Putting the environment back into council decisions

LIKE OTHER Queanbeyan residents, I received a rates notice the other week. It came with a summary of how Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) spends rates revenue. I was surprised to see that the environment and health (which I assume includes food safety) receive a measly four percent.

Why so little in a place that promotes itself as offering country living with city benefits? We often take the environment for granted, forgetting how much we rely upon it – for clean food, water and air, for the materials with which we build our homes and the things we fill them with, for the shoes and clothes we wear. We all benefit from clean and healthy places – the forests, woodlands and grasslands, the rolling hills of our rural landscapes, and the wetlands, rivers and creeks. A healthy environment supports our unique native wildlife. It provides places for walking, swimming, canoeing, camping, fishing, cycling, birdwatching and generally appreciating nature. It can revive our spirit and inspire our creativity. Understanding these connections lies at the heart of shaping an ecologically sustainable future. Prosperity – in its material and non-material forms – relies on a healthy environment.

But our environment is under threat, from climate change, declining biodiversity and overdevelopment. Climate change impact on our region A NSW Nature Conservation Council report last month documented the profound negative effects climate change will have on our region without concerted action to shift the trajectory we’re on to a much warmer world. (Report p8.) So what would an ecologically sustainable community look like?

It would help transition our towns and villages to a clean energy future. Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency will help lower power bills, create jobs in growth industries, and contribute to the global effort to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council can work to develop an energy saving scheme for low-income residents and support community groups, clubs and local businesses to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Council can also develop a climate action plan for the council’s operations and the community. (Other Greens proposals for local government, below).

The Climate Council has identified how local councils can lead on climate action. Several councils in our region have signed up to a partnership www.climatecouncil.org.au/ cpp-report. (See also our report p7.) Other measures we can take include investing in sustainable transport, more cycleways and footpaths, greenways, railtrails, and other forms of active recreation and tourism. Local food production buffers against outside events Our region has vibrant growers and craft markets. Growing food locally provides a buffer against food price rises caused by extreme weather events, which are becoming more common.

Our council can protect local food production through planning regulations and expand community gardens, which provide social and economic benefits beyond the food they produce. The next council will develop a community strategic plan – or vision – for the next 10 years, and a new Local Environmental Plan. Community interests, needs and values need to be heard and reflected in these critical plans. A council goal should be an ecologically-sustainable community that delivers social and economic benefits while protecting the natural environment whose preservation is critical to our health and wellbeing.

This article first appeared in the District Bulletin on 1 August 2017

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