To tackle climate change we need new laws

Global cities are doing the heavy lifting to tackle climate change - but to do more we need to invest more in clean energy, including trigeneration.

A CSIRO survey found that 80% of Australians believe climate change is happening, scientists continue to warn about the cost of inaction, 2013 was Australia's hottest year on record, and last weekend John Kerry the US secretary of state described climate change as a "weapon of mass destruction", signing a climate agreement with China. Meanwhile, Australia is going backwards.

While our national and state governments stall or cut climate programs, cities around the world are doing the heavy lifting. Cities use over two thirds of the world's energy and emit more than 70% of emissions, so it is action in cities that provides us with the greatest opportunity to tackle the issue.

The former mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, recently said "What we need in New York City is for our state and federal governments to have some backbone (about climate change). We need them to pass and enforce laws, much more than we need financial aid." He could easily have been speaking for Sydney.

We know most of our residents want action, and so we've reduced our emissions by 20% since 2006 and projects are underway to achieve 29% in coming years. Thousands of trees have been planted. It's becoming safer and easier for people to walk or ride. We're recycling waste and water. Our buildings are more energy efficient. Thousands of lights have been switched over to LED. And we've installed solar panels on our buildings - the largest rooftop solar project in Australia.

We've made the simple, obvious changes but to meet our target of reducing emissions by 70% by 2030 we need to change the way we power our city. That means shifting away from coal-fired power and investing more in clean, local energy including trigeneration, an environmentally sustainable method of generating electricity.

If you'd like to know more about how trigeneration work - check out our great video on YouTube.

Trigen provides electricity, heating and cooling and is used in cities like New York, Paris, London and Seoul. The Chinese government has a 50,000 megawatt trigeneration target - bigger than Australia's entire National Electricity Market. Trigen is also already used in many buildings across Sydney, including the Rooty Hill RSL.

Last night Sydney City Council voted on moving forward with a plan to install a trigen plant in Sydney Town Hall, our offices and indoor pools. We hope to fuel the plants with renewable gas made from excess waste.

It's a start but to unlock the real potential of clean, local energy we need to share it across a network of buildings. These networks are not only the cheapest way of driving down emissions - they also help provide security of supply during climate emergencies. The trigen network supplying the Bronx in New York continued to supply energy to 60,000 residents, six schools, three shopping centres and the police when the electricity grid's poles and wires were knocked out by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The business case for Council, community and business to deliver local energy projects generating local jobs is there. Unfortunately, the rules governing how we can do this are strangled in "green tape".

To share energy we need to export it across the electricity grid, but the rules were drawn up years ago for big power stations. They are anti-competitive, increasing our emissions and power bills. The Productivity Commission describes the rules for local energy providers trying to enter the market as "complex, lengthy and costly".

We need the help of our state and federal governments to get rid of this crippling regulation. As Bloomberg said - we need new laws, not money. This isn't a radical plan. It's a tried and tested way to power global cities and Sydney should be part of it.

(A version of the piece first appeared in the Guardian in Tuesday 25th February 2014)

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