Climate emergency declaration

City of Onkaparinga took the next step in its decades-long response to climate change in Southern Adelaide by declaring a climate emergency at the 30 January 2023 Council meeting.  Building on council’s commitment to tackling climate change, recognising that urgent action needs to be taken. 

We have been responding to climate change for more than 20 years.  In August 2022 council adopted the Climate Change Response Plan 2022–27 and most recently in July 2023 approved a range of additional actions.  

Declaring a climate emergency strengthens our position, acknowledges our roles and responsibilities as South Australia’s largest metropolitan council, and recognises the existential threat climate change poses to our communities.

As part of the declaration, Council also resolved to aim for net zero corporate carbon emissions by 2040, building on its existing commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2030.

Frequently asked questions

What does a climate emergency declaration mean?

Declaring a climate emergency is a step that has been taken by more than 2300 jurisdictions in 40 countries around the world, including 16 other South Australian councils and the state of South Australia in 2022.

At their core, climate change emergency declarations are an acknowledgment of the urgent action that needs to be taken to respond to the impact of climate change.

In the City of Onkaparinga’s approved 17 January motion to declare a climate emergency, Council moved to recognise “that severe or catastrophic climate change will adversely impact every community, that all levels of Government have a responsibility to act, and we have a duty to support and advocate for the best interests of the City of Onkaparinga community.”

While declarations are a symbolic gesture, many jurisdictions also choose to combine climate change emergency declarations with additional actions or commitments to combat climate change, such as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

What tangible impacts will Onkaparinga's emergency declaration have?

Before the climate emergency was declared in January 2023, we had already committed to significant climate action.

In August 2022, Council adopted both the Climate Change Response Plan 2022–27 and Towards Zero Corporate Emissions Roadmap, with an 80 per cent emissions reduction target (for the organisation, not the entire region).  A recent progress review shows that 72 of the 79 actions are either already completed or underway - we’re also on track for an 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2030.

In January 2023,  as part of the climate emergency declaration, council resolved an aim to reach net zero corporate emissions by 2040.

Most recently, in July 2023 council approved 25 additional actions aimed at tackling the remaining 20 per cent of corporate emissions. The additional actions will address emissions generated from buildings (gas and electricity), street lighting, and vehicles, and they include:

  • transitioning council-owned/operated buildings from gas to electric where possible
  • looking for opportunities to repurpose existing buildings where possible, rather than building new ones
  • developing an Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) policy to consider climate impacts for new buildings and retrofits
  • making sure emissions reduction targets and climate change impacts are factored into future strategic plans
  • purchasing zero emissions energy in future electricity contracts where possible
  • providing ongoing training and education for staff and elected members around climate change to build their knowledge and skills.

Council also approved a range of other measures aimed at reducing the organisation’s indirect emissions (through the products it purchases), and at providing practical assistance, leadership, education programs and advice to residents and businesses around climate change.

Measures include developing a circular economy transition plan to design out waste and increase purchase of recycled materials; broadening council’s sustainability rebates program; building community awareness around sustainable housing options and trialling a “library of things”.

How will the results be measured? Where can I view these?

The City of Onkaparinga has been committed to reducing our carbon footprint since 1998. We’ve been measuring our emissions each year to track our progress and publishing our annual accounting summary on our carbon footprint webpage each year.

The good news is we’re already over halfway to our goal of reducing our corporate emissions by 80 per cent by 2030, having reduced them by 54 per cent since our baseline year of 2010–11.

An assessment of the additional emissions reduction to be included in the revised 2040 target was undertaken and presented back to Council in July.  The additional actions will address emissions generated from buildings (gas and electricity), street lighting, and vehicles, and they include:

  • transitioning council-owned/operated buildings from gas to electric where possible
  • looking for opportunities to repurpose existing buildings where possible, rather than building new ones
  • developing an Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) policy to consider climate impacts for new buildings and retrofits
  • making sure emissions reduction targets and climate change impacts are factored into future strategic plans
  • purchasing zero emissions energy in future electricity contracts where possible
  • providing ongoing training and education for staff and elected members around climate change to build their knowledge and skills.

Council also approved a range of other measures aimed at reducing the organisation’s indirect emissions (through the products it purchases), and at providing practical assistance, leadership, education programs and advice to residents and businesses around climate change.

Measures include developing a circular economy transition plan to design out waste and increase purchase of recycled materials; broadening council’s sustainability rebates program; building community awareness around sustainable housing options and trialling a “library of things” that people can borrow to avoid having to buy them such as cooking or camping equipment.,

 

Will this result in increased rates?

City of Onkaparinga’s Climate Change Response Plan 2022–27, which was adopted in August 2022, contains 79 initiatives ranging from completing urban heat and tree canopy mapping and an ecological linkage study, to developing a coastal adaptation plan, changing Onkaparinga’s remaining street lights to LED, and replacing old fleet vehicles with electric.

Sixty-four of the 79 initiatives are already funded through existing resources, with the remaining initiatives to be dealt with through council’s budget process (one requires external funding).

Most recently, in July 2023 council approved an additional 25 actions aimed at tackling the remaining 20 per cent of corporate emissions. Most of these new climate change response actions will be funded through existing resources, with staff to seek additional resources for other actions through grant funding and annual budgeting processes where possible.

Capital investment can reduce our corporate carbon emissions and reduce costs. For example, in 2019–20 we installed solar panels on the Noarlunga council offices and our Field Operations Centre, which have reduced energy costs by about $50,000 per year, and it’s anticipated we’ll have paid back the initial expenditure by 2025–26.

It’s also important to mention the potential costs to ratepayers if council doesn’t respond adequately to climate change, including increased capital expenditure as our assets deteriorate before the planned end of their useful life, and financial risk, as insurance companies and banks increasingly require evidence that climate risk exposure is understood and action being taken.

 

Will this result in increased restrictions or the use of surveillance technology?

No. Council’s climate change emergency declaration has nothing to do with imposing restrictions e.g., on people’s movement; or the installation of CCTV or facial recognition technology.

Some people have incorrectly linked the words “climate emergency” to the state government’s powers to declare a “major emergency”, which it invoked during the COVID-19 pandemic to issue directions such as lockdowns and capacity restrictions. The City of Onkaparinga has no such powers.

Isn’t climate change a federal issue?

Tackling climate change is everyone’s responsibility. Councils are on the frontline of responding to climate change consequences, and we have a direct role and responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint, integrate climate risk into our planning to ensure long-term financial sustainability, enhance and improve the resilience of our ecosystems and natural areas, enhance the liveability of our city through climate-responsive design, and much more.

When an identified need is outside our role as local government we work collaboratively/in partnership with state agencies and not–for–profit organisations to deliver local services, programs and facilities; and/or advocate on behalf of our community for changes to policy, regulations, practices, service delivery and funding.

Why isn’t council focusing on other issues instead?

The City of Onkaparinga delivers more than 200 services, programs and projects to the community each year, not just climate change initiatives.

You can see what council aims to deliver in 2022–23, and how it’s being funded, in our Annual Business Plan 2022–23.

How will climate change affect the City of Onkaparinga?

We’re already feeling the impacts of a changing climate with more frequent, long-running and intense heatwaves, extreme fire danger days, intense storms and flooding, to name but a few. These localised climate impacts present a challenge to our health, natural environments, assets and infrastructure, economy, energy systems, water availability, food security and ability to bounce back after natural disasters.

The state government’s latest Guide to Climate Projections for Risk Assessment and Planning in South Australia shows the likely effects of climate change by modelling different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

Climate trends projected for South Australia to 2050 indicate higher temperatures, warmer spring temperatures, hotter and more frequent hot days, declining rainfall, lower spring rainfall, more intense heavy rainfall events, and more dangerous fire weather.

For information on how sea level rise could impact the City of Onkaparinga over the next 80 years, see our Coastal Adaptation Study.

What does the community think about climate change?

The City of Onkaparinga has regularly surveyed the community on climate change, including a climate change-specific survey in 2017, and community surveys that included climate change questions in 2019, 2021 and 2022 (findings to be published in 2023).

The most recently published survey results from 2021 (1700 respondents) found:

  • 81 per cent of respondents agreed that ‘not addressing climate change would be a risk to our city’. 
  • 75 per cent of respondents said they were ’personally willing to take action on climate change’
  • 56 per cent agreed that ‘the effects of climate change have had an impact on our City’
  • more than 80 per cent disagreed with the statement ‘climate change is of no concern’.

To stay informed about future surveys, register at Your Say Onkaparinga.