My council was the first in the world to declare a climate emergency. Here’s why it might have been for nothing.

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This week the city of Sydney declared a ‘climate emergency’ – but they’re not the first Australian city to do so. In 2016, Victoria’s Darebin Council became the first city in the world to make the declaration. But as Mayor Susan Rennie writes, it’s worth nothing without real action from the federal government.

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The house is burning down and the Federal Government is sitting back to watch. This is the reality of the climate emergency we face.

Describing the current global situation as a climate emergency is not overstating things. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and science tells us we are running out of time before the earth reaches a point of no return.

As Australia's Federal Government continues to lack leadership on the issue of climate and refuses to acknowledge the seriousness and, in some cases, the reality of the climate emergency we live with, it falls to others to do what they can to mitigate our impact on the environment.

Earlier this week the City of Sydney became the latest local government to declare a climate emergency, joining more than 650 other jurisdictions around the world to do so, including global cities like London, San Francisco, Vancouver and Auckland.

In the past two months alone, the governments of Canada, Portugal, and Ireland have all passed motions stating they are facing a climate emergency on a national scale.

This worldwide movement started right here, in the heart of suburban Melbourne, when Darebin Council became the first government of any level anywhere in the world to declare a climate emergency in December 2016.

While we are proud the climate emergency movement has gained significant global traction, simply acknowledging it will accomplish nothing.

Words need to be followed with strong actions.

Tokenistic gestures of additional funding for broken schemes such as the Emissions Reduction Fund are insulting when it has been shown those schemes do little to drive down emissions. If they were working, Australia's greenhouse gas emissions wouldn't have risen for the third year in a row.

As a result of Federal leadership missing on this key issue, the role cities such as Sydney and Darebin play must come to the fore.

Some would say local councils should just focus on roads, rates and rubbish. We've shown its possible look at all three through a climate emergency lens and continue to deliver quality services for our residents.

We have changed our procurement practices and now resurface our roads with an asphalt made of 95 per cent recycled material like truck tyres and steel slag. Darebin also pioneered the Solar Saver scheme where residents can install solar panels on their house and pay it off through their rates over a number of years. This scheme has proved wildly popular, and as a result we are well placed to meet our ambitious Council goal of doubling solar power generated in Darebin from 18mW to 36mW by 2021.

In the coming months, Darebin will also rollout a food waste recycling service for our residents. This has been shown to be one of the most effective ways for local councils to reduce emissions. Food waste makes up approximately 38 per cent of Darebin's kerbside household waste sent to landfill, so eliminating that waste and recycling it into compost will help reduce emissions by up to 1,600 tonnes in the first year alone.


While these actions show our commitment to the cause, Australia still needs serious and drastic policy change from the top down in order to properly address the issue at hand.

Local governments in Australia have very few levers at their disposal when it comes to mitigating climate change on a large scale, which is why it's vital our nation's state and federal governments step up to the plate and take the lead.

When we declared the world's first climate emergency, we were determined to enact change in our community. Imagine the impact which could be achieved if Australia's state and federal governments did the same.

Climate emergency
City of Darebin Mayor Susan Rennie warns declarations of climate emergencies are nothing without real action - from all levels of government.
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