Words are important. They hurt, love, laugh, lead and today bring urgency to the work of Bega Valley Shire Council and it’s Climate Resilience Strategy.
The full strategy and the climate change mitigation and adaptation measures it proposes will be out for public comment and consideration at the end of October.
Sitting in the chamber this afternoon, there seems to be a general feeling of agreement and pride in the document from Bega Valley Shire Councillors.
Today’s discussion however was around the use of the words ‘climate emergency’ within the document and more broadly across Council’s policies.
The original motion from Greens Councillor Cathy Griff read, “That Council’s Climate Resilience Strategy recognise the climate emergency.” And “That Council requires reports on relevant strategies, plans or initiatives to include assessment of potential climate change impacts.”
The motion was passed, with a small but meaningful amendment from the Mayor, five votes to three. Crs McBain, Griff, Seckold, Doods and Tapscott were in favour. Crs Nadin, Bain, and Fitzpatrick were against. Cr Tony Allen was absent.
No one denied climate change was real or the need for action, just the use of the words ‘climate emergency’ and possible impacts in Council’s budget and the broader community.
“The views around the room are the views you hear in our community,” Mayor Kristy McBain said, recognising a full and frank discussion.
In supporting her motions, Cr Griff explained “The intent of these Motions is to make clear Council’s understanding of the critical issue of climate change, prompting speedy response to protect our community and future generations from the projected catastrophic impacts of unchecked global heating. Few would deny we are in a drought emergency, which is indeed encompassed by a climate emergency.”
“It is critical to mobilise all levels of government in order to inspire change and coordinated policies.
“As of August 2019, the ACT Government, along with 33 Australian councils, representing millions of people, have declared a climate emergency – with many planning to follow suit. Internationally there is even a greater response from whole countries – UK, Canada, France to date.”
Locally, Snowy Monaro and Eurobodalla councils rejected the idea earlier this month because they “got bogged down in detail” Cr Griff said.
“This is what we make of it, the goal is to make council ambitious,” she said.
Cr Robyn Bain described the term ‘climate emergency’ as “sexy words” suggesting they were designed to scare and divide communities. She spoke of the distress she has seen in her 11-year-old grandchild, but the relief that came when she explained to him what action council is taking.
“I am a practical person, we continue to do something – strong positive actions, we don’t need climate emergency stamped on us.”
Asked what the term would mean to staff Dr Alice Howe, Director Community, Environment and Planning said, “it would increase the action” and “accelerate measures”.
Asked by Cr Mitchell Nadin what the budget implications would be, Dr Howe explained no staff assessment had been made but that any budget impact would be brought back to councillors for determination.
The motions were supported by an online petition of over 5,000 signatures and a traditional pen and paper petition of 838 names launched by Bega’s Domi Turville.
“I feel very happy, it’s a good step,” Ms Turville told Region Media after the meeting.
“There has been so much wonderful support, everyone is giving me more credit than I deserve.”
Ms Turville says she will be following council’s progress on the issue.
At the end of the discussion, the overflowing public gallery applauded the outcome and presented councilors with a certificate thanking them for providing leadership.
Bega Valley Shire Council’s Climate Resilience Strategy is still being developed and is expected to be released for public comment following the meeting of October 30.
“Council’s Clean Energy Plan, released in June, was unanimously supported by Councillors,” Cr Griff said.
“It covers opportunities and benefits of reducing the carbon footprint of Council’s own operations.
“A draft of a broader Climate Resilience Strategy is being finalised for consideration by Council and the community, applicable to the whole Shire.”
Update – August 29
Late in the day, following the meeting, a rescission motion was lodged challenging Cr Griff’s motions, so the issue will return to the chamber for further debate. More to come.