by Dr Portia Odell, Director, Cities Power Partnership

This year has been less than ideal for many of us – on and off lockdowns, restricted travel, homeschooling, the list goes on. But even in the face of extreme hardship, we’ve seen a global cascade of renewed commitment to a clean, sustainable future by national and subnational governments, business, insurance, NGOs, citizens and more.

US President Joe Biden has an  ambitious plan for the US to at least halve emissions from2005 levels by 2030. Canada and Japan – the world’s biggest buyers of Australian thermal coal and LNG – also announced new net zero targets, demonstrating the dwindling future for these exports.

China said its coal use will peak in 2025 and South Korea said it would end all new financing for overseas coal projects. We will no doubt see more commitments like this from many players before world leaders come together in November at COP26 to discuss the actions needed to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and avoid the worst impacts of a changing climate.

But what we won’t see is any credible action from our very own national leaders. Even with the Federal Government’s recent net zero by 2050 target, a recent report by the Climate Council found that Australia remains in dead last position on climate when compared to other developed nations.

The good news is that while national climate policy stagnates, cities and towns across the country are stepping up to the challenge and taking action to urgently cut emissions this decade.

The City of Sydney and the City of Melbourne both brought forward their community net zero deadline by a decade to 2040, and Waverley Council slashed twenty years off its goal, with a new aim for council to be zero emissions by 2030.

But it’s not just the capital city big hitters who are leading the charge – across the country, regional centres are also stamping themselves as leaders. Regional cities with a strong, coordinated climate response are having a huge impact in accelerating renewable energy uptake in their areas, and creating strong, diverse economies as they prepare their communities for the future.

A recent report by the Cities Power Partnership, Clean Jobs for Communities: How local governments can lead strong, sustainable economies, identified dozens of clean energy initiatives, like putting solar on  rooftops and rolling out electric vehicle charging stations, that councils and communities are leading.

Sydney’s inner suburbs of Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra are working together to drive solar uptake on local schools. Their free council-run program, Solar my School, is making it easy for schools to install solar power, with independent and expert support from start to finish.

Around 150 schools currently participate across 13 Council areas in Sydney and 40 solar PV systems have been installed. To date, this program has helped save an estimated $900,000 annually for schools, freeing up funds to be spent where they’re needed most.

What’s more, this trio has just rolled out a new sister program, Solar my Club, that is helping clubs and community organisations make the switch to solar too. Already 12 organisations are participating, including surf lifesaving clubs, sailing clubs, bowling clubs, tennis clubs and a couple of synagogues.

In Victoria, more than half of councils signed up to the Victorian Energy Collaboration, a new partnership that pools their electricity contracts to switch to renewable energy. Since July, 45 per cent of Victorian council energy has come from clean wind energy – the equivalent of removing the emissions from 90,000 polluting cars off the roads every year.

This is the largest emissions reduction project by local government in Australia and it’s supporting the development of large-scale renewable energy, jobs in regional areas and new opportunities for communities to grow.

Not to mention saving council money on electricity bills, so more money can be put back into the community. On top of accelerating renewable energy, councils like Mornington Peninsula Council and Mildura Rural City Council in Victoria are also supporting businesses and households to improve their energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency is a no-brainer to help slash household power bills, reduce emissions and create thousands of jobs. In Mildura, property owners can access up to 100 per cent project finance with a loan that ties the retrofit costs into council rates, therefore creating a clear financial incentive for sustainable upgrades for business owners.

As a result of this initiative, more than 200kW of solar has been installed on both commercial and agriculture businesses. The examples above are just a drop in the bucket of the inspirational initiatives local governments are taking to lead the nation’s shift to a clean economy.

And there is an incredible amount of potential for councils to continue to make steep emissions reduction. Which is exactly what we do at the Cities Power Partnership – Australia’s largest network of local councils leading the way to a thriving, zero emissions future.

A program of the Climate Council, we exist to support our 150 member councils and their emission reduction goals. When councils sign up, they pledge five actions to tackle climate change locally, from ramping up renewable energy through to planning sustainable transport systems.

As councils work to complete their pledges, the Cities Power Partnership supports them with access to an online knowledge hub containing hundreds of case studies, policies and templates; an online forum to directly connect councils in their areas of interest; monthly webinars; a web-based tool for tracking emissions and financial savings; regular profiling of success stories via our extensive media reach and more.

In just four years, member councils have committed to over 760 climate and energy pledges, including transitioning council fleets to electric vehicles, installing solar battery systems in thousands of homes and businesses, and even spearheading Australia’s first carbon-neutral kindergarten.

With councils throughout Australia stepping up their emissions reduction efforts and realising the benefits, there has never been a better time to join the Cities Power Partnership.

The Cities Power Partnership is Australia’s largest network of local councils leading the way to a thriving, zero emissions future. For more information and to join them now, head to citiespowerpartnership.org.au/join

 

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