No community in Australia is left untouched by climate change. Our country is exposed to extreme conditions, including record breaking heat, more dangerous bushfire seasons, coastal flooding and charged storms. These extreme weather events are getting worse and the effects are reverberating in our communities.
As the level of government closest to the community, Councils are at the heart of responding to climate impacts. When a disaster strikes, local governments work closely with communities to respond and respond.
As we move away from the use of coal, oil and gas, there are climate impacts anchored in the system that communities must respond to in order to protect our communities and make them resilient for the future.
The findings and case studies in this report paint a picture of the impact and magnitude of the challenges the councils are facing, but also outline a way to overcome them.
1. Climate change is an immense challenge for all levels of government, but its effects are most felt at the local level.
- Australia’s 537 councils are responsible for nearly half a trillion dollars worth of community infrastructure and assets, including land, buildings and 75% of the country’s roads.
- As a community-based level of government, the employees of the city administration are often directly affected by disasters and must also react. During Black Summer, one fifth of Towong City Council is Shire
Employees were personally affected as the workforce took on additional tasks and the council’s resources were effectively exhausted within 72 hours.
- As climate impacts – including coastal erosion, flooding, bushfire risks, and extreme storms – continue to accelerate, the risk to community infrastructure and services – as well as community needs – increases.
2. The exacerbation of extreme weather conditions due to climate change increases the costs for the councils. These include increasing damage to municipal assets, rising insurance premiums and increasing liability risks.
- Critical community infrastructure, including roads, drainage, and coastal defenses, is being damaged by more frequent and / or severe extreme weather conditions and insufficient government and government support is required.
- Coastal councils are forced to choose between competing interests in deciding how to protect their coastlines and communities from rising sea levels and increasing erosion. The bill for local governments to repair eroding beaches or protect beach property or infrastructure typically exceeds $ 1 million and could reach as much as $ 54 million a year.
- Claims and damage as a result of extreme weather events are on the rise, with the average home insurance premiums in Northern Australia increasing by 178% over the decade between 2007-08 and 2018-19 and by 52% in the rest of the country.
- Growing numbers of Australians have no or inadequate insurance coverage for their property, increasing pressure on councils and the wider community to provide financial assistance in the aftermath of climate-related disasters. Noninsurance rates range from 17% in North Queensland (more than 62,000 homes) and up to 40% in Northwest Australia (more than 10,000 homes).
- One of the councils’ top concerns as climate impacts escalate is rising litigation, with 21% of Coastal Councils polled in 2019 citing this as their top concern. It is practically impossible for councils to eliminate such legal risks, but they can take steps to reduce them significantly.
3. Local government has a leadership role in responding to climate change, but there are common barriers that communities face in their efforts to take further action.
- In Australia, local governments and communities are drawing on the latest climate science by working towards 100% renewable energy goals and zero emissions goals. The cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide are already carbon neutral – as are the communities of Moreland and Darebin in Victoria.
- By reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, municipalities can also significantly reduce operating costs. For example, the Cities for Climate Protection program has helped 233 communities collectively avoid 18 million tons of CO2 emissions and save $ 95 million in energy costs.
- The councils are effectively encouraged to do more with less. While the competencies of the councils – also in connection with climate change – increase, their tax revenues have shrunk to the fourth lowest share of the 30 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
- It is difficult for councils to access funding to prepare their communities for the worsening extreme weather. There is evidence that disaster preparedness spending has a higher return on investment than disaster recovery, but 97% of all Australian disaster funding is spent after an event.
4. Protecting communities from the aggravation of extreme weather conditions and minimizing the costs they bear requires climate leadership at all levels of government.
- This report shows that councils are already suffering damage and loss beyond their means. Resolute and immediate action is needed at all levels of government to deeply reduce fossil fuel emissions, increase the use of renewable energies, and help communities prepare for and deal with climate-related disasters.
- Australia can and should do more as part of international efforts to keep global warming well below 2 ° C. That means reducing our emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2035.
- Extreme weather events such as bushfires and floods do not respect community boundaries, so coordination from higher levels of government is required.
- There are great opportunities for councils if they have the resources to respond to climate change. Aside from community benefits, interventions can create local jobs and result in long-term savings for communities.