Led by a Liberal/National council majority, QPRC residents and ratepayers are being deprived of regional response to climate change impacts, called an emergency by many councils now. Responsible emission reduction in energy, transport and planning policies are also stalled after a small start.
Other councils in NSW and elsewhere are showing the way. Our council watch observer reports.
AS THE SECOND decade of this century draws to a close, the country is in the grip of a bushfire emergency. Lives lost, others turned upside down. More than 500 homes turned to cinders. And more than a million hectares of bushland obliterated. The damage bill in Queensland and northern NSW alone has already hit $145 million.
A review of QPRC activity, or lack of activity, on responding to a changing climate and energy generation sector is not encouraging of responsible action soon. This was evident last year when a majority of Queanbeyan-Palerang councillors rejected a staff recommendation to join the Cities Power Partnership, a free national program supporting local government action on climate change.
The council did agree to a recommendation from its Environment and Sustainability Advisory Committee to update the previous action plans and allocated funds for some work. However, draft plans have since languished in workshops, the outcomes of which have not been reported to the public.
The draft action plans were not listed for consideration at the 27 November council meeting, the second last before the holiday break. Workshopping has been mentioned as the reason why.
Draft plans behind closed doors
Draft plans were due to be released for community feedback in September but instead of endorsing the draft plans for public feedback, councillors decided to have another workshop. The delay means that no funding to support actions is likely before 2021–22 at the earliest.
Surveys and workshops were offered in 2019. Those who attended in Queanbeyan were ambitious: they wanted council operations to reach zero net emissions by 2030 and they wanted action across the full range of greenhouse-generating activities, not only energy.
Queanbeyan Palerang climate laggards in past decade. Economics forced some action
Climate action has been a low priority for the Queanbeyan-Palerang council, and its predecessors, for more than a decade. Under Mayor Overall, Queanbeyan council insisted there was little it could do about climate change. Eventually, the council realised it could save money by improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy, and began a program to invest in roof-top solar for council buildings and offsets for vehicle emissions.
Queanbeyan council, with the larger population impact, has many levers at its disposal to drive improvements but hasn’t used them: in building design and orientation (to improve energy efficiency); in transport use (hardly any new cycleways and no meaningful improvements to public transport); and protecting native vegetation and habitats (lots of clearing for new roads).
After much community lobbying, Queanbeyan council agreed to develop an action plan for its own activities and for the community. Both plans ran from mid-2013 to mid-2017. Numerous actions in the council plan were never undertaken or were delayed (such as the integrated transport strategy that was due by mid-2017 but was only recently signed off).
Prior to amalgamation, Palerang council had no climate action plan or target for its own operations or a community action plan. The council reluctantly agreed to support Cr Peter Marshall’s move to invest in solar power and the Bungendore administration building now has an impressive solar array.
At the time of the last public report on progress (2015), Queanbeyan council’s emissions were heading in the wrong direction, well short of their target, with no indication of how they would turn that around.
There was no target for the Community Climate Change Action Plan (CCCAP), as was promised for 2014, and no annual reporting of the CCCAP.
The risk we face: councillors elevating political opinion over evidence not exempted
To avoid runaway climate change and a future of extreme weather, global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak in 2020 and then fall, and keep falling until they reach zero net emissions no later than 2050 (preferably sooner).
Governments like those of Germany and the ACT have already signed up to mid-century zero emission targets, as has the NSW Government.
Many communities in Australia have also developed road maps to help them reach these targets but three and a half years after the forced Queanbeyan-Palerang council merger, there is neither a roadmap for council operations nor for our wider local community.
IMAGE: Firefighters backburning and extinguishing a grass fire. Aussiecate, Dreamstime.