Sunday, October 05, 2008

environmental enlightening for victorian councils

I was very pleased to attend the Municipal Association of Victoria’s (MAV) Environment Policy Forum held in Melbourne last Thursday. The one day forum focussed on current climate change science, the role of local government in planning for climate change and presented a number of alternative technologies to assist councils to adapt to the shifting climate. Gavin Jennings, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, also spoke at the forum. I have no doubt the climate change is the biggest issue facing us locally and globally and I was keen to learn more from a local government perspective.

The science presented by Kevin Hennessy, Principal Research Scientist with CAWCR, was compelling. Currently climate movement is tracking at the high end of the IPCC projections. Kevin reported that 2007 was the warmest year on record with average temperatures for Victoria increasing by .8 oC (maximum) and .4 oC (minimum). Our rainfall has declined 13% but telling in that is that there has been a decline of 28% rainfall in the autumn rain period. There has been a 37% drop in inflows to Melbourne Dams and no likelihood of high inflow years anymore.

The reality of climate change means we need to start changing the way we approach water security, bush fire readiness and agricultural practices. This is something I have been mindful of when making decisions about the future direction of Yarra Ranges.

Trevor Budge, Senior Lecturer at La Trobe focussed on two major issues that local government can plan for, health and food. Local government has a significant role to play in designing towns for healthy outcomes, this means more paths and more walkable townships. I couldn’t agree more and if I’m re-elected in November I will be focussing very specifically on making our towns more walkable. A telling fact from Trevor was that every additional 1 km walked translates to a 4.8% reduction in the likelihood of obesity.

Trevor went on to talk about how most countries around the world produce 35% of their food inside urban areas, in Australia we produce 23% on the urban fringe, in Victoria this figure drops to 13.34%. Given our location Yarra Ranges has a major role to play being a local food producer to Melbourne and I have always voted to ensure our agricultural areas are protected from inappropriate development.

Then Mike Ritchie from SITA spoke about waste, carbon trading and the impact on local government. It is highly likely that waste will be included in the Federal Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme which means greater costs for councils unless they start to reduce emissions from their garbage collection services.

Mike specifically addressed organics (food, timber, green waste and paper) in the waste stream and their major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions through the production of methane. Mike suggests we need a new way to handle these organics through composting or methane digestion. By doing this councils would play a major role in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions generated by landfills. I am very keen to pursue this as an option for Yarra Ranges.

Minister Jennings talked about the development of zero emission zones, a program of retrofitting commercial buildings and the development of the Land & Biodiversity paper among other things. These things can’t come soon enough, however I would like to see climate change incorporated into planning schemes and building codes, and if re-elected I will continue to advocate for their inclusion.

There is no doubt that climate change is the biggest issue facing us, but it is a time of great opportunity and new prospects. Home grown business, community based agriculture, telecommuting, local tourism, decentralised water and power generation are all options for us in the Dandenongs.

The home vegie patch is one of the small ways you can be part of the solution to climate change. Growing vegies is a great way to reduce 'food miles' on your dinner plate and nothing beats a home grown tomatoe!

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