THE Mornington Peninsula has been recognised internationally as one of “two leading Australian councils” for its efforts to minimise climate change.
An invitation for the shire to commit to a Compact of Mayors follows the attendance at this month’s Paris climate talks by the mayor Cr Graeme Pittock, Cr Hugh Fraser and the shire’s renewable resources team leader, Jessica Wingad, who was there to “learn the latest global trends and their potential application locally”.
However, two councillors have now publicly criticised the Paris trip as being a waste of time and money.
Cr Pittock and Cr Fraser have said they will repay any costs that exceed the $16,000 allowed to be spent over their four-year terms.
It is understood that it cost the shire about $6000 for each of its three representatives to attend the United Nations climate change conference (COP21).
Countries represented at the talks unanimously approved the COP 21 Paris Agreement which “strives to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius, with the intent to pursue a 1.5-degree target”.
Cr Pittock said his attendance at the conference ensured “that the voices of local leaders are heard, and city efforts, like those here at Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, are recognised”.
The first news release about the talks issued by the shire included verbatim descriptions of Australia’s climate change strategies supplied by the office of Flinders MP and Environment Minister, Greg Hunt.
Last Thursday Cr David Garnock, within hours of the shire announcing the Compact of Mayors commitment and efforts already undertaken to achieve carbon neutrality, said it had not been necessary for the mayor to go to Paris to sign up for the compact.
“These initiatives are a result of the enthusiasm of all councillors and senior shire officers to protect our precious environment on the peninsula, not as a result of the occasional participation of councillors or shire officers at international conferences,” Cr Garnock said.
His comments followed those made in the previous week by Cr Andrew Dixon who claimed a post-Paris public briefing had been organised by the mayor “so that [the public] believe our Paris journey was totally hip and worth it”. On Facebook under the name “Billy Dixon”, Cr Dixon said those at the meeting would be buttered up with “free booze”.
“I’m sure we had a phenomenal impact on global energy policies, but you’ll hear all about it at our cute little slideshow,” Cr Dixon stated in response to an invitation from the mayor for the public to attend an “open presentation” of the Paris climate talks.
The Compact of Mayors is an agreement drawn up by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and sees the peninsula sign up with cities such as Copenhagen, New York, Oslo, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Cape Town. The other Australian municipality is the Western Australian city of Joondalup.
The organisation was founded in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) when 200 local governments agreed to aim for “sustainable development” at a conference at the United Nations in New York.
A news release issued by the shire on Thursday states that the shire had “fast-tracked” its way to compliance in a matter of months after years of investment and real action on climate.
The process outlined by ICLEI usually takes three years.
ICLEI says Mornington Peninsula and Joondalup, having achieved compliance, are undergoing a final audit against the international standard before being listed on the official compact website.
Examples of the shire’s efforts to ward off climate change include working with the CSIRO and the South East Councils Climate Change Alliance (SECCCA) understand the impact of climate change over the next 70 years; using methane gas at the Rye landfill to generate enough electricity to power about 1400 homes; cutting the size of its vehicle fleet; and undertaking such renewable energy projects as buying solar power for 11 community halls and installing solar street lights.