Newcastle Carbon Management Action Plan

The City of Newcastle recently released a draft of Carbon and Water Management Action Plan. Following is the submission I wrote on behalf of Transition Newcastle.

We want to congratulate Council for its commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of Newcastle. Some positive initiatives have been implemented in the past and the Draft Carbon and Water Management Action Plan provides a powerful framework for future work.

We want to address four key issues relating to the Action Plan:

  1. Peak Oil
  2. The aspirational goals
  3. The challenge of engaging the Residential Sector
  4. Liquid fuel use and the Residential Sector
  5. Carbon sequestration

Through our submission we want to emphasise that we strongly support Council taking leadership in these very important issues and commend Council for the progress to date. We urge Council to:

  1. Place a greater focus on peak oil and the potential impact of an oil crunch in the current Plan, and in its planning and operations more generally (An oil crunch is when global supply fails to meet demand and starts to drop. There is the likelihood of short term interruptions to supply and dramatic spikes in the price of oil.)
  2. Commit to being carbon neutral by 2020
  3. Recognise the benefits of developing strong partnership with community groups such as Transition Newcastle and Climate Action Newcastle

Peak Oil

We believe there needs to be a greater focus on peak oil in the Plan. Thirty seven percent of Councils carbon emissions (excluding emissions for waste generation) are from liquid fuels (p. 11) and yet in the Action Plan there are only four strategies directly relating to liquid fuels:

  • Develop and adopt a Liquid Fuels Policy for the organisation, that includes specific references to sustainable fuel selection and driver education. (NCC-05)
  • Complete a detailed footprint that documents the consumption and carbon pollution data for all Council operational activities at a site-based level, including electricity, gas, liquid fuels and water. This information will set the reference points for all future targets. (NCC-10)
  • Undertake improvements to Council’s electricity, gas, water and liquid fuels account management and monitoring process in order to… [amongst other things] Improve recording practices for mobile fuel dispensing. (NCC-22)
  • Establish and adopt electricity, gas, liquid fuels and water consumption and carbon pollution targets based upon the analysis of information collected in the form of baseline data, the consideration of market drivers, financial viability and available technologies. (NCC-38)

All the strategies relate to Council Operations and there are no actions identified in relation to liquid fuels in the other three target sectors. The focus of these actions is on monitoring, targets and policy. Unlike electricity, gas and water (where there are many specific actions for reducing their use) there are no actions that address reducing fuel use. The 2030 Community Strategic Plan recognised that peak oil is a major challenge for “all countries” (p. 19) and we believe more needs to be done to address this challenge.

Whitehorse City Council released a draft Peak Oil Action Plan earlier this year. In the plan they considered two scenarios:

  1. “A short-term disruption to oil supplies that severely restricts oil availability and sharply increases oil prices before both supply and prices return to previous trends
  2. “A longer-term decline in the availability of oil with a corresponding gradual rise in oil prices” (AECOM Australia, 2011, p. 14).

Based on these two scenarios (see also Fishman, Hart, & Hurley, 2009) they identified 23 risks to Council and 21 risks to the local community. Using a risk matrix each of the risks to Council was given a rating of low, moderate, high or extreme under both scenarios. The majority of the risks (31 out of 46) were rated at high with a further two being rated extreme.

The extreme risks were:

  1. Increase in pressure on department budget as material and energy costs increase (e.g. transport, heating, catering, meals on wheels, fuel construction materials)
  2. Increase in pressure on department budget as supplier service costs increase (e.g. waste management, aged care)

The high risks included:

  1. Council service delivery inhibited by limited access to fleet vehicles (e.g. planning, home care, community engagement, community laws, inspections – environmental health)
  2. Inability of waste contractors to provide collection services
  3. Raw materials become scarcer reducing Council‘s ability to undertake maintenance and capital works.
  4. Council‘s ability to respond to clean up after emergency events is restricted
  5. Service interruption at the Recycling and Waste Centre (which may lead to health risks if Council are unable to empty the pit as frequently)
  6. Cost increases at the Recycling and Waste Centre
  7. Community pressure to increase the range of services Council provides or alter the method of delivery (i.e. localising provision of all services)

The risks to the community (which were not rated according to a risk matrix) included:

  1. Emergency Services ability to respond to clean up after emergency events is restricted
  2. Vulnerable communities (e.g. elderly or young) become larger in number, more isolated and or more reliant on others
  3. Increases in the cost of living (e.g. food, materials, energy)
  4. Availability of health based products such as pharmaceuticals may be compromised
  5. Public discontent due to petrol rationing, stress and isolation
  6. Inequality in society likely to increase
  7. Construction industry may be compromised by shortages and/or delays in raw materials and fuel
  8. Air travel increased costs

Whitehorse City Council has committed to a range of strategies including:

  1. Investigate pooling resources with other councils (e.g. maintenance service capability for road upkeep or shared contract arrangements)
  2. Utilise recycled products where possible in construction and maintenance activities in office operations
  3. Increase access to volunteers to assist delivery of Council services through training workshops and incentives for (e.g. rates reduction access to council services)
  4. Investigate opportunities to broaden the function of assets (e.g. use of parks and nature strips for food production)
  5. Expand use of technology solutions to enable telecommuting (e.g. working from home, video conferencing, teleconferencing)
  6. Consider the development of recharge power points for electric vehicles using renewable energy
  7. Investigate the viability of centralised collection points to reduce the travel required for waste/recycling collection – such as the end of each residential street
  8. Encourage greater retail diversity in shopping strips to cover convenience retail needs in smaller centres and higher-order requirements in larger centres.

While we recognise that the City of Newcastle is addressing some of these issues, we are not aware of this level of planning being undertaken by Council. We are concerned that the current strategies in the MAP are unlikely to produce the level of analysis needed to be able to respond to the impact of peak oil for both Council and the broader community. While we believe there would be real benefit in Council developing a specific Peak Oil Management Action Plan, a first step could be to incorporate a greater focus on peak oil in the Carbon and Water Management Action Plan.

Because the focus of the current Plan is on Carbon Management, it is better able to address long term depletion of oil supply (by encouraging a reduced reliance on oil based products) than develop strategies for responding to the short term consequences of an oil crunch.

Aspirational Goals

The aspirational goals in the Plan are quite optimistic and set high expectations for action. We commend Council and its partners for being willing to be ambitious.

We believe that the “30% reduction in Council’s carbon footprint” is not as ambitious as some of the others. We believe that it is feasible for Council to become carbon neutral by 2020. A number of other Cities are aiming to become carbon neutral (e.g., Maribyrnong City Council, 2008; Sunshine Coast Council, 2010a; 2010b) and we hope Newcastle will join them.

We suggest that the original goal could be restated as a “30% [or more] reduction in Council’s carbon production” as part of the commitment to becoming carbon neutral. The remainder could be offset. While offsetting is not the ideal approach, in conjunction with meaningful reduction strategies (such as those proposed in the Plan), they can play an important role in addressing carbon levels (Total Environment Centre, 2007).

Challenge of engaging the Residential Sector

There are major differences between engaging Council Operations, the Education Sector, the Business Sector and the Residential Sector.

Council Operations: Once adopted, the Carbon and Water Management Action Plan will be part of Council Operations and so the degree to which the Plan is implemented is largely within Council’s control.

Education Sector: The Education Sector has clear infrastructure, hierarchies and decision makers. The Heads of the University and TAFE, and the regional directors for Public and Catholic schools speak with authority on behalf of their organisations. While it will also be very important to gain the support from individual schools, teachers, students and parents, the heads of the four parts of the Sector can speak on behalf of their organisations, and instigate policies and procedures that can help implement the Plan.

Business Sector: While there are various business groups and networks, there is no single organisation or network that can speak on behalf of the Business Sector. While some negotiations may be able to held with a number of businesses at once through a network or peak body, negotiations will generally need to be held with individual businesses in order to encourage them to become involved with the Plan. By focusing on the 20 highest energy and water users, the efforts of Council can be channelled to where they can make the most difference.

Residential Sector: With over 63,000 private dwellings in the LGA, a different approach will need to be adopted to engage the Residential Sector. Unlike the Education Sector, there are not heads of organisations that can speak on behalf of residents. Unlike the Business Sector, there are not a limited number of households that are responsible for a large proportion of the energy and water usage. Working with the Residential Sector is going to involve very well planned and implemented community engagement strategies. Transition Newcastle (and other community groups) have members with expertise and connections in these areas and we encourage Council to draw on these resources.

While the recent Energy Town Meeting was very successful, we are going to need to do much more to achieve the Aspirational Goals. Multiple strategies will need to be implemented and Council will need a great deal of support in implementing the Plan. We hope that Council and community organisations like Transition Newcastle, Climate Action Newcastle and resident groups will be able to work together to address the environmental challenges we face.

One of the strategies in the Plan is to “provide a platform for environmental groups and service providers to communicate their carbon and water management service capabilities to the Residential Sector” (RES-20). We trust Council will also explore ways it can work in partnership with these groups in the early stages of the ClimateCam Delivery Framework (e.g. in the early planning stages) rather than seeking feedback after a plan has been developed (as has occurred on this occasion).

We recognise that working with the various community groups will be challenging due to the number of different groups, competing priorities and the voluntary nature of the groups, but believe groups like ours can be real assets and support. We hope we are able to work with Council in addressing climate change and peak oil.
Liquid fuel use and the Residential Sector

We believe it is important that the Plan addresses issues related to liquid fuel use within the Residential Sector. While transport may only account for 6% of Newcastle carbon emissions, the impact of peak oil and an oil crunch on transport is likely to be dramatic (Fishman, et al., 2009).

In the event of a major oil crunch, it is likely that people will have to rely more on public transport, cycling and walking. We need to develop contingency plans so that Newcastle is in the position to respond quickly in such circumstances. While the Community Strategic Plan identifies the importance of public transport and cycle ways, the Carbon and Water Management Plan should also be encouraging alternatives to carbon based transport.

Carbon sequestration

We believe that planting 15,000 new trees is not very aspirational and that the number of trees could be increased. We would also encourage Council to investigate large scale planting of food bearing trees as a way of encouraging local food production.

Conclusion

We appreciate the efforts being made by Council to address climate change through initiatives like ClimateCam, the Newcastle Community Strategic Plan, the Carbon and Water Management Action Plan and other programs. We realise that in Council there are people who are passionate about addressing these issues and we want to commend them for their efforts and encourage Council to continue taking a leadership role in assisting Newcastle transition to a more sustainable future.

Thank you for the opportunity to learn (through the Newcastle Energy Town Meeting) about your plans and progress, for our recent opportunity to meet with the Environmental Advisory Committee, and for the opportunity to comment on the Carbon and Water Management Action Plan. We look forward to strengthening our partnership with you and contributing to the implementation of the Plan.

Dr Graeme Stuart
Convenor of Transition Newcastle
8 August 2011

References

AECOM Australia (2011). Whitehorse Peak Oil Action Plan. Melbourne Whitehorse City Council. Available from http://www.whitehorse.vic.gov.au/Peak-Oil-Action-Plan.html.

Fishman, H., Hart, P., & Hurley, J. (2009). Maribyrnong Peak Oil Contingency Plan. Melbourne: Maribyrnong City Council. Available from http://www.maribyrnong.vic.gov.au/Page/page.asp?Page_Id=3395&h=1.

Maribyrnong City Council (2008). Carbon Neutral Action Plan Report. Footscray: Maribyrnong City Council. Available from http://www.maribyrnong.vic.gov.au/Page/page.asp?Page_Id=3107&h=0.

Sunshine Coast Council (2010a). Climate Change and Peak Oil Strategy 2010-2020. Maroochydore: Sunshine Coast Council. Available from http://www.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/sitePage.cfm?code=cc-strategy#strategy.

Sunshine Coast Council (2010b). Sunshine Coast Energy Transition Plan 2010-2020. Maroochydore: Sunshine Coast Council. Available from http://www.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/sitePage.cfm?code=energy-trans-plan.

Total Environment Centre (2007). Carbon neutral watch – corporates, consultants and credibility: Discussion paper. Sydney: Total Environment Centre,. Available from http://www.tec.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=563&Itemid=1

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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