City Talk with David Suzuki

Welcome, everyone, to this very special City Talk. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our City.

It's a great pleasure to welcome Dr Suzuki to Sydney and I look forward to the discussion with this distinguished panel.

I believe climate change is the most important issue of our times.

Leading scientists agree that we've reached a critical decade, that what we do over the next ten years will influence the world our children and grandchildren inherit.

Cities may cover only two per cent of the earth's surface, but they are home to more than half the world's population. In Australia, it's more like 80 per cent. And cities are responsible for 75 per cent of the greenhouse emissions that - unchecked - could propel us towards catastrophic climate change.

With global warming of just two degrees, we risk catastrophic climate change - yet recent projections indicate we are heading for a four-to-six degree changes.

But if cities are responsible for a share of the damage, they are also where we can make the deep cuts in emissions. And they are also the crucibles of ideas and creativity that will help us develop innovative responses to the challenges we face.

When the Independent team was first elected to run the City in 2004, it was on a strong commitment to addressing climate change and promoting a liveable, sustainable city.

We involved residents, business and other levels of government in developing Sustainable Sydney 2030, the strategy that guides our work to make Sydney a sustainable, thriving global city.

It sets ambitious but achievable targets to make both our City operations and our Local Government Area sustainable and dynamic.

We have a quarterly reporting system that measures our progress against our targets, and we have devised strategies both to reduce emissions and to manage those risks and impacts that cannot be avoided.

In broad terms, our target is to reduce emissions, across our own operations and across the City, by 70 per cent of 2006 levels by 2030.

Despite increases to our property portfolio, we expect that by 2016, contracted projects will further reduce emissions by 29 per cent, in addition to the 23 per cent reduction we expect to have already achieved.

These savings have come through the roll-out of Australia's largest building-based solar photo-voltaic system and the roll-out of LED street lighting. The solar panels will supply up to 12.5 per cent of the power needs of our City properties and are funded through the monies previously used to buy renewable energy from the grid.

We became the first city in Australia to install LED street and park lighting - which will save us almost $800,000 a year in electricity bills and maintenance while achieving a 51 per cent reduction in emissions from City-owned lights. The success of our program has now spurred the NSW Government to announce a roll-out of LED lights across the State.

We've almost fully completed our $6.9 million energy and water efficiency retrofit of 45 city properties, reducing greenhouse emissions from our properties by 23 per cent, potable water consumption by 53,000 kilolitres, and utility bills by more than $1 million.

We've completed over half of our 200 km cycling network and cycling numbers continue to grow. In the last year, there was a 113 per cent increase in the number of cyclists in the city.

The good news is that we can get on with building the rest of the cycle network now the State Government has released the City Centre Access Plan.

The Access Plan is a very exciting development. It is a comprehensive, multi-modal plan which includes many of the initiatives on which we have campaigned for years such as:

  • Priority access for pedestrians in the spine of the city - recognising they make up over 90 per cent of journeys in the city;
  • Light rail through the CBD to the South-East, including a pedestrianised zone, which will transform George Street;
  • A dramatic increase in rail services;
  • A city cycle network with multiple separated bike lanes from north to south and east to west - the experience of other global cities shows cycling grows if you build safe cycling infrastructure, and we are confident this will also happen in Sydney.

I'm proud to say the City sent zero household waste directly to landfill during the year, and we've recorded a zero increase in annual water consumption for City operations and residents and businesses since 2006.

We have a Decentralised Water Master Plan and we're implementing Stage 2 of a water re-use scheme at Sydney Park which, from the middle of next year, will collect, treat and re-use over 800 million litres of stormwater at the park, in addition to the 535 million litres in Stage I.

We're working towards our target of a 50 per cent increase in urban canopy by 2030, with almost 9,000 trees planted since 2005, reducing summer temperatures, controlling stormwater runoff and filtering pollutants and carbon from the air.

Regular and rigorous monitoring shows that we're moving towards a sustainable Sydney, but we need to do more - particularly to reduce our reliance on wasteful and polluting coal-fired power.

We're working on plans for a tri-generation precinct to supply power, heating and cooling to our Town Hall precinct and the Queen Victoria Building as well as installing a fuel cell to power our newly opened swimming pool complex at Prince Alfred Park.

We believe that tri-generation will be able to supply 70 per cent of power in the LGA by 2030, with the other 30 per cent coming from solar, wind and waste-to-energy sources.

Apart from reducing emissions across the LGA by 24-32 per cent, a tri-gen network would provide the city with a future-proof energy solution.

The first privately owned network was opened recently for Central Park site at Broadway—a two-megawatt plant providing heating and cooling for 3000 residences and 65,000 square metres of retail and commercial space, in 14 buildings.

Our Renewable Energy Master Plan has established that there are enough renewable gas sources within 150 km of Sydney to replace natural gas and avoid tapping into coal seam gas.

We have so many of the tools we need to future proof our cities and to save our planet earth from catastrophic warming.

It needs to be said that there are people who don't believe in this work or indeed in the science. They've successfully convinced our political leaders that no one cares about taking action anymore.

We know this is not true.

We need you to help us change their minds. We need you to be writing, emailing, tweeting and calling your local MPs, tell them that you care and that you want action. Talk to your family and friends about what's at stake and encourage them to do the same.

I am appalled that on its first day the new government chose to announce it will close the Climate Commission, the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and direct the public service to draft a bill to remove the carbon price.

I think the launch of the Australian Climate Council to replace the Climate Commission by the former commissioners, chaired by Tim Flannery, is a fantastic initiative of the type we now need and encourage everyone here to support it through donations or however they can.

Now is not the time to stay silent. We have such a short window of opportunity to take action and we need our state and national political leaders to be brave enough to support the City's work and to make their own bold decisions. Our future depends on it.

I hope you are inspired to action by Dr Suzuki and our panellists.