Local governments can play an important role in reducing Australia’s carbon emissions. In fact, many already are.
New research by ClimateWorks Australia, with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute as part of the Net Zero Momentum Tracker initiative, analyses the climate commitments and activities of 57 local government areas covering over half of the Australian population. The report finds all councils assessed have committed to reduce their emissions, and a sizeable number recognise that responding to climate change means reducing their emissions to zero.
Local government area emissions can be divided into two categories.
‘Operational emissions’ result from activities controlled directly by councils – for example waste management and government-owned buildings, facilities, infrastructure and vehicles.
All other sources within a local government jurisdiction are ‘community emissions’ – a category typically constituting 99 per cent of emissions from a particular area.
The research finds 37 per cent of the local governments assessed have a comprehensive target for reaching zero community emissions by or before 2050. These councils collectively represent 21 per cent of the Australian population.
Moreland City Council in Victoria, Northern Beaches Council in NSW and the ACT Legislative Assembly, each have targets to reach net zero by or before 2050. Importantly, these local government areas have supporting interim emissions reduction targets that address both operational and community emissions. Canberra’s community emissions are included in the ACT’s legislated target to be net zero by 2045.
Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne also have a net-zero-by-2050 target for their community emissions, but not yet interim targets towards this goal.
Furthermore, the report found 58 per cent of assessed councils had a target to bring their operational emissions to zero by 2050. Collectively, these 33 councils – four of which are already carbon neutral – cover around one-third of the Australian population.
Operations typically produce around one per cent of emissions within a local government area, however council commitments to reduce operational emissions are important. Local councils rank among Australia’s most important infrastructure owners and managers, with collective responsibility for over $380 billion in infrastructure and land.
The research found that Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are already carbon neutral for their operational emissions. Of the other capital city councils, Adelaide, Darwin and Canberra aim to become carbon neutral for their operations by 2020, 2030 and 2040 respectively.
By acting on emissions, councils can reduce their own energy costs even as they foster a liveable environment for the community they serve.
Just as importantly, as the tier of government closest to the people, councils can generate public awareness and enthusiasm for a broader transition to net zero, in line with the net zero by 2050 goal of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Local governments have the opportunity to work across the community and with businesses and state and federal governments, to deliver on net zero commitments. This research finds many are already seizing this chance.
Next steps for local governments
If your local government area doesn’t have net zero targets, this is the time to join growing momentum towards net zero. Local governments are encouraged to pledge via the platforms list below, with a strategy that supports a future below 2 degrees Celsius or 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
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Net Zero Momentum Tracker
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. Many major global companies have incorporated this goal into their business strategies. In Australia, businesses and governments are doing the same, but there is no easily accessible place to assess these commitments, making them difficult to track.
The Net Zero Tracker will tell the story of Australia’s growing momentum towards net zero from a total and sector-based perspective.