You could be forgiven for thinking that 2018 was one of the worst years yet for climate change. Global greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise, the US is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and climate change-fuelled extreme weather wreaked havoc in communities around the world.

But in the face of this seemingly impending doom, new leaders are emerging  to meet the climate challenge. Cities and towns in Australia and across the world are taking charge of their future and moving swiftly to reduce their climate impact and secure a clean energy future for their residents.

It may well be that cities and regional communities could  play a more important role in shaping our climate future than often lumbering, indecisive national governments.

The rapid growth of the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership, which has seen over 100 local governments across the country commit to renewable energy, sustainable transport and energy efficiency projects in just over a year, is proof that local climate action is on the rise.

Last year alone Australian local councils made over 300 pledges to practical projects that help their communities move towards a clean energy future.

This could be anything from helping residents out of energy poverty with solar power through to banding together to purchase large scale-renewable energy to power major infrastructure, as we’ve seen from councils in Melbourne and Sydney.

While all of this is going on, we suffered through another year of Federal Government inaction, with climate change relegated to policy limbo in the face of an anticipated 2019 Federal election.

Many of Australia’s cities have already thrown down the gauntlet and are working with state and territory governments, businesses and regional leaders to move Australia towards a zero-carbon future.

With this in mind, here are the top five things that we believe Australia’s local governments should be doing in 2019 to get serious about tackling climate change.

  1. Every council should have an emissions reduction and renewable energy target.

We’ve seen a number of cities setting 100% renewable targets that far outstrip the ambitions of many State and Federal governments. It’s time for more local governments to step up and lead by example, and commit to seriously reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by their operations.

     2. Councils should help their whole community to transition to 100% renewables.

While taking council operations 100% renewable is a fantastic ambition, it’s crucial that the community doesn’t get left behind. Programs such as Darebin Council’s Solar Savers and Strathbogie Shire’s Bogie Bulk Buy are a great way for local governments to help residents install solar power at a reduced cost.

3. Councils should support large-scale solar and wind through planning policy

Large-scale renewable energy is key to Australia’s clean energy transition, and supportive local government planning policy can be crucial in getting these projects off the ground. What’s more, large-scale renewable projects can attract jobs, investment and growth to struggling regional areas, as we’ve seen in Queensland where the billion-dollar renewables boom has provided a vital boost to local economies.

4. Local governments should be sticking up for their community and pushing for climate action from State and Federal governments

As climate impacts, from heatwaves to bushfires, start to hit home for many Australian communities, local governments can step up the pressure on State and Federal governments to commit to meaningful climate action. As the tier of government that’s closest to the community, there’s an important role for councils in acting as a climate advocate for residents

5. Local governments can join forces to ramp up renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transport solutions.

Local governments can seize opportunities to collaborate on renewable energy projects and emissions reduction plans together, in fact many already are. Take the ACT, who are working with 13 councils around Australia on a bulk procurement of electric vehicles which will be integrated into council fleets.

A recent Nature article unpacks a huge global boom in climate action from regional and local governments. There is enormous opportunity for our cities and states to work together, along with international counterparts, to develop smart solutions to the climate challenges we face.

We simply can’t wait for national governments to pull their heads out of the sand and show leadership on climate. Cities and towns are already showing themselves to be the frontrunners of our climate future. Let’s make 2019 the year they take centre stage.

Alix Pearce is the director of the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership. This article first appeared in The Fifth Estate on 21 January 2019.

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