the climate emergency all the time. We need to make sure it informs everything, from planning, to traffic to rubbish”.
In Darebin, Victoria, the council and the community developed a Climate Emergency Plan that identifies 9 key directions – and actions within each one – to address the emergency. Many of them already have been implemented or are in the process of being undertaken.
“Some would say local councils should just focus on roads, rates and rubbish. We've shown its possible to look at all three through a climate emergency lens and continue to deliver quality services for our residents”, wrote City of Darebin Mayor, Susan Rennie.
Darebin has changed procurement practices to be able to resurface roads with asphalt made of 95% recycled materials; it has pioneered a Solar Saver scheme for residents to install solar panels and pay it off through their rates over a number of years; it is about to roll out a food waste composting service, considered one of the most effective ways for local councils to reduce emissions.
In fact, the crucial role of local governments in addressing climate change has been acknowledged for quite some time.
“City mayors are directly accountable to their constituents for their decisions, and are more nimble than state and national elected officials to take decisive action – often with immediate and impactful results”.
That is the take of C40 Cities, an organisation formed in 2005 that connects 94 of the world’s greatest cities to take bold climate action and lead the way to a more sustainable future.
The climate declaration shows that Vic Park Council is aware of the emergency. As with any state of emergency, however, it’s not only the authorities that have to act accordingly, but also the public.
There is a golden opportunity for the community, in collaboration with Council, to shape Vic Park response to the emergency.
If you would like to see some community action in this area, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation.