South Gippsland Council fails climate emergency call

Media Release 26.11 Prom Area Climate Action*

South Gippsland Shire Council’s decision to reject a call by over 2,000 petitioners for a climate emergency declaration shows a failure of leadership and a failure to understand the urgency and scale of the climate change threat, according to Dr Jo Wainer of Prom Area Climate Action (PACA). Council administrators decided that a climate emergency declaration should be left to the next elected council. The petition was organised by PACA and presented to Council at its October 21 meeting. It called on Council to take the lead within the South Gippsland community in implementing urgent action on climate change.

Dr Wainer noted that Council acknowledged its responsibility to address the effects of climate change, but wondered why it wouldn’t then make the decision about a climate emergency declaration. “A climate emergency declaration effectively supercharges a council’s climate change actions, driving a transformation to embed climate emergency considerations across all council operations and decisions,” she said.

“If Council is serious about addressing climate change, as it claims, then why not take the strongest actions available? This is what’s needed to properly address the scale of the climate emergency, and it is very disappointing to see that the Council administrators have completely failed to understand the community’s level of concern and desire for action,” Dr Wainer said.

Council’s intention to develop a new Sustainability Strategy, incorporating a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, was welcomed by PACA, but it stressed that it’s a whole-of-council response embodied in a climate emergency declaration that delivers effective full-scale action. Dr Wainer said Council’s belief that a climate emergency declaration would be best made by elected councillors is disingenuous. Council administrators were appointed by the State government in June 2019 to act as the Council in the best interests of ratepayers after the elected council had been dismissed.

“If their role is to act as Council, then why not act? Why choose to refer a climate emergency declaration to the next elected council when immediate action is what ratepayers want and when action is what the State government requires? I’d be interested to know what other issues they have kicked down the road to the next elected council to deal with, and if there aren’t any, then why choose climate change?” Dr Wainer said.

“Given that time is critical in dealing with the climate emergency, and that it’s likely to be 2022 before a newly elected council will have a chance to consider an emergency declaration, this represents a massive leadership failure by Council administrators to the community’s demand for an effective and immediate full-scale response to the climate reality,” she said.

*Prom Area Climate Action is the South Gippsland independent community group of the Australian Conservation Foundation. For further information and comment contact Associate Professor Dr Jo Wainer AM