Council declares climate emergency

City of Melbourne councillors moved an urgent item of business last month by formally declaring a “climate and biodiversity emergency”. 

Endorsed unanimously by councillors at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on July 16, the motion followed the adoption of the final version of council’s Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030.

Moved by environment portfolio chair Cr Cathy Oke, the urgent motion declared that climate change and mass species extinction posed serious threats to the people of Melbourne and should be treated as an emergency. 

While noting its ongoing commitment to mitigating climate change through a range of initiatives such as the Melbourne Renewal Energy Project and the Climate Change Mitigation Strategy, Cr Oke said she felt frustrated that more wasn’t being done.  

“We are on track to far exceed the 1.5 degrees increase that thousands of scientists acknowledge that, pass that point, and we are in dire circumstances. We need far more action at all levels of government,” she said. 

Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said that all councillors had engaged in a “robust discussion” about the use of the word “emergency” and how that would help curb climate change in the municipality. 

“It’s not about scaring people but it’s actually about how you resource things and push towards targets. It sends a message to our community that we take this very seriously,” Cr Wood said. 

“We’re actually on track by 2030 to be responsible for 13 per cent of global emissions so that’s no longer the get out of jail free card that people use to say that ‘we’re not much of the problem’ and ‘we shouldn’t move on this’.”

Cr Wood also slammed the lack of leadership from the federal government on the issue, noting that if it wasn’t going to act then it should not “stand in the way” of those wanting to do so. 

Cr Jackie Watts also gave an emotional address in support the motion, but in particular, to one section which acknowledged the action that young people were taking across the world in demanding more from their governments. 

“We are in a very dire situation. We have an obligation to tell it how it is, and we are,” Cr Watts said. “This motion actually shows respect for the young people who will actually have to deal with the mess that we are fighting.”

Earlier in the meeting, council adopted its Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy – a crucial document in its efforts to mitigate climate change. The strategy lays out the vision for council to become a “zero-waste” city by 2030. 

While many submissions questioned whether some of the targets set in the strategy went far enough, such as a 20 per cent reduction of household waste by 2030, Cr Oke said that it was important to get on with delivering change. 

“We need to endorse the strategy and within that there are quite a few items that capture the urgency and the implementation required. I believe it does meet the ambition that we’ve been talking about,” Cr Oke said. 

Councillors also noted the challenges that management had to consider in compiling the final version of the strategy, with reference to the ongoing recycling crisis plaguing Australia at present. 

Some key features of the strategy include options to separate organic waste, a waste minimisation and innovation fund, a new expert and advisory service to support an improved waste system and more electronic recycling options for residents. 

In good news for CBD residents, the strategy also aims to minimise garbage truck movements by providing more centralised compacting hubs, reducing the amounts of rubbish bins in laneways and improving separation rates of organics and recyclables. 

Behaviour change, education and advocacy are key features of the strategy, with councillors noting that more action was required from federal and state governments to implement initiatives such as extended producer responsibility, and container deposit schemes.

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