Take a bow City of Sydney and Melbourne, the ACT, Moreland City Council and the Northern Beaches.

Local government councils have been extremely proactive with their emissions reductions commitments, with gfive of the 57 councils assessed already meeting the gold standard, according to ClimateWorks’ Net Zero Momentum Tracker.

The Tracker aims to bring emissions reduction commitments and activities of Australia’s most influential organisations together in the one place, highlighting leaders in the space to help normalise public commitments to the economy-wide goal of net zero by 2050.

The tracker analyses and assesses publicly available data on emissions reduction commitments and actions, with a detailed assessment of commitments and activities of energy conservation, renewable electricity, electrification/fuel switching, and non-energy emissions.

For financial institutions, the focus is on commitments and activities that address emissions financed through investment and lending activities and the analysis is delineated by relevant financial products and services.

“The Tracker assesses the scope of an organisation’s emissions reduction commitments and their alignment with the Paris Agreement, including what we call the ‘4 pillars’ of decarbonisation,” according to Amandine Denis-Ryan, head of national programs, ClimateWorks Australia.

“By analysing the extent of climate commitments and action across major economic sectors, we intend for this project to support companies better understand the steps they can take to reduce emissions.

“Since we completed the property and banking sector analyses in the last quarter of last year, 19 per cent of the property companies we assessed have increased their ambition.”

In terms of councils, the local governments responsible for the largest areas by population – collectively covering 52 per cent of the country’s population – were assessed.

Out of the 57 assessed, five councils were found to be “fully aligned’, meaning the local government has a target to achieve net zero emissions or become carbon neutral for operational and community operations by 2050.

These were the City of Sydney and Melbourne, the ACT, Moreland City Council and the Northern Beaches.

“The project’s initial goal is to normalise the setting of targets to achieve net zero by or before 2050 for both operational and community emissions,” Coral Bravo, lead data analyst for ClimateWorks’ Net Zero Momentum Tracker and co-author of the local government report, told The Fifth Estate.

“These net zero commitments should be supported by aligned interim targets and clear, detailed strategies. Ultimately, with the initiative, we want to see all Australian councils aligned to reach net zero operational and community emissions by 2050 or earlier.”

Overall, the analysis found all local governments assessed are taking steps to reduce their operational or community emissions, and many already have net zero by 2050 targets or aspirations.

Specifically, in terms of operational emissions, the report found that 58 per cent have a target to reach net zero emissions by or before 2050, or have made emissions reduction commitments compatible with this goal.

These 33 councils ­ four  of which were already carbon neutral –  represent 31 per cent of the Australian population. Similarly, for community emissions, the report found that 37 per cent have a target, aspiration or have made emissions reduction commitments aligned with net zero emissions by or before 2050.

What’s interesting is that now, eight  months after the release of the report, ClimateWorks is already seeing movement in council ambition to reduce their  emissions.

Of the council assessed, nine, including the City of Sydney and Melbourne have set new targets or are undertaking new initiatives to reduce emissions – Brimbank City Council, Cumberland Council, Monash Council, City of Whittlesea, Canterbury Bankstown, Yarra Ranges and Mornington Peninsula Shire.

“Since the publication of the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for local governments, businesses and the community. Despite this, we have seen local governments working on new strategies to reduce their operational and community emissions,” Bravo said.

“Addressing climate change is still a priority for local governments; recovery from the pandemic has been recognised as an opportunity to adapt, innovate and catalyse sustainable cities.”

The City of Melbourne is considering replicating the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project to promote renewable energy amongst the community and businesses. The council is also advocating for active transport and aims to deliver more bike lanes and pedestrian walkways.

The City of Sydney plans to support energy efficiency initiatives by further assisting businesses and real estate owners implement retrofits. The City aims to prioritise investment in projects that will drive local green economy benefits.

Brimbank City Council aims to achieve net zero emissions across its operations by 2030 and across the community by 2040. Mornington Peninsula Shire has set a net zero target by 2040 target for its community has committed to reduce by 50 per cent the transport emissions by 2030 and to further use renewable energy generation.

Setting renewable energy targets is another strategy seen across local governments with more councils aiming to power its operations with 100 per cent renewable electricity such as the Yarra Ranges Council and Brimbank City Council.

Ms Bravo said, “We believe that our fully aligned councils have set an important precedent for others to follow.

“Also, now all states and territories have set the target or ambition. Net zero by or before 2050 is where we will all need to be and these actions show this is the direction we start to see governments pursuing.

“There is clear movement and momentum is building for more councils to join this group.”

Over the next 12 months, the Tracker will include data on the electricity, manufacturing, resources and insurance sectors.

The aim is to assess the most significant organisations in sectors that contribute to over 80 per cent of the emissions reported under Australia’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme, and represent over 60 per cent of market capitalisation in the ASX200.

“By the end of the first quarter of 2021, we plan to have at least three  more sector focused reports published looking at the Resources, Energy and Manufacturing sectors,” Ms Bravo said.

“Once we have covered a significant proportion of Australia’s economy and biggest emitters through our sector-by-sector analysis, we will monitor and report on the overall cross-economy trajectory of net zero by 2050 ambition based on these bottom-up commitments and actions.

“We will continue to update data and our evaluation of companies and councils on an ongoing basis on our website.

“We are also responding to significant net zero commitment announcements via a ‘rapid response’ approach, which uses our methodology to quickly evaluate the ambition of announcements and then publish a response on our website.”

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