Despite the fact there’s broad consensus that climate change is the urgent issue of our time, it's still being largely ignored by many of our political decision makers.
A national plan is completely missing, and while in Victoria we've seen some welcome progress by the state government, discussion about urgent action is largely missing from political debates in the lead-up to the election on November 24.
Here in Ballarat, we are finally seeing agreement on the local government front for the need for local action.
When I was first elected to council six years ago, every attempt to get climate change action, adaptation and mitigation onto the agenda was blocked.
Despite this, our long-term Ballarat Strategy 2040 makes mention of the need for climate change action and a renewable energy plan.
Six years later, there is now consensus for Ballarat council to work on a carbon neutrality and 100 per cent renewables action plan. I introduced this motion to council early last year, and it now has broad support.
The best scientific evidence tells us that we have the “slimmest window of opportunity” of about 12 years to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and attempt to avoid runaway climate change.
This means we need to dramatically step up the pace on local action and push harder for proper political responses at state and federal levels.
Twelve years ago, here in Ballarat, people turned up in numbers for the first local “walk against warming”.
Back then, the movement was led primarily by environmentalists.
Today, research by Sustainability Victoria shows the issue of urgent action on climate change has become mainstream.
According to the research, 80 per cent of people in our Central Highlands region believe climate change action is an an issue that requires urgent action.
More than 90 per cent believe that action is everyone's responsibility including business/industry, community and of all levels of government. In retrospect, it's clear that best time for urgent action on climate change was more than a decade ago. The next best time to act is right now.
The recently released International Panel on Climate Change report has added weight to the need to consider this an emergency. There’s a growing movement of towns and cities declaring a climate emergency and calling for others to do the same. Local councils are leading the way, increasing their actions and and lobbying other levels of government to also step up.
The sleeping giant has woken and diverse groups like farmers, doctors, faith groups, economists, urban planners, environmentalists, business owners, students and school children, academics, sporting groups and teachers are mobilising.
The next best time to act is right now.
Many of these groups have established themselves as high-profile advocacy bodies in Australia: Farmers for Climate Change, Doctors for Climate Change, Sports Environment Action to name a few.
Many Australian students will “strike for climate” on November 30. This mirrors action happening around the world from Denmark to Canada, where children and young people are raising their voices in protest at the way the adults in power are failing to act and create a safe climate for their future.
In the UK, peaceful mass civil disobedience is planned in London on November 17. In the US, local councils are following the lead of a number of Australian councils in declaring a climate emergency.
The Cities Power Partnership in Australia now has more than 100 local councils signed up to demonstrate and ramp up local action on climate change.
This gives us a lot of reason for optimism and hope. While the science suggests the outlook is dire and the window of opportunity is closing, it’s only grim if we fail to act and change nothing. People here in our community and elsewhere have the capacity to collaborate, innovate, agitate and advocate. We all need to raise our voices and step up our actions together. Energy, food, transport, waste, consumption and land use planning are areas that we need to focus on to drive down greenhouse gas emissions, but we need to ensure social equity in the process. The consequences of changing climate impact most dramatically on poorer, vulnerable or marginalised groups. We have the capacity to make sure that we work together towards a safe climate for everyone and particularly for future generations.
While there’s hope, we need to ask ourselves: who is not listening and why? Where do our priorities lie? How much responsibility do we hold as local leaders and decision makers, influencers and community members to attempt to protect the future for our children and future generations?
We need an urgent reminder that the clock has struck midnight for our climate. Failure to act urgently now will be judged harshly by the leaders of the future.
Belinda Coates is a Ballarat councillor.