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The urgency of climate policy

Friday, 26 July 2019

It’s often said that good politics is good policy. The corollary of this, of course, is that bad politics produces bad policy. That’s something to ponder when responding to what used to be called the greatest moral challenge of our time: climate change.

When you consider how each of the three levels of government is tackling the impact of climate change, it is local government that is determined not to allow short-term politics to spoil decisions about long-term policy.

Recently, Noosa Shire Council joined the list of 740 local jurisdictions around Australia and across the globe that have formally declared a 'climate emergency'. Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington said

“This declaration sends a strong message to all levels of government that the time to take urgent action on climate change is right now”.

I’ll leave the decision to follow Noosa and declare a climate emergency up to each of our member councils. Some may feel it is necessary and others may not.

But what I would urge our members and, indeed, the state and federal governments to consider is the price of inaction in preparing local communities for future risks, no matter what the politics surrounding those risks.

This week, the biggest mining company in the world, BHP, declared that the world’s continued reliance on fossil fuels posed an “existential” threat.

It came in a landmark speech by BHP Group chief executive Andrew McKenzie. It means BHP has joined Rio Tinto, insurers, banks and just about everybody else at the big end of town in moving to acknowledge climate change and address its impact.

In that sense, the debate has moved beyond whether it is happening or not, to how to address it in a commercially and financially responsible way.

As you would expect, the BHP boss acknowledged the benefits that resources such as coal, gas and iron ore had delivered.

But then he went on:

“We must also face the challenges that come with these benefits. Because the world’s dependence on fossil fuels carries risks with it that could be existential,” he told a London audience. “We see this period as an escalation towards a crisis. However, the global response does not yet match the severity of the threat.”

The local response to that threat, as Noosa is demonstrating, does recognise its severity. Declaring a climate emergency is far from the only action Noosa Council has made to prepare its community.

Importantly, it has begun work on how current and future generations are able to adapt to climate change.

Tony Wellington: “Our Coastal Hazard Adaptation Plan will set out how Council prepares for, and responds to, increased severe weather events, storm surges, sea level rise and coastal erosion.”

Noosa is among 31 Queensland councils that have accessed funding and support through the LGAQ-managed QCoast2100 program, which is entirely devoted to helping local governments prepare plans and strategies to address climate change related coastal hazard risks over the long-term.

We are also working with the Department of Environment and Science to support local governments through the Queensland Climate Resilient Councils program, which is all about ensuring council decision-making processes factor in climate change.

Those plans are not everyone’s cup of tea. They may contain political risks because the best ones identify the parcels of land (some of which are highly valued) that may be underwater in a few short decades due to sea level rise (or even sooner if they are vulnerable to tidal surges).

No council wants to deliberately scare its community. But every council has a duty to ensure the decisions it makes benefit their communities in the long term.

And in the here and now, climate change and the response of councils to it have a very real impact on the cost of public liability and property insurance. It’s the first question we get asked by our underwriting panel in London.  

QCoast2100, which has attracted $12 million in Palaszczuk Government funding, is an excellent program which has won a swag of accolades recently. It provides an increasingly vital service to councils.

However, it didn’t reach all our coastal councils. Many of our most vulnerable indigenous councils did not receive funding and others were not able to complete all stages of their assessment due to funding limitations. The LGAQ estimates an additional $4 million would complete this work and we will continue to work with the State Government to make sure that we can keep our communities safe.

What it needs now is continued support from the State and Federal governments.

Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006

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