By Lauren Duffy

MACEDON Ranges Shire Council has declared a climate change emergency, and will consider allocating further funding to the cause in its next budget.

At council’s December meeting, councillors asked for an officer’s report outlining the implications to council of declaring a climate emergency.

Council’s planning and environment director Angela Hughes said climate change was an increasing concern for the community.

She said 32 of Victoria’s 79 councils, abot 40 per cent, had already declared a climate emergency.

Ms Hughes said council had already taken steps to tackle climate change – reducing corporate emissions and working to develop community action plans.

“While declaring a climate change emergency is not a pre-condition for continuing council’s climate change initiatives, it would send a strong message to the community and provide policy basis to inform councillors’ corporate planning and decision making,” she said.

In a shire-wide survey in September 2019 to help inform council’s Cool Changes program, 86 per cent of the 326 respondents indicated they felt climate change was ‘a crisis, we need to act urgently’.

Cr Mark Ridgeway offered an alternative motion: that council declare a climate emergency, allocate additional staff resources and money in the 2021-22 budget for consideration, and note Macedon Ranges Climate Emergency Declaration Coalition’s petition including 405 signatures in support of the council declaring a climate change emergency.

“There has been significant scientific consensus about climate change for a long time. Basically it says we have a problem, we are the cause of it, and if we don’t do something about it urgently, things are going to get very bad,” he said.

Cr Ridgeway said the results could be seen in rising temperatures, extreme weather events and changing climatic patterns, which impact on ecosystems, farming practices and people’s way of life.

“Locally in the Macedon Ranges we live in one of the most fire-prone parts in one of the most fire-prone countries in the world,” he said.

“Councils themselves can play a role in addressing climate change and that’s through their operations and practices and in leading the community, advocating and educating residents and business in adopting practices to reduce emissions. And our council has been in active in this in the last few years.”

Cr Ridgeway said declaring a climate emergency brought all of council’s climate change practices under one policy, and made a strong statement to the wider council and community.

He said the Local Government Act required councillors to consider climate change as overarching principle.

Cr Annette Death said it was important to show leadership on climate change, and join other councils including two neighbouring shires, Hepburn and Mount Alexander.

“There has been recent commentary in the community that this is not an issue or the role of local government – I believe all levels of government must take responsibility in order to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” she said.

Mayor Jennifer Anderson said if council did not declare a climate emergency and allocate approproate resource it would cost them more money in trying fix the problems caused by climate change.

Cr Geoff Neil objected to the motion, and said the council had not consulted the community enough.

“This is an important matter. I don’t knock that. But how about on such an important matter we do actually consult our community,” he said.

“On many occasions, people I speak to, I ask the simple question, what would you like – a declaration or a response to get on with the job and their response is to get on with the job.”

Cr Dominic Bonanno was also against the motion, and said he was concerned with the language used in the motion, describing it as ‘alarming’.

“We doing over and above what other councils are doing, who have declared a climate emergency. There will be a cost involved in this which ratepayers will be funding if we decide to go down that budget path,” he said.