C40 Summit, Sao Paolo

(Sao Paolo, Brazil)

The Australian Government's Climate Commission last week released a review of the science of climate change.

It concluded that climate change is real, it is occurring at a rapid rate and "two degrees" is the maximum temperature change before our planet risks "tipping" into catastrophic climate change.

Yet depressingly, public and political debate in Australia does not reflect the urgency of this threat.

Our national government is committed to only 5 per cent emission cut by 2020 and debate still rages about a price on carbon. Our Federal opposition shamefully opposes emissions trading and encourages climate deniers by arguing the science isn't settled.

But at the City we have taken a strong position on advocacy and action. It's an approach we call "show by doing".

When our national government lost its nerve after Copenhagen, we at the City recommitted to innovative low carbon solutions, to share our research and to build partnerships for action.

We were the first Australian local government to become carbon neutral in 2007 by buying green power and carbon offsets.

We've since completed 18 solar projects, reducing emissions by 180 tonnes and we have established a $2 million per year renewable energy fund.

Through building retrofits we've reduced emissions by 17 per cent across our property portfolio since 2006 and we've trialled low energy LED street lighting, showing it can halve energy use. We are installing the proven products on our 8500 street lights and encouraging other authorities to follow suit across Sydney.

We are working effectively with the business sector and residents, who do understand the importance and urgency of action, even if government doesn't.

The City provides our communities with tools to reduce their carbon footprint, from a pilot project greening apartment and condominium buildings, to workshops on water saving, reducing energy use and growing vegetables.

The business sector has embraced our CitySwitch program, which reduces energy demand from office tenants. By mid-2012, this program will have enlisted 200 signatories covering a million square metres of floor space in the City of Sydney, reducing emissions by 52,000 tonnes a year.

Cities are responsible for up to 75% of greenhouse gas emissions, so we know that it is action in cities that provides greatest opportunity for deep cuts in emissions. In Australia, this can be challenging in our three-tier local, state and federal system.

To play our part, the City has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across our city area by 70 per cent by 2030, based on 2006 levels.

Through extensive consultation and research we developed Sustainable Sydney 2030, our long-term plan, and identified the strategies needed to meet our target (as shown in our waterfall chart).

And we are really pleased we're on track to meet our target, and to overcome the 17 per cent shortfall that we identified in 2008.

Our most ambitious program will transform energy supply in our city, with 100 per cent produced locally by 2030 through renewable energy and trigeneration.

This is really important because Australia is the highest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita in the developed world—mainly due to our centralised coal-fired power stations.

To remove reliance on coal-fired power, we will build a local tri-generation network for low-carbon power, heating and cooling. While it will initially be powered by natural gas, we plan down the track to use renewable gas from alternative waste treatment.

City of Sydney properties will be the initial sites for low carbon zones, with work underway to decide whether a public/private joint venture will deliver a more efficient and effective rollout.

Our tri-generation plan will be completed this year, with the interim report showing the project could exceed our target of 330 megawatts and provide a sound financial return for the tri-generation systems operator, with a limited public subsidy of $190 million between 2010 and 2030.

A price on carbon pollution would further strengthen the commercial performance, or reduce the subsidy.

And we have a partnership with Sydney's largest landlords, who are committed to reducing carbon emissions—because they recognise the commercial advantage. These corporations own 65% of the city's commercial space and some already operate stand-alone local energy systems for their buildings.

Our tri-generation network is the central feature of our innovative Green Infrastructure Plan, which will deliver sustainable energy, water and waste infrastructure across our City. New recycled water and automated waste collection facilities will be co-located with the tri-generation infrastructure.

We want our largest redevelopment site at Green Square, a former industrial area south of the business district, to be Australia's first low carbon precinct. Our national government recently recognised this work as "a practical example of visionary, sustainable policy."

This green infrastructure can also deliver energy security and price stability. Over the next three years, our state's electricity prices will rise by up to 42 per cent as existing carbon-intensive infrastructure is upgraded. Local tri-generation will make much of that work unnecessary and reduce the need for new multi-billion dollar coal-fired power stations.

In terms of City transport, we have researched and advocated light-rail extensions that will connect with new City development sites on the harbour and at Green Square to provide for increased population densities.

We are building a $76 million 200 km bike network to make riding a safe and healthy transport option, and to achieve significant savings in congestion costs, noise and air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions - 55 kilometres will be separated cycleway.

It is complex to retrofit safe, separated bike paths into a tight city core, but our twice-yearly bike counts show the numbers of riders are doubling and tripling on completed routes. Sydneysiders are developing an enthusiastic new cycling culture.

And we lobby our state and national government to fund a bike network to link adjacent Council areas to the city network, which would provide safe cycling for 164 suburbs.

Independent research shows that such a network could deliver a $4 return on every dollar spent, compared with just $2 for motorway projects.

When we achieve our ten percent cycling target (currently just one per cent of trips are by bike), that regional network will reduce Sydney's traffic by 4.3 million car trips a year or take 300,000 daily car trips off the city's congested streets.

At my first C40 Conference in 2007, President Bill Clinton told us that he admired Mayors because they got up in the mornings and did something. In the present climate, action is the most effective way to advocate urgently needed change in our cities.