Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft climate resilience strategy. It canvasses a good range of issues and we found it a very helpful framework for focusing on, and thinking through, how to respond to the challenges presented by the climate emergency we are facing. It is very encouraging that BVSC is giving priority attention to this matter when at an individual level we feel rather powerless and helpless to engage in any action that will make a significant contribution to addressing the environmental crisis.
At a personal level we seek to minimise our ecofootprint, and accept that this will have a minuscule impact on overall pollution levels worldwide, but are very energised by the consequence of inaction fostering “The Tragedy of the Commons”. Political leadership, as well as appropriate personal lifestyle and consumption choices, is needed to bring about real change.
At a macro level we applaud the recent comments by the New Zealand climate change minister, James Shaw, that a climate change “lens” will be applied to all major decisions made by the NZ Government, that climate change considerations will become a standard part of the NZ Cabinet’s decision-making process. We suggest that the same be adopted for BVSC’s decision-making process.
Further, we suggest that BVSC aim for zero emissions for all of its operations by 2030, not just aim for electricity generation to be 100% renewable by 2030. We are facing a climate emergency where significant action is needed now.
Another area that we suggest should feature more prominently in the strategy is that of reducing reliance on private transport to access BVSC services. In Eden, for instance, pre-school services have reduced and some parents now travel to Pambula for such services. Similarly, the centralisation of health services in Bega has resulted in a degradation of health services provided to Eden residents and created a new need for them to travel to Bega. We accept that there are economic reasons for such centralisation of services, but consider that these decisions should have been made within a broader climate change context, as suggested above.
It may well be that in the future private transport will be more expensive and less affordable for BVSC residents, and so the Council needs to build this in to its climate change resilience strategy through the provision of improved public transport services, more bike paths within and between towns, and better footpaths, (including on bridges).
Finally, BVSC has a role in raising residents’ awareness of the climate change emergency and in strengthening the resilience of the Shire to its impact. In addition, the draft strategy primarily focuses on the resilience of residents, with less attention given to the resilience of the environment in which they live.
To address this, we suggest that legal status be given to the natural systems identified in the draft strategy, namely coast, marine, catchments and forests. This can be achieved in a number of ways. For example, the Whanganui River has been given legal status by the Parliament of New Zealand, and at the end of last month a Bill was introduced into the Western Australian Parliament to protect the rights of nature and future generations. Protecting the rights of nature and future generations will improve our climate change resilience.
We consider, however, that of particular relevance to the Climate Resilience Strategy is the legal governance of the Yarra River. In December 2019, the Yarra River Protection (Willi-gin Birrarung murron) Act came into force. The Act through the intervention of the Wurundjeri Tribe Land Council granted 'cultural personality' to the river. The Yarra River Association speaks for the Yarra River through the Yarra Riverkeeper (http://yarrariver.org.au). Later this month a strategic plan for the Yarra River will be released for public comment.
While such action might require new State legislation, we suggest that as a minimum BVSC could set in place arrangements to appoint spokespersons for key environmental features that need to be protected as a part of a robust climate change resilience strategy. Such action would also generate welcome public dialogue about the intrinsic value of the environment in which we live.
In summary, we commend the BVSC for this initiative and look forward to the finalisation of the strategy.