‘More ambitious than the NSW and Australian government targets,’ says the Ballina Shire Council’s sustainability projects officer, Sharyn Hunnisett, of the local government’s draft climate change policy.
While critics say it isn’t hard to beat the federal government on ambitious carbon emissions reduction targets – take a look at responses to Australia’s policies from the likes of the G7 and the United Nations, for example – renewable energy advocates such as Northern Rivers local and editor of online publication Renew Economy have long pointed out the progress forged in the private sector, through state governments and at a local government level.
The Ballina Shire Council is one of at least four local governments on the Northern Rivers to have declared a climate emergency with the Byron Shire Council, Tweed Shire Council and Lismore City Council all having made the same declaration.
Each council has made various steps towards backing the declarations up with actions aimed at cutting emissions, with the Ballina Shire Council putting a draft of its climate change policy on display last week while youth were preparing to protest the government’s inaction.
‘The Ballina Shire Council proposed targets are to reduce our operational greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2030,’ says Ms Hunnisett, ‘and to use 100%, renewable electricity for our council operations by 2030’.
The policy aims to address climate change through both mitigation and adaption measures, Ms Hunnisett says, and will look at options for increasing sequestration i.e. tree planting.
‘The focus of these targets is on council’s own operations,’ says Ms Hunnisett, ‘and that’s where we’ve got most influence’.
‘So it’s about our water and wastewater services, our street lighting, our fleet and community facilities,’ the council officer says, ‘we want to be ambitious, we think we can achieve these goals within these timeframes’.
Electric cars and solar storage for the Ballina Shire
The council’s sustainability projects officer says the Ballina Shire Council already has one electric vehicle in its fleet and hopes to buy more cars with lower emissions as prices continue to decrease.
The council’s biggest contributor to carbon emissions is electricity usage, she says, and the biggest consumer of electricity is the council’s water and wastewater service.
‘The wastewater and water treatment sections have done an amazing job in past years of upgrades and pump efficiencies,’ Ms Hunnisett says, ‘and it has significantly reduced usage’.
‘So we will just continue with that, with further upgrades, looking at more solar too, so that the electricity used at the sewage treatment plants is a renewable source,’ she says.The second highest user of electricity in terms of council control is council buildings and facilities, Ms Hunnisett says.
‘Our office, our administration building, our community facilities, right down to toilet blocks at sports fields, we think we can generate about 20% of our electricity needs from solar,’ Ms Hunnisett says, ‘but with the introduction of new technologies and battery storage, when that becomes more economical, we might even be able to increase that’.
Speaking of emissions… what about the Ballina Airport?
But the Ballina Shire Council also owns the Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport, so how can it possibly hope to compensate from carbon emissions produced as a result of the ever popular flow in travellers coming to and from the Northern Rivers?
‘The portion of emissions from the airport that we account for is the building itself and the runway lighting and all of those emissions that relate to electricity usage,’ says Ms Hunnisett, ‘and the emissions from the actual airplanes would not be accounted for in Council’s target’.
Ms Hunnisett says the Ballina Shire Council wants to engage with the community ‘about working on broader community wide goals’ and says other emissions from the airport could be factored in at that point.
The sustainability projects officer says there are examples of other communities that have set themselves emissions reduction targets and the council is running a survey to see if Ballina Shire residents want one.