(8.30am, Tuesday 11 November 2014, Museum of Contemporary Art)

SD2014: Sustainability: The Must Have. The Solution. The Success

Thank you, Andrew [Petersen, MC]. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the City of Sydney, and to this important conference.

Action to protect our environment and halt dangerous climate change has never been more vital.

There is a growing gap between what scientists tell us is needed, and what governments have been delivering.

Real leadership requires long-term thinking, which is why, when I was elected as Lord Mayor in 2004, we asked our community to tell us what kind of city they wanted Sydney to be in the future. This was how we created Sustainable Sydney 2030.

When invited to think about the future of our city, the clearest call was for action on climate change.

We set ambitions goals backed by well-researched plans and we're achieving success.

We're dramatically reducing our energy use through projects like rolling out LED street lighting, a change that reductions energy use by 40 per cent.

The project is so successful, it is now being expanded across NSW.

The City is producing its own clean energy thanks to solar panels installed on more than 18 sites - one of the largest solar programs in Australia - there will be 30 sites when completed and I'm proud that we have recently been awarded the 2014 European Solar Prize for our renewable energy masterplan.

We have reduced the City's carbon emissions by 21 per cent and we're on target to reach 26 per cent by 2016.

We are working with Sydney's businesses through programs like City Switch, the Better Buildings Partnership and Smart Green Business.

The Better Buildings Partnership involves landlords who own nearly 60 per cent of Sydney's commercial office space. Between them, they have reduced their emissions by 31 per cent since 2006, and saved $25 million in the last year alone.

We know that business understands the challenge and wants to seize the opportunity to operate more sustainably - and today you will hear from some of the leaders and innovators.

The steps you are taking are made all the more important because of the lack of effective action from Governments.

Especially as each IPCC report underlines with growing urgency, the ecological, social and economic systems that support us are at risk of collapse without action.

And we all know that scrapping the price on carbon pollution and winding back our commitments to renewable energy are not in Australia's long term interests.

The choices we make over the next 10 years will influence the world our children and grandchildren inherit. I agree with US President Barack Obama when he says:

"We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change, and we are the last generation who can do something about it".

It is encouraging that major emitters such as China and the US are showing a renewed commitment to a global treaty to tackle climate change, and Australia risks being left behind [as a social pariah].

One of the major priorities of the Chinese Government's current national five-year plan is sustainable growth and going green.

In my recent visit to China, I was struck by the commitment to green initiatives including:

  • launching a carbon exchange;
  • trialling emissions trading schemes with the aim of a national scheme possibly as early as 2016;
  • introducing stringent green building standards;
  • building light rail and cycling networks, and;
  • in Beijing, switching from its heavy reliance on coal to renewables.

When I met the Mayor of Wuhan, a city of almost 10 million with no less than 11,000 construction sites under development, he told me that their future plan, Wuhan 2049, was developed after much research - including a study of our Sydney's own Sustainable Sydney 2030.

Moving from words to actions is not just possible, it is critical.

Today's awards recognise sustainability leaders in business; 52 finalists in 13 categories from large to small business, Local Government, the Indigenous community, innovators, educators and product developers.

I would like to congratulate the Banksia Foundation and Sustainable Business Australia on joining forces to present this event.

Both the Banksia Foundation and Sustainable Business Australia have an important role to play in continuing to raise awareness; highlighting and sharing innovation and leadership in sustainability.

As leaders in the business community, I encourage you to continue to push for improved sustainability outcomes in your own organisations and your dealings with government, community and other businesses.

I wish all the finalists success and more importantly, success in your ongoing action for our sustainable future.