Australians are exhausted from extreme weather and must be better protected, mayors and councillors from disaster-ravaged communities urge.
In an open letter, 31 elected local government representatives from Queensland, NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia called for the Commonwealth “to respond to accelerating climate change at the scale and pace required”.
Thursday's plea for urgent action comes amid dissatisfaction at the government’s rescue and response effort amid unprecedented flooding in NSW and Queensland that claimed the lives of 17 people.
“In some regions schools and businesses have been forced to close, the lights have gone out, roads cut off, access to fresh water and food limited and thousands of homes destroyed,” the statement says.
“Many can no longer afford insurance and will be left with little.”
The statement follows an acknowledgment by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in March that climate change is impacting the country.
“What we’re dealing with here is an extraordinary event. Australia’s becoming a harder country to live in because of these natural disasters," he said.
“It’s just an obvious fact.”
But for communities directly impacted by the disaster, the government's acknowledgment is simply not enough.
Many want tougher action to tackle climate change and their elected representatives are stepping up.
Lismore councillor reveals why she added her name to climate change letter
With its town centre “completely destroyed” and whole neighbourhoods “gutted”, the northern NSW town of Lismore was one of the areas worst affected by flooding.
Having lived through the 2017 floods, Lismore councillor Elly Bird said this year’s event was “exponentially larger and worse than anything we could ever have imagined”.
As the government continues to show support for the expansion of fossil fuel extraction, Ms Bird argues it’s communities like hers which are on the “frontline”, feeling the impact of disasters these industries fuel.
“I was motivated to sign the statement because my community is suffering, my community needs to be protected,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“We need to see urgent and meaningful action from governance that will help councils and communities prepare themselves for more events like this into the future.”
What the signatories are calling on the government to do
This month's flooding is just the latest in a string of unprecedented natural disasters to have impacted Australia.
Just two years ago, Australia struggled to respond to the Black Summer bushfires which directly claimed 33 lives, contributed to the deaths of an estimated 450 people, and drove native species towards extinction.
While it's widely accepted that climate change amplified the severity of the disaster, prominent federal and state politicians criticised those wanting to talk about the issue while the fires raged.
With frequency and severity of natural disasters in Australia set to increase due to the impact of global warming, signatories believe it’s time to acknowledge climate change's impact and prepare for the future.
They are calling on the government to adopt five principles to tackle the issue:
Partner with local government to set an ambitious emissions reduction target
Fund $200 million a year in disaster mitigation, and $200 million over four years for climate response.
Invest in disaster preparation and clearly delineate government responsibilities.
Ensure disaster response funding allows cities to rebuild in a more resilient way.
Establish a national climate change hub which supports adaption research.
UN criticism of Australia 'warranted' councillor believes
Despite warnings from climate scientists, Australia has so-far resisted embracing a stronger 2030 emissions reduction target.
On, Wednesday former Defence leaders published a full-page advertisement in The Australian newspaper warning that "climate change now represents the greatest threat to the future and security of Australians".
The government’s “hold out” on climate action was also singled out for criticism this week by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres – a move Local Government NSW treasurer Jerome Laxale argues was “completely warranted”.
As a signatory to the open letter, Mr Laxale believes Australia's “reckless climate inaction” is dangerous.
“Our communities are already being hurt by climate change, now is the time to step up, embrace the solutions and prosper,” he said.
While the government has committed to net zero by 2050, world events like the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have returned Australia's political leaders to spruiking fossil fuel extraction.
Conservation groups have warned Australia is on track to fail in its efforts to reach 1.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels by 2050, which will result in more droughts, bushfires, cyclones and flooding.
Shire struggling after drought, fire and flood
One of the areas most severely impacted by extreme weather is the Hawkesbury, north of Sydney, which has been been ravaged by prolonged drought, bushfire and now flooding.
Still struggling to recover from the infamous Gospers Mountain mega-blaze, which destroyed 444,000 hectares, it’s council is now working to rebuild roads and bridges that washed away during heavy rain in March.
Councillor Amanda Kotlash, a signatory to the open letter, said recovery from these interconnected events is still ongoing and people affected are “struggling”.
“Flogged” is how she believes many members of the SES and Rural Fire Service are feeling after volunteering as first responders to multiple disasters.
“The frequency of these disasters just means people just seem to be constantly reacting to some sort of emergency event and that's going to create exhaustion,” she said.
The 'extreme weather is hurting Australia and our communities are paying the price' statement was coordinated by Better Futures Australia Cities Power Partnership, Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, ICLEI Oceania and Cities Power Partnership - a Climate Council program.
Signatories include Melbourne Mayor Sally Capp, Sydney Mayor Clover Moore and Newcastle Mayor Nuatali Nelmes.
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