Council took one year to become climate change 'hero'

PARTNERS: Kingsborough Mayor Steve Wass with Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox.
PARTNERS: Kingsborough Mayor Steve Wass with Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox. Jacob Wilson

TWO councils from opposite ends of Australia have today signed a Memorandum of Understanding which will allow them to work together on climate change.

Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor Andrew Willcox and Tasmania's Kingborough mayor Steve Wass, have committed to what has been described as a ground-breaking agreement.

Climate change adaptation consultant Donovan Burton has been working for both councils as well as the QLD government and said this was extraordinary in that it wasn't a federal or state-led initiative but initiated entirely by the two local governments.

He said in terms of their attitude to climate change Whitsunday Regional Council had gone from "zero to hero" in 12 months.

In 2015 Mr Burton visited the Whitsundays to see how much climate change was being factored into the decision making process, noting "it wasn't being considered formally"

"I had 15 key indicators and they (council) pretty much scored zero on most of those," he said.

But in the last 12 months the Whitsunday council has not only created a climate change strategy but also an adaptation policy.

"Very few councils in Australia actually have one (of these), actually Kingborough I think is the only other council in Australia," Mr Burton said.

Whitsunday Regional Council CEO Barry Omundson said it was mid-way through last year he heard about the work being done by Kingborough in Tasmania.

"Once I came on board as CEO and saw our score from (before) and also the score they gave Mackay which wasn't very good either... I said, 'which council is leading with climate change? Because someone has to take charge, we can't wait for the state...," he said. 

UNITED: Monica Regan, Donovan Burton, Adam Folkers, Julie Wright, Andrew Willcox, Kylie Drysdale, Steve Wass, Jan Clifford, Ron Petterson, Renae Faust, Barry Omundson.
UNITED: Monica Regan, Donovan Burton, Adam Folkers, Julie Wright, Andrew Willcox, Kylie Drysdale, Steve Wass, Jan Clifford, Ron Petterson, Renae Faust, Barry Omundson. Jacob Wilson

Mayor Wass said his council had recognised "that many of our coastal towns were living precariously waiting for the perfect storm, the perfect storm being a high tide and extensive heavy rains".

"We've seen that our weather has changed," he said.

Choosing to become proactive, Mayor Wass and his team have been addressing issues such as how the elderly in nursing homes survive power outages when there are heat waves or bitterly cold spells following southern storms.

They have looked at potential problems with other infrastructure, addressing the question of "when to retreat" in terms of moving water, sewage and NBN cables further inland.

"We don't have the money - and I'm certain Whitsunday Regional Council doesn't have the money to do those things tomorrow - so we're looking ahead - one to protect our community and two to protect our infrastructure - and most importantly by acknowledging climate change is here I believe we can take the community on the journey with us," he said.

Mayor Willcox acknowledged the work Kingborough had done saying: "If you're going to hitch your wagon to someone you may as well hitch your wagon to the best and that's what we've done".

Whitsunday Regional Council has received $500,000 under the LGAQ Q-Coast 2100 funding program, which they are supplementing with $300,000 of their own.

Mayor Willcox said this money would be spent on forward planning about how to protect the more than 700 kilometres of Whitsunday coastline under increasing threat from rising sea levels, increased cyclonic activity, increased cyclone intensity and higher risk of storm surges.

Mr Burton said this was "probably the largest (climate strategy) adaptation budget that exists in Australia at the moment", noting climate change was now recognised as a global economic risk as much as an environmental one, with key figures, such as Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England now on board.

Topics:  andrew willcox climate change kingborough memorandum of understanding steve wass whitsunday regional council

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