Neighborhood problem: costs and climate risks for the city council
No community in Australia is immune to climate change. Our country is highly exposed to the impacts, including record heat, more dangerous bushfire seasons, coastal flooding and supercharged storms. These extreme weather events are getting worse and their impacts are rippling through all of our communities.
As the level of government closest to the community, municipalities are at the heart of the response to climate impacts. When a disaster strikes, local governments work closely with communities to cope and respond.
As we move away from using coal, oil and gas, the system is already having climate impacts that councils must also respond to in order to keep our communities safe and build their resilience in the future.
The findings and case studies in this report paint a picture of the impacts and scale of the challenges facing boards, but also outline a way to overcome them.
1. Climate change is a huge challenge for all levels of government, but its impacts are felt most severely at the local level.
Australia’s 537 councils are responsible for infrastructure and community assets valued at nearly half a trillion dollars, including land, buildings and 75% of the country’s roads.
As the level of government closest to the community, municipal staff are often directly affected by disasters and must also respond. During the black summer, a fifth of the Towong County Council staff were personally affected as staff took on additional duties and board resources were effectively depleted within 72 hours.
As climate impacts – including coastal erosion, flooding, the risk of bushfires and extreme storms – continue to accelerate, the risk to municipal infrastructure and services increases – as do the needs of the community. community.
2. Worsening extreme weather conditions, driven by climate change, increase costs for counseling. This includes increasing damage to municipality-owned assets, rising insurance premiums and increasing liability risks.
Critical council infrastructure, including roads, drainage and coastal defenses, is damaged by more frequent and / or more severe extreme weather conditions, and state and federal government assistance is not available. the height of the needs.
Coastal councils are forced to choose between competing interests in deciding how to protect their coasts and communities from rising sea levels and worsening erosion. The bill to local governments to repair eroded beaches or protect beachside properties or infrastructure typically exceeds $ 1 million and could reach $ 54 million per year.
Claims and damages from extreme weather events are on the rise, with average home insurance premiums rising 178% in northern Australia and 52% in the rest of the country in the decade between 2007-08 and 2018-19.
A growing number of Australians have no insurance or inadequate insurance coverage for their property, increasing pressure on councils and the wider community to provide financial support in the aftermath of climate disasters. Uninsured rates range from 17% in North Queensland (over 62,000 properties) to 40% in Northwest Australia (over 10,000 properties).
One of the most common concerns for boards as climate impacts escalate is the increase in litigation, with 21% of coastal boards surveyed in 2019 citing this as their biggest concern. It is practically impossible for municipalities to eliminate such legal risks, but they can take steps to reduce them considerably.
3. Local government plays a major role in responding to climate change, but there are common obstacles that councils face when trying to take further action.
In Australia, local governments and communities are aligning with the latest climate science advancements by striving to meet 100% renewable energy targets and zero emissions targets. Already, the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide have carbon neutral operations – as do Moreland and Darebin’s advice in Victoria.
By reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, municipalities can also significantly reduce operating expenses. For example, the Cities for Climate Protection program helped 233 councils collectively avoid 18 million tonnes of carbon emissions and save $ 95 million in energy costs.
We are effectively asking councils to do more with less. As boards’ responsibilities – including those related to climate change – increase, their tax revenues have fallen to fourth among the 30 industrialized countries that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
It is difficult for councils to access funding to prepare their communities for worsening extreme weather conditions. Evidence shows that the return on investment is higher for spending on disaster preparedness rather than disaster recovery, but 97% of all Australian disaster funding is spent as a result of an event .
4. Protecting communities from worsening extreme weather conditions and minimizing the costs they incur requires climate leadership at all levels of government.
This report shows that boards are already suffering damage and loss beyond their ability to manage. Decisive and immediate action is required at all levels of government to dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions, increase the use of renewable energy and help communities prepare for and cope with climate-induced disasters.
Australia can and must do more in international efforts to keep global warming well below 2 Â° C. This means reducing our emissions by 75% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2035.
Extreme weather events such as bushfires and floods do not respect municipal boundaries, so coordination from higher levels of government is needed.
There are great opportunities for boards when they have the resources to act on climate change. Beyond the benefits to the community, the action can create local jobs and lead to long-term savings for boards.