Above: Activists began to gather outside council chambers at 5.30, planning for their presence at the meeting inside which would vote on Cr Jimmy Cocking’s climate action motion.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Even more people packed into the public gallery last night to support Councillor Jimmy Cocking in his bid to get council to do more about the changing climate – to not only move towards decarbonising, for which it has a plan, but to work on local adaptation in a warming world.
Tactics had changed. The group had one person speaking for them, local business woman Kim Hopper, framing two precise questions for councillors and the Mayor. They stood while she spoke, to show with quiet forcefulness that she spoke for them, but that was their only demonstrative action. And they stayed for the debate.
Ms Hopper opened by acknowledging that many of them had not been aware at the last meeting of the way things go in the chamber. She asked councillors to listen with “fresh ears and unbiased opinion”. She also acknowledged that council has a Climate Action Plan (CAP) and thanked them for developing it. It puts them a step ahead of some others, she said, who have signed on to declaring a climate emergency, without having a plan in place.
She said many in the group had recently become “intimately familiar” with the CAP and had trawled through meeting minutes to understand what actions have been taken and why. However they had found it hard to find up to date information on progress.
Left: Kim Hopper, on the microphone.
For example, baseline emissions data for 2017 and 2018 had not been updated and it was not clear what impact the CAP had made on emissions. It was not clear why some actions had been prioritised over others (pool blankets purchased, gaining 45 tonnes in emission reduction, before LED street lighting, gaining 240 tonnes). It was not clear where the commercial composting trial was up to.
Her first question was directed to the councillors who sit on the Environmental Advisory Committee (in which the plan had been originally formulated before adoption by council): Could council put into effect, as soon as possible, an online real-time transparent and accessible platform for viewing the progress of the CAP?
Such a tool would enable community and business to engage more effectively with council, she said.
Mayor Damien Ryan referred the question to Acting CEO Scott Allen, who said he would take it on notice.
The second question was directed specifically at the Mayor. Ms Hopper pointed to the concerted efforts by many in the community to show their concern and support for action in this area – their attendance at council meetings, their support for the global climate strike (500+ people, 67 businesses) and other actions that followed, the families who meet on the council lawns every Friday to plan further climate action, the close to 1800 signatures on a petition asking council to declare a climate emergency.
(This international movement, started in Australia, continues to gain momentum with the Liberal South Australian Government signing on last week. In Australia, the SAG follows the ACT Government and 55 local governments onto the declaration, with the international total being 1,081 jurisdictions and local governments covering 266 million citizens. National parliaments to sign on to date are Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Portugal, Canada, France, Argentina.)
“What will it take for this council to consider climate change an emergency issue and act accordingly?” asked Ms Hopper.
The Mayor deflected: he is only one of nine, he said, with no more power than the rest. He was sure it would be discussed when Cr Cocking’s motion came up later in the meeting, noting that the motion had been modified from a fortnight ago.
But that issue, specifically a climate emergency, was not discussed later and was unlikely to be because there was no mention of the word “emergency” in Cr Cocking’s motion. It described rather a situation of “escalating urgency”.
Not that he resiles from his belief that an emergency exists.
Late in the meeting, after his motion around the escalating urgency of more concerted action had been debated and amended and carried, and after most people in the public gallery had left the chamber – reasonably pleased with progress, I expect – the issue came up again, briefly.
The original motion around developing a climate emergency policy was still on the books.
Hadn’t it been “superseded”, suggested the Mayor.
But Cr Cocking did not agree. This emergency is not going to go away. He would rather see the motion recorded not as superseded, but lost.
The Mayor asked for a vote and it was defeated.
Cr Cocking asked for a division, whereby those in the majority stand and their names are recorded in the minutes (this only happens when a division is called).
The minutes will show that the Mayor and Councillors Eli Melky, Jacinta Price and Glen Auricht voted the climate emergency motion down. (Councillors Jamie de Brenni and Matt Paterson were absent from last night’s meeting, apologies accepted.)
Back to the earlier debate:
In line with the pushback from other councillors a fortnight ago and after meeting with CEO Robert Jennings (absent last night), Cr Cocking had focussed on putting concrete steps forward in his motion. These included allocating $250,000, from the budgetary surplus that may be identified in finance meetings this month, towards accelerating delivery of the CAP.
Speaking to the motion, Cr Cocking said that delivery is “behind the original schedule and this sends a poor message to our community regarding our commitment to the urgency and seriousness of the issue.”
He acknowledged the steps taken to date, such as buying an electric car, reducing paper based systems and agreeing to carry out “the FOGO trial” (Food Organics Garden Organics collection and composting).
“However, our leadership will and must be judged on our actions in addition to our motions and plans,” he said.
These would include, in a third part of his motion, instigation of a ten-year Climate Adaptation Plan. This would be about specifically local actions to adapt to the increased warming that is now inevitable, even if global emissions reduction manages to keep it to 1.5 degrees. Things like increasing tree cover and the survival rate of trees a sore point at present, after last summer’s loss of 5% of street trees, and recent planting failures in Bath Street and Palm Circuit*.)
Above: Part of the crowd that turned out on 20 September to support local students striking for the climate.
Long story short: Cr Melky, who had done on a lot of work on the issue over the last fortnight and had been contacted by a lot of constituents, had an amendment to propose which he suggested would strengthen the motion.
He had a carefully prepared three-page statement to read. It rejected the concept of “emergency”, scoffing at, as an example of “hollow symbolism”, Canada having signed the declaration only to approve “a massive expansion of an oil pipeline” (the Trans Mountain pipeline, tripling its capacity).
He acknowledged “the global crisis” of climate change, making the point that whatever action Alice Springs takes, as a small town, has to be “balanced and responsible, based on population size and resources”.
He went on to list in considerable detail what council has done in the domain, quantified in the “millions of dollars” over the years (his list went back to 1998).
His amendment eliminated any reference to additional spending (even Cr Catherine Satour and the motion seconder Cr Marli Banks were hesitant about this) but its first part was aimed at strengthening council’s response. Its second part was somewhat superfluous, for council to call world leaders to do the same, and it dropped off what was finally adopted.
This was a combination of Cr Cocking’s first point, that council “acknowledge the escalating urgency for climate action to both mitigate and adapt to the impacts that the changing climate will have on our community” and Cr Melky’s amendment, that council “develop and implement a policy that represents the science on the issue of climate change and to strengthen the existing Climate Action Plan, Municipal Plan, Strategic Plan, policies and various other action plans, working towards reducing greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2030 and [to] zero by 2050 as a matter of urgency.”
The thrust of the amendment is still on emissions reduction, but it brings into play all of council’s major frameworks, it’s urgent, and the word “adapt” is in there . It’s progress and it achieved consensus.
The motion was carried unanimously.
*To a later enquiry from Cr Banks, Technical Services Director Scott Allen said Bath Street and Palm Circuit will be replanted this week, with improved maintenance to follow.