Fortieth anniversary World Environment Day 5 June 2012

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is ‘Green Economy: Does it include you?’

My response to this question is “not yet”. But I want to make sure my kids are included in one.

Forty years ago, the United Nations recognised that the transformation needed to mitigate the impacts of climate change would need to be driven by a grass roots “think globally, act locally” approach.

Fifteen years ago, Newcastle Council signed off on ‘The Newcastle Declaration’ at the UN Pathways to Sustainability Conference held in this city. The declaration recognised the urgent need to accelerate action and to assist the community to progress towards local sustainability, if global sustainable development objectives were to be realised.

All levels of government have a responsibility to implement policies that empower our society to achieve sustainable economic and environmental outcomes.

However, Corporation lobby groups, by attacking the credibility of scientists and economists, have bullied governments into an agenda of inaction. Their undermining of the evidence of independent experts, has stifled the conversation needed with our governments and left little room for the community to contribute to the debate.

We cannot afford inaction.

During that time, high polluting, carbon intensive companies have made outrageous profits. As economist Matt Grundnoff from The Australia Institute pointed out (The Herald, 1 June 2012) the mining industry is still on taxpayer-funded “welfare” (more than $4 billion each year from the Federal Government alone) and there is “little justification for such large public generosity”.

In a 2009 survey of Australian business leaders, carried out by international accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers, partner Liza Maimone noted that “taking action to minimise risk and leverage new opportunities must become common practice if Australian business is to fulfil its responsibility in the fight against dangerous climate change and prosper in a low carbon economy”. However, the survey found that “only 23.8 per cent of businesses surveyed are comprehensively prepared … while 22.5 per cent have done nothing at all to prepare”.

We need to lift our game.

Last year over 20,000 Australians took to the streets in support of a price on carbon pollution. The voice of the grass roots was clear: we want governments to take action on the pathways to sustainability and not surrender to the spin of vested interest.

Local government, being the tier of government closest to the community, is strategically placed to create the change we want to see. It’s clear that the carbon price will affect local councils in different ways depending on how efficient and environmentally friendly they are.

Councils will be affected according to how they manage our waste, how they control the amount of fuel and electricity they consume and how prudent they are with materials like bitumen and concrete.

But there are opportunities.

Newcastle Council already collects some gas from the landfill to convert into electricity; if we collected more we could produce more green energy and create carbon credits in the process.

As a region, we are in an enviable position of having plentiful natural assets such as solar, wind and water resources and world-class educational institutions like the University of Newcastle and the Hunter TAFE. We need to look for clean energy innovation opportunities.

For World Environment Day 2012, I am presenting three motions to Council dealing with protecting the security of our water supply from inappropriate mining proposals, improving Council’s e-waste recycling services and investigating the opportunities under the Federal Government’s Clean Energy Package.

We need to protect what we have, reduce what we consume and act for the future.

There are opportunities for Newcastle to attract investment in clean energy through the new Clean Energy Finance Corporation. However, a collaborative approach is required between Newcastle Council, state and federal governments and the community. We need to work with our strengths and take advantage of the grants on offer to transition to a green economy.

For Council, it’s not just a matter of managing landfill costs; it’s time for the economic management of the city to be underpinned by public and private investment that results in low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive pathways to sustainability.

We should support initiatives that see a skills revolution that positions Newcastle in the global marketplace of clean technology industries, improves our energy and environmental security and provides long-term health and social benefits for our community.

This is no time for a ‘business as usual’ approach.

Let’s work together to establish an inclusive green economy for our kids.

Michael Osborne

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