Local governments hold significant influence over Australia’s emissions through their connection to people, households and business. Cities account for 70 per cent of emissions globally. Australia’s largest cities and local councils are ramping up their efforts to reduce emissions.

As the level of government closest to the community, Australia’s 530 local councils are taking the opportunity to lead on reducing emissions. According to ClimateWorks’ latest report with Monash Sustainable Development Institute, many already are.

ClimateWorks assessed 57 of the largest (by population) councils in Australia. 37% have a target or aspiration to reach net zero emissions by or before 2050 for all, or the majority, of their community emissions. These councils represent 21% of the Australian population.

At the time of the report’s publication, the cities of Sydney and Melbourne were already carbon neutral for their operational emissions, with targets to reach net zero emissions across their communities by 2050. Since then both cities have announced their intention to bring forward those targets, signalling climate action by cities and local councils is accelerating.

Sydney’s commitment will form part of the city’s new long term strategic plan, Sustainable Sydney 2050. The city declared a climate emergency in June 2019, acknowledging the risk climate change poses to Sydney.

The City of Melbourne had one of the highest emissions per capita in 2017. The city has taken action to reduce its operational emissions – down 50 per cent in six years, and acknowledges more work needs to be done.

“While we’ve taken strong action to reduce emissions, including to power our buildings with 100 per cent renewable electricity, we must accelerate action and be even more ambitious.” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

The city’s response to the Climate and Biodiversity Emergency Declaration which included the net zero by 2040 target was endorsed at its Future Melbourne Committee meeting on February 18.

Local governments can influence citizens, businesses, states, territories and the federal government, through leading by example. By setting ambitious net zero emissions targets and interim emissions reduction targets, local governments can build momentum nationwide. 

Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is a core action of the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and strive for 1.5 degrees. With three reports launched so far focusing on property, the banking sector and local governments, The Net Zero Tracker is telling the story of Australia’s growing momentum towards net zero from a total and sector-based perspective.

Find out more about the Net Zero Momentum Tracker.