States and territories step into the leadership void

A lack of national leadership on climate change mitigation and adaptation is forcing the mobilisation of state, territory and local governments. This position at the forefront presents governments at these levels with complex issues associated with climate policy such as population growth and movement, variable climatic impacts, and institutional barriers including inconsistent policy positions.

However, we are also seeing these complexities, in part, underpinned by, and being addressed through, land use planning frameworks.

We are now living in the “critical decade”, in which our collective responses to the enormity of the challenges of changing climate bring with them a growing awareness of the integrated nature of the issues and opportunities.

Recent commitments from state governments suggest they’re moving forward on emissions reduction targets  and local governments are banding together to address the complexities of climate change risks and impacts despite the lack of federal policy.

The intergenerational issue

The specific ways in which state, territory and local governments respond to the climate change challenge are important for

Tayanah O'Donnell

Tayanah O’Donnell

intergenerational equity. A focus on intergenerational equity ensures that future generations are given consideration and that their interests are properly weighted in any policy making.

It is also important given the timeframes at which climate change risk and impacts will be felt. Indeed, just on renewable energy targets alone, the ACT is on track to achieve its 2020 targets and New South Wales Climate Change Fund Strategic Plan sees the contemplation of NSW “doubling its renewable energy capacity by 2021” according to minister for energy Don Harwin.

This sets the scene for not only local council collaborations, but intra-state and local council collaborations across vast Australian regions. An example of this is the new South East and Tablelands Regional Plan 2036. The release of the plan earlier this month forges new pathways on cross-jurisdictional collaboration for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

It sets the urban and regional land use and planning agenda for the Canberra region for this “critical decade” and the next. The Plan heralds a new era for state and territory planning frameworks by centring the importance of integrated planning, crossing multiple jurisdictional boundaries on important community infrastructure in a region that will become hotter, drier, and more prone to storms and flash floods.

The NSW Government’s vision for the South East and Tablelands Region is “a borderless region in Australia’s most geographically diverse natural environment with the nation’s capital at its heart.”

Importantly, the plan recognises the artificial jurisdictional boundaries between states and territories are meaningless to climate change adaptation and natural disasters. So planning frameworks which adhere to these arbitrary boundaries are at best cumbersome and at worst risk compounding any disaster.

Seemingly in anticipation of the rise of state and local governments to a leadership role in addressing climate change adaptation, this new plan recognises overt linkages between the ACT and NSW jurisdictions together with a number of local councils within the South East and Tablelands area.

It emphasises the importance of integrated planning, to deliver a framework that encourages cross border collaboration on issues that will be impacted by a changing climate. For example, the plan refers to the economic and social importance of tourism across the region, the region’s leadership in renewable energy initiatives and investment, the centrality of the ACT in providing critical hospital and employment services across the South East and Tablelands region, and the growing economic activity associated with agri- and aqua-culture.

It is now well known that integrating climate change adaptation into regional planning offers an opportunity to foreshadow the challenges and impacts that arise from extreme weather events.

The Canberra 2003 fires are a perennial example: the changes to emergency management and cross border collaboration that resulted from an event that started ‘over the ACT border’, demonstrate the capabilities and importance of working together, irrespective of jurisdictional responsibilities as defined by governmental portfolios, or lines on maps effected under legislation.

The ACT-NSW Memorandum of Understanding on Regional Collaboration, the establishment of the NSW Cross Border Commissioner and the Canberra Region Joint Organisation have provided a foundation for governments to share information, coordinate responses, and enable solutions for more effective service delivery on regional planning issues.

This is being supported by the knowledge platform provided by CURF at the University of Canberra.  Together these mechanisms are accompanied by a number of sectorial strategies such as water catchment management, renewable energy investment, and, increasingly, road and transport planning.

Increasingly, the scale of the challenge of climate change mitigation and adaptation is directly linked to land use-planning decisions, which by their nature demand a regional approach. It is a challenge that state and local governments are increasingly required to meet, as long as we continue to more generally see a lack of national government leadership on climate policy.

Tayanah O’Donnell is research fellow, University of Canberra

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