Councils need help in facing climate challenge

Local action is the real test of our response to climate change. Local government can’t do this on its own — it needs state and national support. [11 November 2008 | Peter Boyer]

Of the three levels of Australian government, the one that should be most alert to the danger posed by climate change, the most active in seeking solutions, and the most determined in taking action to address it, is local government.

Changes to climate will be felt unequally around Tasmania.Some places may feel vulnerable to coastal erosion while neighbouring districts will be unaffected by it. While some places face long-term drought others may be subject to flooding, and some may feel the impact of both. Some places may feel unaffected, but it will be an illusion.

When major calamity strikes, state government agencies like fire, police and emergency services step in to help. But climate change will more likely be felt in increments – a gradual progression from one condition to another – and a need for emergency help won’t always be readily apparent.

Inevitably, the fingers will start to point to the people who make up our local councils. When things go wrong in communities, they’re the ones most in the firing line. It’s they who most directly and frequently must confront the consequences of changing conditions.

Dr Kate Crowley, principal author of the basis of the State government’s emission-reduction measures, told delegates to the annual conference of the Local Government Association of Tasmania in June that councils no longer had the option of prevaricating over climate, and had to commit to reducing emissions and adapting to climate change.

“It is a time for going home and writing sustainability into your local strategies, plans and policies, for establishing environmental monitoring and management systems, and for harnessing community will so you can devise local solutions to this challenging problem,” she told assembled delegates in her keynote address.

To reduce emissions effectively, she said, each local government needed a climate action team of community experts in town planning, energy, public transport, recreation, waste and renewable power, to develop effective local action in partnership with the state government.

So what has been local government’s response? According to a recent LGAT survey conducted by LGAT’s climate change policy officer, Christine Materia, it’s been patchy: acceptable in parts, inadequate in others.

Of Tasmania’s 29 councils and regional authorities, eleven indicated they had no current project to address climate or environment issues, while only seven had an officer dedicated to managing such issues.

There are inevitably resource issues here. Understandably, the major councils and the Cradle Coast Authority appeared to be among the most advanced in addressing climate change, and Tasmania’s many rural municipalities will be struggling to keep up. But a small ratepayer base has been no obstacle for at least two rural councils, King Island and Southern Midlands, both of which have dedicated climate-environment officers.

Still, better-resourced state and federal governments have some work to do here. If councils aren’t reacting it’s a combination of capacity and willingness to address the climate challenge. Both will need serious attention from higher levels of government – and soon.

• The Tasmanian Government is seeking public feedback before November 24 on a discussion paper on feed-in tariffs, which are a means of paying householders for electricity generated by equipment they’ve installed – initially covering solar panels but possibly including other generation methods too. For a copy of the discussion paper go to

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