UNAA World Environment Day Climate Summit

(9am, The Mint, Macquarie Street)

Thank you, Matt (Kronber, UNAA Executive Director)

Today is World Environment Day - a Day dedicated by the UN to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the environment.

The theme of World Environment Day this year is "Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care".

It is a timely message because we are consuming the planet's resources at a frightening and unsustainable level.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2014 report found that without immediate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and invest in climate change adaptation, the ecological, social and economic systems that support human civilisation are at risk of collapse.

Climate change is impacting on natural and human systems in all continents and oceans, threatening the breakdown of food systems, eco-systems and widespread species extinctions.

Cities have a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They cover only two per cent of the earth's land surface, but they have more than 50 per cent of the population and are responsible for 75 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

We are a member of the C40, an international network of cities that share information on practical actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Since I became Lord Mayor in 2004, one of my highest priorities has been to improve the environmental sustainability of the City of Sydney.

We set a target to reduce greenhouse emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 following comprehensive community consultation and we have since developed a series of innovative Master Plans to achieve this target including:

  • a Renewable Energy Master Plan for how Sydney could be powered 100 per cent by renewable energy by 2030 - 70 per cent through a network of tri-generation plants and 30 per cent through solar and other renewable energy sources;
  • an Energy Efficiency Master Plan to reduce energy usage by over 33 per by 2030 - almost half our target - and save residents and businesses over $200 million;
  • a Decentralised Water Master Plan to reducing use of mains water by 10 per cent by 2030, providing sustainable water supply sources, and improving stormwater quality;

I am pleased to say we have made considerable progress toward our targets.

In 2007, we were the first Australian local government to become carbon neutral. We have reduced our own greenhouse emissions by 21 per cent, and are implementing actions to reduce emissions 26 per cent by 2016.

Across our Local Government Area, greenhouse emissions have fallen by 12 per cent amidst strong economic growth. 40 per cent of jobs in NSW over the past five years have been created in our Local Government Area and $3.9 billion of new development was approved last year.

Our carbon intensity (the amount of greenhouse emissions for each dollar of economic output) has fallen by nearly 30 per cent - demonstrating again that sustainability and a growing economy can go together.

Some of our leading projects and achievements include:

  • A collaboration with the Better Buildings Partnership - owners of more than half the commercial floorspace in the City - which reduced their emissions by 35% since 2006.
  • Replacing street lights with LED lights to reduce energy use from street lighting by almost 45 per cent;
  • Installing one of the largest rooftop solar projects in Australia on our buildings - 1.2 megawatts of solar panels that will produce 12.5% of our electricity needs;
  • Planting more than 10,250 new street trees to absorb pollution and reduce summer temperatures, towards a target to increase the City's urban canopy cover by 50 per cent by 2030.

Upgrading irrigation systems in 27 parks, installing stormwater harvesting schemes in 11 parks - at Sydney Park we are harvesting 850 million litres per annum.

Diverting all domestic waste and 99 per cent of our construction waste from landfill, and increasing resource recovery across all types of waste from 26 per cent to 68 per cent since 2006.

Supporting car sharing by providing 600 parking spaces - 20,000 residents have joined making Sydney one of the leading areas for car share.

Providing 110km of new cycling infrastructure, including 10 km of separated cycleways - with the result the number of bike trips has doubled in the past 3 years.

Some of the projects that we are working on now include:

  • An MOU with the NSW Government to develop a waste-to-energy facility that would convert waste that cannot be recycled into gas - diverting up to 95 per cent of waste in our area from landfill;
  • Installing tri-generation systems at Sydney Town Hall and the Green Square urban renewal;
  • The Residential Apartment Sustainability Plan to improve the waste, water and energy performance of apartments where 75 per cent of our residents live - which is currently on public exhibition

Deeper change to achieve the 70 per cent target will require collaboration between different levels of government and political leadership.

All too often, we have been frustrated by the inaction or opposition of other levels of government. For example, we have been unable to implement tri-generation precincts because of energy market rules that make it un-economic to share energy between neighbouring buildings.

We have not had the political leadership we need on climate change.

Today's summit comes at a crucial time - just months ahead of the Paris climate summit.

This is a critical decade if we are to prevent dangerous climate change. Global mean temperatures are on track to increase by 4 degrees or more which would have severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.

Momentum is building encouragingly towards an international climate change agreement in Paris.

The European Union have announced a target of 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 on 2006 levels, and the US and China have signed an historic agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent study found 75 per cent of the sources of global emissions are now covered by national targets.

On my recent visit to China, I was inspired to see how China is taking practical and ambitious action on climate change and laying the foundations for a low-carbon economy.

Regrettably, Australia is not part of this international movement at present.

Our target of 5 per cent reduction by 2020 is pitifully inadequate. Australia emits more greenhouse gases per capita than any other developed nation and stronger commitments are essential for a new international agreement.

Professor Ross Garnaut has likened the inaction of current political leaders to the inaction of political leaders before World War I:

The awful thing about is that so many people realised the catastrophic consequences of what they were doing and yet they felt obliged to take the next step and the next step and the next step until they were on an irreversible path.

The elites of 1914 let down their peoples. I hope that the elites of 2014 are not letting down their peoples in the same way.

I applaud the United Nations Association of Australia for taking the initiative to organise today's summit and develop a communique to present to the Federal Government on the greenhouse targets they should take to Paris.

It is incumbent on us to take the initiative to demand our political leaders set climate targets and take action to ensure we are not the generation that leaves future generations to deal with runaway climate change - a desolate future.

I wish you well for the summit and the communique.