City of Sydney Declares Climate Emergency
Words by Austen Hunt
On the 24th of June, The City of Sydney declared a climate emergency. The motion outlined the need to take more immediate actions on climate change by placing a price on carbon and creating a ‘Just Transition Authority’ to assist with the relocation of labour. The motion is seminal in Australian politics as it marks a shift in the source of leadership moving away from federal governments. It sets a standard that local governments will continue to take action on climate change despite the political inertia experienced at state and federal levels of government.
In making her decision the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, stated that "Australia's greenhouse gas emissions have increased for four consecutive years. It is clear that the current federal government's policies are simply not working and I call on council to declare a climate emergency."
The passing of the motion has made Sydney the latest municipality to take action against climate change. They are, however, not alone in these actions. There is growing momentum across local governments to reduce dependence on industries which degrade public and environmental health, and are seen as being unsustainable.
So who is the City of Sydney Council and what does this mean for the climate and Australian politics more broadly?
The Rise of Local Council’s
The City of Sydney Council is a body made of the Lord Mayor and nine councillors who represent the civil and community interests of people within Sydney. The jurisdiction it covers is the most densely populated municipality in NSW, and has a concentration of commercial interests lining its heart. These factors allow the council to have influence over a broad community and the prominent businesses within the state as they preside over the precinct.
This body is responsible for establishing and carrying out long-term policies aimed at ensuring the public interest. This is what lead to the creation of the ‘Sustainable Sydney 2030’ plans in 2007, following a poll outlining that 97% of Sydney City’s residents wanted strong action on climate change.
The declaration of a climate emergency recognises that state and federal powers are unwilling, or unable, to take actions to limit climate change. It instead recognises that local governments can assume leadership in this domain and elevate the concerns of their constituents to a national dialogue.
The City of Sydney has directly challenged the inability of federal and state leadership to lead on climate change, with the Lord Mayor Clover Moore pointing out that "Successive federal governments have shamefully presided over a climate disaster, and now we are at a critical juncture - we face a climate emergency,”
The City of Sydney is not alone in its actions on climate change, local council’s across NSW have begun to mobilise their funds and constituents against the crisis.
A month earlier, the nearby Inner West Council had announced that it had fully divested from fossil fuel interests, withdrawing more then $100m from their holdings.
The Mayor of the Inner West Council, Darcy Byrne outlined that “We’re determined that the inner west will be a national leader in the environmental debate and that means making important symbolic stands like divestment but also putting our money where our mouth is.”
Following on from these local actions, the City of Sydney’s declaration is amongst the most bold dialogue inducing action taken by a local government in NSW. It has established ambitious goals to modernise the densely populated precinct, and to reduce the impact that the metropole has on a global climate.
And The Climate?
The City of Sydney has been attempting to limit its emissions since 2007 when it established its long-term strategic plan of Sustainable Sydney 2030. Their aim is to reduce the City of Sydney’s emissions by 70 percent by 2030, and later to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Following the declaration of the climate emergency the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, announced that Sydney would take these goals further. Decreeing that by "2020, we will be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, allowing us to meet our 2030 target by 2024 – six years early.”
Following global cities such as London, Auckland, Vancouver, and over 600 other jurisdictions across 15 countries, Sydney has brought an international discussion into the homes of Sydneysiders. Encouraging an open dialogue and recognising the public concerns displayed by the successive school strikes and public protests.
This global movement displays a global solidarity, with cities across the world signalling to their governments that the zero-sum game mentality of the international order will not help us curb climate change. It will only prevent us from acting on it.
The declaration can not go unnoticed by state and federal leaders, who must now address the fact that one of the most prominent municipalities is challenging the nation narrative built around the impending climate crisis.
Local governments assuming leadership on climate change marks a continuation of the bottom up, grassroots, movement sweeping the globe. As a public become dissatisfied with the inaction from established governments, the local electorates are making the voices of their constituencies heard.