Climate Action: The Role of Local Government
by Darcy Coleman, Research Analyst & Consultant at Delos Delta
“Earth is likely to surpass the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees within the next decade” (Perkins, O’Malley, 2023).
If you found that a lot to take in, I don’t blame you. Over the past decade, there has been such a dramatic increase in disaster level news that many of us are completely desensitised to it. Information detailing the climate crisis immediately falls into this category. Take, for example, the statement above. Hearing that we will surpass the 1.5-degree warming mark incites moderate concern, but it doesn’t exactly paint the picture of a scorched earth. It’s hard to be afraid of something that seems so arbitrary.
Well to be completely candid, we should be. Allow me to paint a clearer picture.
The Climate Context
The Paris Agreement is an international treaty that was agreed upon by 196 countries in 2015. The overarching goal was, and remains, to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels (United Nations Climate Change, 2016). This metric, although hard to comprehend its associated consequences, is an incredibly important one. For every one-degree increase in global average temperature, the frequency and intensity of climate associated disasters increases tenfold.
To give an idea of this, the Earth is currently sitting at an increase of 0.9˚C from pre-industrial levels, and we are experiencing an:
- Increased fire risk (Canadell et al. 2021)
- Extended fire season period
- Bushfire intensity and frequency have increased
- Increased amount of high fire danger days
- Larger fire-affected area
- Increased cyclone frequency and strength (Kossin et al. 2020)
- Accelerating rate of rising global sea levels (NOAA, 2022)
- Increased risk of extreme flooding events (Goodwin et al. 2017)
- What were ‘once-a-century’ flooding events are now occurring every few years
In Australia, it is hard to ignore these consequences. Over the last two years alone, millions of every day Australians endured the Black Summer bushfires of 2020, and the Eastern Australia floods of 2021 – and that’s only at an increased temperature of 0.9˚C.
There is, however, a surge of action and optimism stirring across the globe. Despite the likelihood of breaching the 1.5˚C Paris Agreement target, the Agreement has catalysed and facilitated a global climate action agenda, which in turn has produced the largest coherent policy creation the world has experienced. Climate action is occurring through renewable energy procurement, sustainable practice, and innovative policy across hundreds of countries, with just over 70 nations committing to net zero emissions by 2030 (United Nations, 2022). Yet these national policies and commitments require critical input from one heavily overlooked contributor to achieve tangible results. It is local government, who create place-specific policy and facilitate palpable climate action, that are allowing the global climate agenda to be realised.
The Role of Local Government
Often overlooked by its state and national counterparts, the local government role has been and will continue to be vital in keeping to below a 2˚C total warming. It is crucial that local government continues to accelerate climate action, as they are the frontline in facilitating the greater climate agenda, producing real-world measures to positively affect their communities. Currently, there exist multiple ways in which local governments and municipal councils alike are participating in climate change practices.
A common misconception many have when considering the leading entities in climate action is that national and state governments are the primary facilitators in sustainability and climate policy. Whilst this is mostly true, what is often unnoticed is how local and municipal governments lead in sustainable practice through tangible action. Rather than the broad strategies and commitments developed by state and national government which aren’t frequently noticed by the general public, local government exemplify climate action to their community through physical measures. This creates on-the-ground momentum, which if instigated in each municipality, is the fastest pathway to the adoption of the global climate agenda.
Action Plan Development and Climate Resilience
Local governments can create comprehensive plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as setting emissions reduction targets, increasing renewable energy usage, promoting energy-efficient buildings and transportation, and reducing waste. These plans provide a roadmap for reducing emissions in the short and long term and can help guide decision-making and resource allocation. Further, local governments, as the curators of key public infrastructure, play the critical role of ensuring their communities are resilient to the impending consequences of climate change. As noted, surpassing the 1.5˚C warming goal is highly likely – therefore, it is essential communities have the technology, infrastructure, and processes available to mitigate the effects of climate disasters.
Incentives and Partnerships
Local governments can provide incentives for individuals and businesses to adopt more sustainable practices, such as rebates for purchasing electric vehicles or installing solar panels. These incentives, alongside the facilitation of public-private partnerships, can help reduce the cost of transitioning to more sustainable practices and can encourage more widespread adoption of sustainable technologies.
Green and Smart Infrastructure
Local governments can invest in green infrastructure, such as parks, green roofs, and permeable pavement, which can reduce urban heat island effects, improve air quality, and mitigate stormwater runoff. Green infrastructure can also help provide additional benefits, such as creating green spaces for recreation and improving the overall quality of life in a community. Further, several smart technologies exist, including smart bins and smart water meters, which utilise IoT (internet of things) systems to collect data and direct local governments to informed, sustainable decision making.
Education and Innovation
Local governments can also educate their communities on the impacts of climate change and ways they can reduce their own carbon footprint. This can include outreach campaigns on energy efficiency, recycling, and transportation options, as well as education on the risks and impacts of climate change on their communities. Facilitating innovation hubs is also a highway to developing local solutions for local problems, which is the best route for scalable outcomes.
A Greener Future
It is from local government actions, such as policy and strategy development, infrastructure commitments, and innovation facilitation, that we see tangible results in our communities. For climate action, it is no different. Local government should be further encouraged, appreciated, and applauded for the ongoing on-the-ground efforts in actioning the climate agenda. It is essential that these efforts be built upon and fostered by both state and national levels of government. With such a critical role, local government climate action will put us as a society onto the pathway of a greener, safer, secure future.
Canadell et al., “Multi-decadal increase of forest burned area in Australia is linked to climate change” (2021) Nature Communications, 12 (6921).
“For a livable climate: Net-zero commitments must be backed by credible action”, United Nations, 2022, https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/net-zero-coalition#:~:text=Yes%2C%20a%20growing%20coalition%20of,about%2076%25%20of%20global%20emissions
Goodwin et al., “A new approach to projecting 21st century sea-level changes and extremes” (2017) Earth’s Future, 5 (2).
Kossin et al., “Global increase in major tropical cyclone exceedance probability over the past four decades” (2020) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117 (22).
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “The IPCC Climate Change 2022 Impacts Report: Why it matters” (2022) NOAA, https://www.noaa.gov/stories/ipcc-climate-change-2022-impacts-report-why-it-matters
Perkins, Miki; O’Malley, Nick, “We have everything we need to fix the climate crisis. But we need to do it now” Sydney Morning Herald, 2023, https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/we-have-everything-we-need-to-fix-the-climate-crisis-but-we-need-to-do-it-now-20230320-p5cthx.html
The Paris Agreement, United Nations Climate Change, 2016, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement