There’s been a lot of talk about climate action and ‘net zero’ targets following COP26, the international climate summit, where many countries ramped up their commitments to reducing emissions.
But what does ‘net zero’ mean, why does it matter and how are Australian councils playing their part?
What is ‘net zero’?
‘Net zero emissions’ refers to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere. Think of it like a set of scales: producing greenhouse gas emissions tips the scales, and we want to get those scales back into balance, which means no more greenhouse gas can be added to the atmosphere in any given year than is taken out.
Getting to net zero means we can still produce some emissions, as long as they are offset by processes that reduce greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. For example, these could be things like planting new forests, or drawdown technologies like direct air capture. The more emissions that are produced, the more carbon dioxide we need to remove from the atmosphere (this is called sequestration) to reach net zero.
However, to avoid a climate catastrophe, new emissions of greenhouse gas must be as low as possible. In other words, we need to get as close as possible to a real zero and only rely on offsetting when it is absolutely necessary. This means that we need to rapidly phase out fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – and transition to renewable energy.
Why is reaching net zero emissions so important?
Climate change isn’t a tap we can turn off once we stop using fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide, the main contributor to climate change, will stay in the atmosphere and keep heating the planet for years and years.
So reducing greenhouse gas emissions is hugely important, but we can’t stop there. The end goal is to balance the scales again, and restore the global climate to pre-climate change levels. To get there, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero AND then get cracking on repairing past harm by drawing down past emissions.
Everyone has a role to play, including local government. Out of Australia’s 537 local governments, eighty nine have committed to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
The local governments leading the race to net zero
Local councils around the nation are raising the bar when it comes to sustainability and climate action.
New findings from 100% Renewables reveals that more than 1-in-6 local councils across Australia have adopted a net zero target, and 10 have already gone carbon neutral.
Just over one fifth of Australian local governments have now made ambitious commitments to reducing emissions, with the majority of these councils located within Victoria and New South Wales. Other than ACT’s singular council that achieved its 100% renewable energy target in 2020, Victoria is leading the nation’s race to net zero, with almost half of the state’s council’s currently committed to ambitious targets.
What’s more, councils from Willoughby to Waverley are stepping up, acknowledging the urgent need to cut emissions this decade and are accelerating their net zero targets.
City of Willoughby
Willoughby City Council is a proud member of the Cities Race to Zero, a global campaign of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference to commit to a healthy, resilient, zero carbon future.
By endorsing its pledge to the campaign and updating existing targets, Council demonstrates its commitment to responding to the climate emergency declared in 2019.
Council’s Our Green City Plan 2028 plan, adopted in 2019 following the declaration, endorses the following targets:
- Net zero emissions by 2025 (upped by 25 years from previous target!)
- 100% renewable energy by 2022 for Council operations
- Community target of net zero emission in the 2040s or sooner
Another leader in climate action, Waverley Council accelerated its council operations target by 20 years from 2050 to 2030.
Council is committed to this ambitious goal of 100% carbon neutrality in the next decade, recently confirming they will be surpassing their original goal of 70% emissions reduction by 2030.
Waverley Council has been reducing its emissions through energy efficiency upgrades, solar installation and renewable energy purchasing from Moree Solar Farms.
Mayor Paula Masselos highlighted the importance of sustainable practices within the Waverley community, and expressed her pride in Council’s objectives.
“We’re very committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions… I’m really proud that Waverley was one of the first councils to commit to emission reduction targets,” Mayor Masselos said.
City of Sydney
The City of Sydney were the first local government in Australia to become carbon neutral in 2007.
Sydney’s also just changed their community emissions target to 2035 – aiming to hit net zero five years earlier than planned!
This goal is a feature of Council’s proposed new environmental strategy 2021-2025, which highlights a commitment to tackling the climate emergency.
“Overwhelming climate research tells us we can’t afford to take our time reducing carbon emissions in Australia – emissions need to plummet now,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.
Sydney is tackling rising emissions in the areas of renewable energy, sustainable transport and waste management.
City of Melbourne
The City of Melbourne became a certified carbon neutral organisation for the first time in 2011-12, with a zero net emissions target for council operations by 2020.
Council has also accelerated its community emissions target by a decade, from 2050 to 2040!
With one of the highest emissions per capita in 2017, the City of Melbourne has taken urgent action to reduce its operational emissions – down 50 per cent in just six years.
“While we’ve taken strong action to reduce emissions, including to power our buildings with 100 per cent renewable electricity, we must accelerate action and be even more ambitious,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.
Achieving net zero emissions is essential to avoiding the worsening impacts of climate change. Everyone has a part to play, and local governments are playing a critical role reducing local emissions and delivering the many benefits like new jobs, warmer homes and more connected cities.