Kinglake National Park after Black Saturday bushfires.

By Colin MacGillivray

MITCHELL Shire Council will prepare a climate emergency action plan after acknowledging a global climate emergency at last week’s ordinary meeting.

The acknowledgement is in advance of an official declaration of a climate emergency, which will happen at a future meeting after the development of the action plan.

Councillors voted to set aside $110,000 in the 2022-23 environment and sustainability operational budget to fund the development of the action plan, including community and stakeholder engagement.

The move puts Mitchell Shire on track to join 33 other Victorian councils that have already declared a climate emergency.

Cr Rob Eldridge said council had a responsibility to do all it could to mitigate the effects of climate change, and that started with an acknowledgement of its reality.

“This is a step towards [declaring a climate emergency] and a very important step to make sure that when and if we do declare a climate emergency, we have an idea of what we’re in for in terms of the actions we need to do to support it,” he said.

“This includes a climate emergency action plan to be developed. That will form the basis for whatever goes on in terms of an emergency declaration.

“This isn’t just about reducing our carbon footprint. This is an important part of our emergency response as much as bushfires and floods. It’s going to have a huge impact on the health of the community.”

Cr Louise Bannister said the reality of climate change was undeniable, and encouraged anyone still sceptical of the science to read climate data published on NASA’s website.

“Action on climate change is not detrimental to the economic environment,” she said.

“In fact, often actions to reduce climate change can have a positive effect on economics – saving on energy bills due to solar or better, more efficient buildings, saving on future spending by creating buildings that will last.

“I look forward to the plan and contributing to a more sustainable future.”

Cr Bill Chisholm, who owns a farm at Tooborac, said landowners were already seeing the effects of climate change.

“It should be obvious to anyone in this shire that has been affected by [climate change], whether it’s bushfires, whether it’s the recent storm event,” he said.

“We’ve seen more severe droughts, and I think anyone associated with rural industries has got to recognise that the climate is changing.

“There’s a lot of things we can do to mitigate it, and I hope some of the emergency provisions in this [plan] will do it.”

Cr Bob Cornish was the sole councillor to vote against acknowledging a climate emergency.

“We’re just one particular nation on the planet and these actions I don’t think will make much difference at all,” he said.

“We’re not going to stop the next bushfire, the next drought, the next flood.”

BEAM Mitchell Environment Group president Peter Lockyer said council’s acknowledgement, as well as its adoption of an environmentally sustainable building design policy at the same meeting, were both steps in a positive direction.

He said the group was eager to work with council on the development of the action plan.

“Our pitch was for council to engage with the community in shouldering responsibility for our emissions and doing something about it,” he said.

“I don’t think we need $110,000, which was also set aside to develop that, and if you took the words of the resolution literally it looks like next year we’ll have a climate emergency action plan up and running.

“Really, Mitchell Community Energy has been having quarterly meetings with council staff already where we talk about projects and possibilities. It’s been slow, but it’s already happening.

“The development of the climate emergency action plan starts today really. We don’t need to wait for all that money.”

Mr Lockyer said the building design policy had plenty to like while also having room for improvement.

“In that policy they had a scale as to what level of efficiency they would aim for depending on the value of the upgrade,” he said.

“BEAM’s perspective would be that they should aim for the highest level irrespective of the price tag.

“Alternative housing should be looked at in there too.”

Mr Lockyer said he was pleased council had finally acknowledged a climate emergency after years of advocacy from BEAM and other environment groups.

“It’s been very slow coming, but we are standing ahead of Murrindindi Shire and we’re standing shoulder to shoulder with Strathbogie, Shepparton and Macedon,” he said.