Open letter to Geelong’s councillors

Dear Geelong Councillors

As councillors, you may have heard of the Council Climate Emergency campaign that has spread from Australia to the US, and then to the United Kingdom. Today, over 800 councils in 17 countries have passed a motion that:

  • recognises that we are in a climate emergency
  • acknowledges urgent/emergency action is needed by all levels of government, and in most cases
  • commits to strong action.


Why climate emergency?

Using the term climate emergency recognises that the Earth has reached key climate tipping points and that incremental action, i.e.gradual reduction of emissions over several decades, is no longer a reasonable course of action if we want a future for ourselves and our children.

For a viable future the world needs to go to net negative emissions as soon as possible. This will require:

  • zero emissions across all sectors as soon as possible (Beyond Zero Emissions and others have developed the transition plans mapping how this can occur).
  • drawing down excess greenhouse gases on an ‘industrial’ scale using various strategies
  • whatever else it takes to create cooling fast.


Why local government?

With both state and national governments failing to stop let alone reverse global warming, we need to make progress where it can be made – at the third level of government.

Councils can get the ball rolling by actively breaking the paralysing ‘bystander effect’ where no government steps into action mode because they are waiting for others to make the first move.

The goal is that higher levels of government ultimately pull their regulatory and economic levers to help reverse global warming so the most important action of councils is to build pressure on higher levels of government for emergency action through making a climate emergency declaration, direct advocacy and building community pressure though education about the emergency and its solutions.

This advocacy must be backed up by meaningful emergency action on on the council’s community-wide emissions. For example,

  • Roads – cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, free parking and charging for zero emissions vehicles,
  • Rates – divest investments, implement a Solar $avers or retrofit programs;
  • Rubbish – turn organic council waste into biochar (sequestering carbon for 100s-1000s of years, prevent methane emissions).

There’s also greenspace and planning, and resilience for which local governments bare the cost as climate impacts intensify. Councils can  work with other councils to innovate, build economies of scale and help develop strategies which can then be used across society.

Council actions focused toward mitigation and resilience ultimately support the key goals of pressuring higher levels of government to take meaningful action (upwards) though supporting community engagement (downwards) and inspiring other councils to act (sideways).


How can councils implement a climate emergency response?

The Council should:

  1. Pass a motion that acknowledges a) the ‘climate emergency’, b) that all levels of government need to act, c) that “business as usual” transition is not fast enough, d) can calls for fast action (10 years or less) to reach negative emissions.
  2. Develop a Climate Emergency Plan (CEP). The Plan should:
    1. set a target of net negative emissions in an emergency timeframe (10 years)
    2. quantify what council can do towards reaching the target
    3. identify what the community can do toward reaching the target
    4. identify what state/federal/central governments will need to do for the target to be achieved.
  3. Ensure governance prioritises the response, eg prioritise the CEP in the Council’s Strategic Plan.
  4. Build the capacity of staff around climate emergency and help then understand the why and how.
  5. Continue to communicate the climate emergency and engage the community so the community can support your eventual climate emergency declaration and entry into an emergency mode.


Can councils afford to declare a climate emergency?

Local governments can use their limited budgets or cost neutral/positive programs and strategies across their portfolios to implement a range of climate emergency programs and initiatives.

For councils with very limited budgets, reframing of existing budgets, a budget prioritisation exercise and community mobilisation around the climate emergency using existing resources and channels can be an effective response or selecting strategies that are cost neutral or cost negative.


As a councillor representing our area, please be part of the solution

The climate emergency council campaign is already shifting the international climate conversation and how state and national governments perceive and respond to the climate emergency across a number of countries.

If you are not willing to support a climate emergency motion and response, we would ask you, what activity underway will create the necessary momentum to save the planet? The world needs a climate emergency response to save itself and until enough institutions and governments put this on the table, such a response just can’t happen out of thin air.

Big problems require big solutions, and here is a movement that has the potential to grow to something of a scale where it actually WILL be making a difference. And that’s worth getting excited about.

Please be part of the solution.

We are happy to discuss this further with you – or to set up a presentation.


Warm regards,

Alex Marshall
Mik Aidt
Anthony Gleeson
Kenn Rusty

Residents of Geelong who have signed our petition

Centre for Climate Safety
Council Action in the Climate Emergency

Add your name or group’s name