Australia: Reclaiming the climate emergency locally

‘Reclaiming the climate emergency locally’ was a one-hour webinar held at the National Sustainable Living Festival, which takes place annually across Australia during the month of February.


During the session, the panelists – Adrian Whitehead, Bryony Edwards, Trent McCarthy, Dale Martin, and Tiffany Harrison – each gave answers to the overall question of the webinar: “How we can accelerate action by all levels of government to reverse global warming?”

The webinar was MC’ed by Sally MacAdams, coordinator of Climate Emergency Australia.

“Thousands of councils around the world have made climate emergency declarations (CEDs). These declarations accelerated action on global warming while leading state and national governments. However, no council has gone into full climate emergency mode or fully mobilised. This forum unpacks what council mobilisation looks like and how to get your council into emergency mode. This forum is a precursor to Reclaiming the Climate Emergency Conference in April 2024.”


Audio recording of the session

Published by the Climate Conversations podcast





Sally MacAdams
Okay, so welcome back everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today, and thank you for sticking with us for this last part of the Mini Summit. My name is Sally MacAdams and I’m the coordinator of Climate Emergency Australia. Over the next hour, we’re going to be talking about reclaiming the climate emergency.

Before we get into that though, I just like to acknowledge that I’m joining from the lands of the Wurundjeri people today and whether you’re joining from Melbourne or Victoria or around Australia, we’re all joining from unceded Aboriginal land, and I’d like to thank the Elders of all those First Nations for looking after this country for such a long time.

So today, we’re going to unpack what council mobilisation could look like and how to get your Council into climate emergency mode, and this forum is a little bit of a precursor to The Climate Emergency conference coming up in the middle of the year. We have a council-focused conference coming in April and a community-focused conference coming in June, and the theme of those conferences is also reclaiming the climate emergency. You can find out more about those at our website.

So just in case you haven’t come across Climate Emergency Australia before: We are a network of councils around Australia who have declared a climate emergency and our role is to build the capacity of the local government sector to respond to the climate emergency and to act as a collective voice for all of those declared councils. If you’d like to know more about our organisation or get in touch, you can do so by the details on screen now.

We’re going to be joined today by five speakers who are all experts in climate emergency mobilisation, particularly at the local government level, and I’ll introduce each one as we go but first just to give you a very brief bit of background context. So as has been mentioned many times today, it was back at the end of 2016 that Darebin City Council moved the very first climate emergency declaration in the world, and since then we’ve had more than 2,000 jurisdictions around the world declare, and that’s nations, subnational governments, and municipalities – and if you’d like to check the full list and the breakdown, do go and check out the cedamia website – that’s on screen now – that’s definitely the best place to find all the up-to-date information.

In Australia, we’ve had 115 councils declare as well as the South Australian government and the ACT, which is pretty amazing. Of those 115 councils, 40 of those have joined Climate Emergency Australia. And if you want to check out to see whether your council is a member or has declared, you can check the cedamia website and check the Climate Emergency Australia website.

I guess just to talk a little bit about these last seven years or so… It’s been a really exciting time to be working in climate in local government. We’ve had a lot of hope that local government would sort of provide the blueprint for state and federal government to go into climate emergency mode and fully mobilise our whole society, and there’s absolutely no doubt that all of these declarations around the world and here in Australia have accelerated action on global warming at the local government level. However, to date, as far as we know, there’s been no council who’s really cracked the code of going into full climate emergency mode and that’s one of the reasons that we’re here today, and it’s one of the reasons for being of Climate Emergency Australia. We want to help councils to do that, so the question we’re asking today is: what could full mobilisation really look like? How can it help us rescue the climate and save the world?

So no pressure on our speakers, but if you do have some questions, please feel free to pop them in the Q&A. Or save them to the end and stick up your hand and we’ll get to you then. We’ll have about 15 to 20 minutes for that Q&A. But without any further adue, I’d like to introduce Adrian Whitehead. He’s one of the directors at CACE – that’s Council and Community Action in the Climate Emergency – and Adrian’s going to tell us a little bit about the goals of CACE in terms of full emergency mobilisation across all of society to reverse global warming, and about the vital role that councils can play in that mobilisation, and how councils can step into that leadership role from wherever they are at the moment. So I’ll hand over now to you, Adrian.

Adrian Whitehead:
Thanks, Sally. It’s great to be here. As you’d all know – and if you’ve been fortunate enough to get to the previous speakers – that we’re looking at a really serious situation now. We’re in a climate catastrophe. We’re sort of heading into a climate collapse and unless we get our emissions down below that zero line, things are going to get worse.

We saw in earlier talks today that we’re not looking at doing that for a very very long time, so we can expect, if we don’t act quite soon, that the things that we’re seeing now are just going to get worse and worse and get to a really critical stage so we don’t want to go there. So how are we going to not go there? That’s really the question – the challenge – for us: that we’ve got a whole lot of politicians that are currently heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industries one way or another, even in Victoria, we’ve been expanding our offshore gas when we should be reducing our emissions. And nationally, we’ve certainly got some issues around the Federal Parliament on both sides of politics with significant gas and coal expansions going on.

So how can we crack this? What’s the theory of change? What’s going to be the conjure to get our state and federal governments into emergency mode?

One really exciting opportunity is one that we’ve used before and we’ve talked about it earlier – Sally was talking about it – with the climate emergency campaigns – is local councillors. And so this [photo] is a bunch of local councillors. It happens to be the very local councillors who declared they were the first government in the world to declare a climate emergency. Okay, so from this bunch of people, here we started a global movement. We changed global discourse, and we’ve actually created a movement despite it being started from literally a handful of grassroots activists in a single council. And just saying that, it did say in my introduction – it says there on my name that I do work for a council but obviously in this particular presentation in no way am I representing the council I work for because that’s just not allowed. And you can see here, we’ve got this situation where that emergency declaration has spread around the world and changed global discourse effectively, so can we repeat that in terms of getting action at a government level?

That will start that process of reversing global warming. So we know we need all our governments to get into an emergency mode. We need to do it now. Can a council initiate an emergency response? That’s one of the questions that we get often asked and the simple answer is: yes, and we know this for a couple of reasons.

Mainly we know it because we had Covid. Every single Council ran… – Australia to some degree – went into an emergency mode. They changed the front page of their website. They moved staff from one job to another. They closed public-facing offices etc etc etc. In this particular case of Darebin, they’ve just announced a $10 million package to fund and stimulate economic growth within… That’s just one little Council. So we did it for Covid. A lot of the examples we could get councils to do are simple Covid examples, and we can do it again if one Council somewhere – somewhere in the world – went into full emergency mode. The rest would start to follow. And we would – like a set of dominoes – just like we succeeded in doing with the climate emergency declaration campaign, we got our first Council, we got our second Council, we got a third Council, we convinced the American campaigners to do it and then it took off around the world.

So on our CACE website, we’ve pretty much got all you need to know. So we’ve got everything from how to build a community campaign and what the emergency mobilisation looks like – so I’m just going to dive into that particularly the bit around what the emergency mobilisation might look like because other speakers who are coming after me are going to be presenting on how to get some of that mobilisation, that community work, and how to work with councillors and that sort of thing.

So let’s have a look at what emergency mobilisation might look like. One of the first things you got to go is what are you trying to set up to get an emergency mobilisation to start and I’ve got these five key things that you’ll need: you’ll need to get a majority of your councillors onside with an emergency mobilisation of war, so at emergency speed, you’ll need to get the CEO on side. The CEOs run… Councillors are like an executive board or a board of a company. They only do the strategic planning, they’ve got some specific roles that they have to do, but the bottom line is the CEO runs the business, effectively. You’re going to have a council with the climate and communication teams on board because they’re going to be critical to rolling out both your

Messaging around the climate emergency and the actions that you’re doing to mitigate and become resilient to it, you’re going to have to have a council with a functioning system. Some councils, just for whatever reason, maybe their website team doesn’t work or it just takes too long to make a decision, so you’re going to have to work with the council that’s got that. None of that’s going to happen unless you’ve got a strong community campaign. What does emergency mobilisation look like? It starts with the acknowledgement of the climate emergency. You’d then look inwards and you’d build an internal knowledge base amongst the staff and the executive. The executive, as well as the CEO, would need to get buy-in. You develop a new climate emergency plan that reflected emergency mobilisation rather than just a sort of better than business as usual climate response that we would have now. It would have to be a communications priority because this is what councils do worst.

Community mobilisation is once the council’s in this mode, they’re encouraging their community to mobilise themselves. You do a whole of council review, and you can do an emergency budgeting exercise. Councils do exercises where they put their budgets back to zero, and every line item and every staff member needs to justify their position. We would do something similar but with an emergency frame. You make it the number one priority and then you go about helping the council helping everyone get to negative. Once you go down that road, there’s amazing things you can do. You can work in all sorts of areas, from walking and cycling to reporting uptake of EVs within your council which actually saves the council money. You’re building resilience in your community, reducing heat island effects and deaths, encouraging community food resilience. It just goes on and on. Dale’s got some great stuff about that in his piece of work, the local government climate emergency toolkit. Councils can play a key role in reversing global warming. We can draw down doing things like biochar, planting trees, re-putting vegetation back in the ground, building soil carbon, and we can do some solar reflection. Just that picture says it all. Do we want black roofs or do we want white roofs and light-coloured roads? It’s really that simple.

This slide just shows the difference between the current way we think about emissions. The blue is the current way we calculate, and if we build in what methane actually does in terms of the here and now of warming, you can see that the agriculture and waste sector have much more impact than we currently calculate. Thanks very much. Excellent, thank you so much, Adrian. Thanks, Adrian. It’s been great to hear from somebody who’s been there from the very start. And I’d like to give an extra thank you to Adrian because he’s the person who’s brought together and coordinated the session today. Next, we’re going to go to Bryony Edwards. We’ve already heard from her today. She’s one of the directors of CACE as well, and she’s going to talk a little bit about how we can use the upcoming council elections towards the end of this year in Victoria to drive councils’ climate emergency agendas and how it can help get councils into climate emergency mode. Thanks, Bryony.

Bryony Edwards:
Thanks a lot, Sally. I’m just going to share my screen – hopefully successfully.

So, as Sally said, I’m going to talk about using elections, which are a very strategic time to leverage a council into emergency mode, because all of the candidates are listening to the community like they do at no other time. Going back, Adrian already shared this map, but here’s the result of the butterfly wings. So, 2,355 governments around the world recognising the climate emergency because of the butterfly wings of Darebin Council saying “We recognise the climate emergency” and then the groups that took that to other councils and said, “Now why don’t you do the same?” and took that around the world.

So what’s your strategy? If you want to get your council to mobilise, do you want to run as a candidate to do it? Do you want to work with an existing local group to lobby and pressure the candidates at election time, or do you want to do both?

If you want to do both, you probably need to separate yourself from a group that you might be working with, so there’s not such a conflict of interest. We talk about both running as a candidate or working with a candidate and being with a community group.

If you’re not already with a group, you might want to join one like a Climate Action Network. Many councils have one, there might be a Voices of group, Transition Street groups, local Facebook community groups, or you could have significant impact with yourself if you just have a few others to work with and can bring others on board.

Most groups still don’t understand the why and how of emergency mobilisation. This is really unfortunate, but it’s the case. You can see the CACE website and get in touch with us if you need some help on that. That’s getting your group into an emergency frame so they’re thinking big picture.

If you are running as a candidate, you’ve got to think about what your objective is. Do you want to get elected? Maybe you just want to educate the councillors and the community and influence the election outcome.

Back in 2016, both Adrian and I ran as climate emergency candidates in Darebin. We just spoke the climate emergency. We spoke about what Council should be doing. Neither of us won council, but I think us running was key in getting talking to the other candidates and saying, “Look, this could work!” You might want to do both. If you want to get elected, in most councils, you would need to do more than just talk about the climate emergency.

If you just want to educate councillors in the community, you can just talk about the climate emergency and what Council can do now.

Because we have preferential voting in Australia, this changes the way elections happen. When you run as a candidate, you speak with other candidates about where am I going to put you in my preferences. I’ll put you Number 2 if you can tell me what you understand about the climate emergency and convince me that you properly understand it and that you’re going to do something for Council. That’s great leverage. The candidates talk to each other in most cases, it makes a huge difference in sharing ideas.

If you run as a candidate, you can also educate the community because you can door knock and elections are one time of the year you can ignore ‘no junk mail’ stickers and put anything in the letterbox because the ALP and the LNP made it so.

Other campaign tools include talking to candidates as a candidate yourself or as a community group. When you talk to other candidates, link climate emergency action to something the candidate cares about, such as family, nature, lowering rates, whatever.

A really good lever is highlighting the irresponsibility of Council not prioritising climate, and there’s lots of work that’s come out in the last few years on the liability of Council. Sarah Barker from Minter Ellison Law Firm has done a lot of this work for Australian councils. There’s a CACE blog, Financial Risk for Councils Burying Their Head in the Drying Ground, that summarises a lot of this work.

It’s great to be fully informed on that before you talk to candidates. You can also explain the positive financial benefits of very strong climate action, and Dale Martin will talk more about that with his toolkit.

It’s great if you have a local CAN or VCAN, a local Climate Action Network, that can survey candidates on their climate emergency understanding or positions and then publish the results with a traffic light voting system. These questions in the survey can educate the candidates: What percentage of canopy cover would they argue for? Do they support initiatives to help get homes and businesses off gas? Transitioning the fleet to electric? What do they propose for building community resilience? And do they support Council undertaking emergency mobilisation?

You also want someone, a group or a group in the area, to make sure there’s a candidate forum, ideally climate-focused, probably a webinar, maybe live, and it should start with a shock-and-awe climate talk such as David Spratt might present and talk about what councils can do to educate the community. Have the right questions prepared, and make sure a recording goes live and is well promoted.

Great, thank you so much, Bryony. Thanks for illuminating some of those political opportunities and tools available to us. Okay, so up next, we’re going to have Trent McCarthy. Trent is a councillor at Darebin City Council, and yes, he’s the very same councillor who moved that world-first climate emergency declaration. He’s going to tell us a little bit about some of the hurdles facing councillors in terms of going into climate emergency mode and the role that community members can play in supporting councillors to make that shift. Thank you, Trent.

Trent McCarthy:
Thanks, Sally, and thanks everyone for joining us. And I’d also just like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land who I’m on today, which is the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people, and pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging. And also recognise, and I think this is important in this conversation, also recognise the significance of First Nations’ knowledge and caring for country, which is absolutely essential when we talk about what our climate emergency response is: to do that in alignment with that commitment to recognition, because people have lived on in this place for thousands of years, tens of thousands of years, and they’ve lived very well, and I think it’s worth us bringing that to the centre of our conversation when we talk about the climate emergency.

So what I wanted to focus on is actually first to tell you the hard stuff, and then I’m going to tell you the happy stuff.

The hard stuff falls into a few categories. So I want to share with you a little bit about the limitations that local councillors actually have, and I’ve experienced this. I’ve been a local councillor, this is my 16th year, it’s my final year. And I say that because one of the things that’s really important is to understand what councillors actually do is that they commit to a period of time, so in my fourth term, four-year terms. And in a four-year term, a councillor can achieve a few things, hopefully, if they can win the support of the rest of their colleagues. In order to do that, they need to get those commitments engaged in the council plan early on, and in order to do that, they need to be able to demonstrate to other councillors, and hopefully to the rest of the organisation, that those are things that people can get behind as well.

To get anything through a council chamber, you need a majority vote. So if you’ve got nine councillors, which is what I’ve experienced at Darebin, that means that if there are nine people there, you need to get at least five of them voting for that thing.

Now, why that’s important is that it may not be the councillor themselves who’s driving climate emergency action on their own who is the one who is most well-equipped to influence their colleagues. It may, in fact, be other community members. And this is why the best campaigns that I’ve seen in that 16 years on Council have been the ones where I’ve been able to work really closely with climate action groups, like the groups that Bryony mentioned before, or advocates who’ve put pressure on me and also applied pressure on other councillors to help them understand why it’s so important to get behind this initiative or that initiative. And that’s not just in relation to the climate emergency, it’s in relation to anything. So it’s really important, first of all, to understand that in Victoria, and in most states and territories, individual councillors have no individual power.

All of the power that they have and all the decision-making roles that they have are collective. Councillors don’t have their own budgets, except for a couple of jurisdictions around Australia and with the exception of some Lord Mayors. So most councillors can’t say, “I’m going to do this thing and spend money on this thing.” They actually need to win the support of a majority of their Council. But even then, even if you do win the support of a majority of your Council, you need to make sure that that item or that commitment you’ve made through the council chamber through a vote is actually implemented.

And that’s where the hard work begins. It’s actually about making sure that you have a persistent and consistent approach to engaging with the organisation. Adrian mentioned before that councillors are elected; they are like the executive or the board of management, and it’s actually the Chief Executive Officer and their staff who implement the Council’s decisions.

When Darebin made our climate emergency declaration back in December 2016, on the 5th of December 2016, we actually didn’t know what that meant in the reality of our Council implementing a climate emergency declaration and seeking to move into a climate emergency mode. We had to go through that process of understanding and unpacking that. Every council that has declared a climate emergency should have gone through that process. That’s the idea; you make your declaration, and then you delve deep and understand what does this mean for us. It means a little bit different for different councils.

One of the first things that I would encourage anyone to think about who is thinking about trying to either get their council, which is already declared, to move into emergency mode, is to encourage councillors to start having that conversation with their administration. “How are we going?” “What’s happening?” “What has the council done?” And not do it in a way that is shifting blame or accusing but rather being curious. Because one of the challenges that we have in this space is that because it hasn’t happened anywhere yet, because no local government anywhere in the world, as far as we know, has shifted into that emergency mode, it is very difficult to actually point to an example to say why haven’t you done what this council has done because we don’t have that example. But what we do have are examples of councils working at speed, at pace, and in a collaborative and collective way to make a huge impact.

In Darebin’s climate emergency plan, which was the first climate emergency plan developed anywhere, one of the commitments that was made was a commitment to shift the Council’s operations to 100% renewable energy. Darebin made the commitment to say, “If we are going to do this, why wouldn’t we also ask every other council to join us on that journey, and why wouldn’t we do the work to actually work out how we can do that?”

As a result, that led to the creation of what’s now called VECO, the Victorian Energy Collaboration, which involves over 50 councils pooling their renewable energy consumption together and effectively shifting and moving together.

One of the great things about that was that when we were aware that a council might not be moving to join this, this effectively this buyers’ group of renewable energy, we were able to encourage the climate action groups to apply pressure afterwards. And that meant that councils, in some cases, had declared a climate emergency or hadn’t but hadn’t taken any significant action. So this was the first action that they took, which was to shift to 100% renewables. That’s now the largest emissions reduction project of local government anywhere in Australia in Australian history, and that’s an example of going into emergency mode in relation to where you get your power from.

My big belief is that if we can understand what are those points of influence and who do we need to talk to, then we can actually help those people make change and make those shifts. One of the great things about local governments and local councillors is that you can find out who they are; it’s all there on the website. You can generally ring them up as the most accessible level of government, and importantly, they have a responsibility to you as a constituent. That doesn’t mean they have to agree with what you’ve got to say, but they have to give you the time, and they have to listen to what you’ve got to say, particularly if you can demonstrate that you actually have a connection to others in your community. So my first suggestion is if you’re interested in doing this, make contact with your local councillor and have a conversation with them. Be curious, and ask them to be curious about what is possible. If declared a climate emergency, if the council has, what have they done? What could they do, and what are they going to pursue? And that conversation can sometimes lead to them picking that thing up, running with it, and having it go.


Thank you so much, Trent. Thank you for that insight into the inner workings of councils and how we can support the shift into climate emergency mode.


All right, so up next, we have Tiffany Harrison. Tiffany is the coordinator of a Climate Alliance and she was the world’s first climate emergency officer. She’s going to be speaking about how resource-constrained councils can engage with the climate emergency movement. Over to you, Tiffany.

Tiffany Harrison:
Thanks, and thanks for having me. Yeah, a bit like Trent, I’d like to focus on some of the challenges, potentially a little bit more from the perspective of officers working within councils who are working really hard on climate policy and enacting climate change but have a lot of real limitations and resource constraints. I’ve worked across a number of different councils in my time. I’ve also been really passionate about the climate emergency, so worked a bit over a decade ago, in 2013, we were looking at what does it mean, or what could it mean, for local governments to declare a climate emergency and really take that on. This work, as a level of government that can really push that, is very exciting to see so many councils and now other jurisdictions around the world who have declared a climate emergency. But a question that I do get from resource-constrained councils, in particular in regional areas, is what does that really mean for our council? They’re already struggling with the workload or having small teams, often one person responsible for anything to do with sustainability, and now that’s climate change or that’s a massive remit. So what does a climate emergency declaration mean in reality for the work that they do? How can it help them? How can it help their council when they’re working as hard as possible?

A lot of councils, as I said, with limited staff resources, are doing amazing work. But also, council officers that I speak with are really concerned about climate change. It’s gone from a space of mitigation to still working in the mitigation space but, in regional areas, I live out in Gippsland now, on Gunaikurnai country, and there’s been storms, fires, there’s a lot of towns that were without power for about five-six days recently with the recent storms, and that’s really hitting home to council officers who feel really responsible in the work that they do to be able to respond to this, to effectively plan for that but with basically limited to no budget. That is a real problem. The councils which are the council areas and the local areas and communities who are feeling the stress of the emergency most in Australia are also the ones that have the limited and the least amount of resources to be able to respond to that.

Obviously, there are certain things councils do. I’m part of collectives across the state with the Victorian Greenhouse Alliance, and we work to do advocacy to be able to highlight that to different levels of government to support councils more in that space. Also, where that state government is also constrained. So I think that’s the real problem now, is that we have a whole bunch of councils who are really feeling the strain. We’ve got a bunch of councils who have declared a climate emergency, but we haven’t seen that next level of action either. So either councils are at that stage doing lots of work, really struggling with what it means, the massive workload for them in their area and haven’t declared, or the ones that have and, as Adrian was talking earlier, taking that next step up and actually enacting, going into climate emergency mode. From the declaration is one thing, but then fully shifting into, if we’re actually treating it as a proper emergency, what does that mean for our council?

So I guess there’s no clear output except for more community support, very vocal community support for climate action, climate change, which leads through to councillors understanding that message but also advocacy up to different levels of government to be able to provide that financial support that those councils need to do that work and internally to be able to have those teams supported financially and also with other levels of policy support and generally internal work, and knowing that the directors and leadership teams really support that climate work. I think that’s really important. But also, the community can be asking questions of teams that are not just sustainability, so looking at Emergency Management teams, how they work better together. So starting to look at councils are starting to look at that holistic integration of work across all the levels, all the teams of council, and working better in that space.

So yeah, I guess that’s the main message I wanted to come through with, is that council officers are in it for the real fight but really struggling at the moment, and the more community can support them and support councillors, getting that message as well, I think that’s really important.


Great, thank you so much, Tiffany. I think that’s a really timely reminder that councils are not all on the same playing field and also they’re having to deal with climate impacts alongside their climate emergency work. So thanks for that, Tiffany.


Okay, so I’m now going to introduce Dale Martin. Dale is the author of the Local Government Climate Emergency Toolkit. We’ve heard that mentioned a few times before he’s a former councillor and he’s going to describe some of the key mechanisms for influencing councils and supporting broader climate mobilisation. Thanks, Dale.

Dale Martin:
Thanks very much. Good day everyone! As it’s been alluded to a couple of times now, so back in 2020 at the end of my four years as a city councillor in the city of Mebec I authored a tool which is called the Local Government Climate Emergency Toolkit. It is a free resource for anyone to download. It has 46 actions in it, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a moment. The tool itself has been downloaded now over 15,000 times across 50 countries, and like I said. it’s a free resource. There’s a pdf version and then – due to popular demand – I created a Word version as well, so people can copy and paste a little bit easier. I should also say as well… I work in sustainability. I’ve been working in energy and sustainability for the last 14 years as well so one of the things that people sort of ask me quite a lot, particularly with the toolkit, is: “where do I start?” – and in the context of building momentum, I think it’s really important to start by actually centering yourself and starting somewhere. And I know that’s probably not what a lot of people like to hear and that people like a really set list to work their way through from A to Z. But it just doesn’t work like that. Like was mentioned before, I mean, local governments are so diverse – from the inner city all the way out to the regional areas – and then across different states, and I’ve had many conversations with what’s a priority over… versus what’s a priority in Tasmania or Victoria, you know, you can get quite varied sort of local issues and importances, so when stepping through the toolkit, and you know progressing on your climate compass, there’s sort of four key areas to look at, and that is:
biodiversity and

Looking at building momentum, I really encourage people to take a step in any of the directions because you will find that people are passionate about certain areas, and the toolkit really has specific measurable and direct actions in each of these areas so if you are particularly passionate about something, run with it! Talk to your counsillors. Talk to your community. You can campaign on a single action or you can campaign on a really effective full Council climate emergency response.

Plan again, being strategic, so here are a list of the 46 actions that are in the toolkit. Really it’s quite a lot. And particularly when I talk with Council officers who are thinking about putting forward a climate emergency response plan, it is quite overwhelming. So that’s why I really encourage people to take steps in any direction and build that momentum internally, because once you have internal resources that can actually do additional work that helps really inform the organisation and really focus on that culture which is really really key again. Start at the basics.

The toolkit has actions from one star to three stars. Start with one star. Start with the areas that you’re passionate about, and then progressively build from there. If you’re a council that’s lucky enough to have resources, to have councillors declare a climate emergency and then initiate a response plan, then you’re able to really take more robust steps. I’d be recommending looking at the actions here, looking at what some of the councils that are leading in this space are doing, and actually using them as a benchmark as well.

So, I wanted to really quickly finish by talking about stamina building. I think it’s really important that when you’re working in this space, it’s a journey, and as frustrating as it is, not everyone understands the predicament that we’re in. So we really need to build stamina for the journey to bring others on board. The first one being making sure that you’re sharing stories of success and looking to your peers, looking to other councils for the great examples and the brilliant work that’s happening. Understanding the motivations of your stakeholders is crucial, as a number of different councils have quite varied councillor makeups and also the senior executives and the CEO that work within a council. It’s really important to understand those stakeholders before you really commit to what you’re asking for. The third point in there is to really support those working inside of a council. So if there are officers that are working, if there are councillors that are on board and are really trying to push this, celebrate the successes that they’re able to achieve with the resources that they have.

The fourth point is to really participate in community engagement. I can’t tell you the number of times where we had a room full of people asking for us to commit to something but then we couldn’t even get a single response on a budget or a local plan, so I think it’s really important to participate in that community engagement. And the final point as well, for everyone working in this space, take care of yourself because it’s incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing, and so it’s really important to take care of yourself. Thank you, everyone.

Great, thank you, Dale, and that’s a great note to finish on. And thank you for all your work on the toolkit and on helping councils to grapple with their climate emergency responses. And I want to say thank you to all of our presenters today. I think what we’ve really heard is that councils have been leading in the climate emergency response, but there’s still a long way to go. And also, there are some really clear steps that both councils and community members can take to move along that journey towards climate emergency leadership. Again, just thank you to all our speakers today; you’ve all been absolutely instrumental in the founding and the growth of the climate emergency movement, especially in local government. So thank you. If you’ve got questions for our speakers, please do pop them in the Q&A. I can see that we’ve got a few already. We will get to those in just a moment.

In fact, let’s go there now. Perhaps we can start with this question to Trent. Trent, there’s a question for you: how does Darebin maintain a focus on climate emergency action?

Trent McCarthy:
That’s a great question. The reality is that most councils operate somewhere between 80 to 100 services, which means that any of those services can potentially disrupt or disconnect the council from its climate emergency path if you assume that those services are disconnected from climate emergency action. A good way to think about maintaining momentum around climate emergency action in a council is to look at every single council service area as part of the climate emergency response. So, to give you an example, when it came to looking at what Darebin did with its most vulnerable households, one of the things that was really important was to start educating our aged care teams, our home and community care workers, who would be the first people that would be out there checking on residents who were vulnerable to heatwave impacts. And so, if those people have an understanding about the climate emergency and understanding what’s happening with particularly a succession of hot days, then all of a sudden, they become the frontline. So if you can integrate the work of the climate emergency response into different parts of council, those areas can dial up or dial down what they’re doing, but they’re part of that broader piece.

Every part of council is critical. I can’t say that we’ve done it perfectly because we have a very big climate team at Darebin, but I feel that every council officer is a climate emergency officer. We are just about to actually go out for public consultation on our second climate emergency plan, and if you want to go and have a look at what happens when a council has been doing this work for about seven years, check it out. It’s on the Darebin Council website. It shows you the sorts of things that we’re now thinking about, and some of that work is actually around the fact that we’ve done our big energy work. We’ve been shifting; we’ve put the first Aquatic Center to go to 100% renewable energy, no gas. Now we’re looking at what happens at that neighborhood level. So we’ve got to keep questioning what is the next important thing that we do. And I think for councillors that are on that journey, and if you’re a community member trying to influence your council, ask that question to your councillors: what is that next thing you need to do to actually deliver significant, serious climate emergency action?

Great, thank you, Trent.

I’ll just check whether Trent or Dale would like to add anything to that. I just think talking to them is probably a really good place to start. There are a number of council officers that are willing to have discussions with people in the community, and they may be able to help give you a steer on where the council is truly at. I think also there are a number of executives, CEOs of councils, and councillors that are willing to meet and talk with community groups. I think just talking to them in the first instance to really get to know them and understand what their motivations are is really important. Thanks.

Great, and I’ve got a question that I might throw to Bryony. The question is, “You suggest looking to peers for success. How can small local groups who don’t know much about what to do or what is possible learn from other groups in other council areas? Is there a way that they can connect and learn from each other?”

Bryony Edwards:
That’s a good question. First, I’d say come, you can always get in touch with CACE. There are a lot of Facebook groups where these groups do come together, and that’s a good way to connect with others. There are also some CACE Facebook groups for campaigners that are pretty useful.

The landscape is always changing, so that’s really interesting Trent, that your second climate emergency plan is now coming out. I’m really interested to look at that. There is, like I’ve just heard in Warrnambool, there are four local governments down in Western Victoria around Warrnambool that are now about to turn all their sewage into biochar. I don’t know if it’s all, but they’re biocharing their sewage to deal with that, sequestering carbon emissions, methane, whatever. They’re stopping all that waste that’s going to end up in various forms in the ocean and so on. It’s really innovative stuff happening. We attempted to capture all that in a clearing house at CACE, but certainly, it needs to be updated.

Can I jump in there? The climate movement, the more radical, edgy part of the climate movement, used to have annual gatherings every now and again. They sort of dropped off recently. I think there’s a bit of a rumour that Breakthrough might be running one later in the year, so that might be a good opportunity for everyone to come together around this sort of local government, state, national mobilisation, and we can have a local government focus there and people in that space can meet together and make connections. So, yeah, but feel free to talk to us. That would be great.

Thanks, Adrian.

That possibly leads a little bit into the next question, which I’ll start off on, but then hand over to you, Adrian. The question is around what we are hoping is going to come out of the two conferences that we mentioned, the climate emergency conferences in Melbourne. There’s one for councils and one for the community. The one focused on councils is really what we’re getting at today. It’s helping councils to build their capacity for their climate emergency response, how to get into climate emergency mode, and that’s across the board in all areas of council. Many councils have declared a climate emergency; they haven’t necessarily known what they’re signing themselves up for. So now’s the time to put this into action and enable councils to learn from each other and from best practice and get back to the original principles and why we’ve all declared a climate emergency in the first place.

Adrian, would you like to add a bit about the community conference, which might also talk a little bit about how groups connect?

Technically I can’t say anything about the community conference at the moment. What community conference are we running? Sorry, missed that one. Just move on, I think.

The next one we’re looking at is the Breakthrough conference, so that’s maybe someone from Breakthrough. But it’s just in general, like, if you were running conferences, there are a lot of people who just don’t get the climate emergency. They don’t get the threat; they don’t get the mode that we need to go into. And I think part of the problem is because we’ve had this communication piece around these literally suicidal targets of net zero by 2050 dominating, coming from both sides of the spectrum.

Something I’d just like to get out there is: even within the climate emergency councils, the communication piece is one of the weakest. We’ve got councils doing great work, like Trent said, the biggest renewable energy project at the time when the VECO thing came up in Australia. Fantastic! From the government at that particular time. But, you know, I did a survey of all the declared councils. Ten have climate emergency on their front page, so about 8%. Sixteen councils frame their climate response as a climate emergency response, so only 14%. Another 28 have a sort of second framing around climate emergency, and 43 of those declared councils, you can only find a climate emergency reference if you do a Google site search. It is literally buried. They’ve declared; they’ve left it alone. You can find it in a legacy document or a legacy news item. So there’s a lot of work, even potentially with some of the councils that have declared, particularly in the communication space, around being upfront and honest and direct about what we need to do in the emergency, and if people can remember the Covid communication that councils did. Entire websites dominated by Covid communication, effectively, for years. Like,
two years. So that’s where we want to get that piece done.

Thanks, cool. And just before we leave this topic, I wanted to mention someone in the chat has mentioned that they would love to see some Zoom sessions run by CACE for local groups, just giving a little suggestion there.

Alright. Can I just come in on what I think is important? We do have a few more questions to get to, but that’s right, I’ll be really quick. One of the things that I think is important for people to remember is that the councillors you might engage with now are not necessarily the same people that were part of doing the declaration. So one of the challenges with any communication, it’s a bit like having a difficult conversation with a friend that you haven’t spoken to for a while, and you pick up the phone and you need to say, “Hey, it’s great to be in touch,” and then you’ve got to almost start the conversation again. So if you’re reaching out to your council and they haven’t done much since they’ve done their declaration, one of the best things you can do, never waste a crisis. Pick something that is happening in the community that relates to climate impacts and use that as the start point because it’s real, it’s present, it’s now, and that will make them focus. Then they will say, “Oh, we don’t have to declare an emergency, we’ve already done one, let’s actually now do some implementation,” and it’s shifting that conversation rather than starting from that starting point which is way back here. They’ve already moved a few steps, they’ve already recognised the science, they’ve recognised the emergency, you want to really support them to go into that next stage.

Thanks, Trent. So we’ve got just a few minutes before we start wrapping up. I wanted to address this question from Rosalie. She says, “I feel nervous about declaring an emergency. Didn’t we learn during COVID that emergency declarations can allow police to take action in ways that breach rights that they’re not allowed to do in non-emergency situations?” Would anybody like to speak to that topic? Adrian, you can have a go because I think it is a really important conversation around civil rights and emergency modes. But what we’re looking at is that there’s an acute emergency and there’s a long-term emergency, and what we’re talking about is dealing with a long-term emergency which, arguably at the moment, is quite acute for a lot of communities. What it is talking about is the prioritisation, so it’s recognising that this is a long-term emergency which is affecting all levels of humanity, and if we don’t do something about it sooner rather than later. So it’s stepping up into that mode where it’s amplifying and recognising how important and severe this is. It’s not designed to restrict your rights and your movement because it is a different type of emergency. What we’re talking about is all levels of government and all community working together. So ideally, if people are having this conversation and people are concerned about extra government powers, for instance, what do we need to be doing in terms of the conversation of making sure communities are part of that voice and part of that conversation and emergency response and planning for what does community resilience look like in 10, 20, 30 years under an emergency mode. Making sure that community groups are working with government to be able to have some autonomy as well but all levels and all communities working together for this response, I think that’s a key difference.

That’s really helpful. Okay, I want to get to at least one more question, and there’s one in here I think might be for Bryony. And it’s, “Have you considered local government actions related to reduce, remove, repair, the three Rs that you talked about earlier today? Most councils are looking towards the reduction side of it and maybe some towards removing. Are there any actions for local government around repair?”

Bryony Edwards:
Yep, and so on the third R, repair, which is sort of about active cooling, the most obvious one is white roofs, white roads, and California has started doing white roads, I think in just Los Angeles, to cool communities locally. There’s a lot of ice we need to replace to reflect sunlight. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that with white roofs? You know, and we’re still putting up black roofs on new houses because they get a higher rating from NABs, which is based on 1990s modelling, probably inappropriate to begin with in the first place. But that’s the repair one that for me immediately springs to mind. Then there’s the more localised repair of ecological repair and so on, but that’s sort of away from what we think of active cooling.

Great, thank you, Bryony. We’re nearly at time, so I’m going to say thank you to all our speakers and thank you to everyone for being here. And I’m also going to throw to Adrian for some closing words. Adrian, would you like to close out for us?

Adrian Whitehead:
Yeah, sure. So just thanks very much for coming to the session, and I really hope that you’ve got something out of it. The thing is, we need a pathway of action, and we need a pathway of action that’s going to get our governments to respond in the way and the level that we need, and I really think councils are that pathway. Okay, so please get on board with the campaign. I’d also like to thank all the speakers. It was a brilliant spectrum of the discussion. It was fantastic. Feel free to reach out and get in touch. So thanks very much.