A major symbolic step forward in our local area was the presentation to East Gippsland Shire (EGSC) of a Climate Emergency Declaration petition by members of East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EG CAN)*. The petition was signed by more than 1,600 people.
The goal of the petition was to request the shire join more than 1,400 jurisdictions around the world who have already declared a Climate Emergency. Neighbouring shires Bega and Bass Coast have already signed on, joining 95 other shires Australia wide. ‘Unfortunately the East Gippsland Shire councillors unanimously voted against declaring a Climate Emergency,’ EGCAN spokesperson Angela Crunden said when expressing profound disappointment at the decision.
‘We are facing a Climate Emergency. This might not be as obvious as COVID 19, but is in fact, far more serious and devastating. Declaration of a Climate Emergency signals collective co-operation and willingness to work meaningfully towards net zero carbon emissions,’ Ms Crunden said. ‘East Gippsland Shire’s adoption of the Victorian state initiative Take2 pledge in 2017, and their various projects over the past decade are commendable but these efforts are simply not enough, not in extent, nor urgency,’ she continued.
‘Climate change has been identified as a major factor in the fires only recently, finally extinguished in East Gippsland. Fire, flood, storm and drought are all predicted to be much more severe and frequent without urgent effective action. Our council has ignored community concerns on this issue and passed up an opportunity,’ Ms Crunden said. Seventeen letters in support of the 1600+ petition signatories were read out at the council meeting and five of the seven councillors present discussed the importance of Climate Change impacts and implications for our Shire.
General Manager Assets and Environment, Ms Weigall presented a report drafted from councillors’ reasoning and recommendations. Councillors expressed concern that terminology, using the word ‘emergency’ was sensationalist and would divide rather than unite people in our conservative region. Councillor Reeves expressed his support for effective action by the council on climate change. He said ‘…everything asked for in this petition we have put in place… we’ll hold the CEO and officers to account to put them in place.’
‘Council’s willingness to adopt other parts of the petition has given EGCAN members some cause for optimism, and Council’s aim to bring all of East Gippsland along in efforts to address climate issues is pleasing. Assurance that actions council takes to address climate impacts will be done with “renewed vim and vigour,” is also reassuring. All decisions made by council will now be with a view to mitigating climate impact which is certainly an essential and very welcome step forward,’ she said.
‘EGCAN is pleased for the opportunity to hold council to account in this respect and will revisit the idea of a Climate Emergency declaration. In the meantime, if all levels of government work as though our ‘houses are on fire’ we may still be able to keep global warming under 1.5ºC,’ Ms Crunden concluded.
* Press Release from East Gippsland Climate Action Network