Cr Tim Smith, Mayor of the City of Stonnington in Melbourne writes:

As our Federal politicians prepare to once again get bogged down in a mire of name calling and mud-slinging over action on climate change, local government is getting on with the job.

Proving that an Emissions Trading Scheme is not necessarily the best or only solution to climate change, local government has been leading the way in adopting sustainable practices that not only protect the environment but save people money.

During the past two years, the City of Stonnington, which includes the areas of Toorak, Prahran and Malvern in Victoria, has run a program to install more than 20,000 energy-saving light globes in households throughout the City, saving 19,881 tonnes of CO2 and reducing household energy bills by a total of nearly $2.1 million.

Stonnington has also recently approved an ambitious photovoltaic project that will see solar panels installed at the Stonnington Works Depot in Malvern. The project is expected to be operational by March 2010 and has the potential to generate between 19,000 and 26,000 kWh of renewable energy each year with excess energy being returned to the grid. Stonnington also has a target of reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions by 20% of 2005 levels by 2015.

Over the next year I want to step up our focus on sustainability and use innovation and a fresh approach to develop new programs that further our credentials in this area and elevate Stonnington as the flagship for energy and water efficiency.

Already, around 2000 households, have taken advantage of the City’s showerhead-exchange program.  A 300,000 litre underground water tank recently installed in Como Park South Yarra has the potential to save as much as 15 to 20 million litres of water annually. The tank will store storm water run off from the Williams Road drain, which, after filtering, will be used to irrigate Como Park and potentially other sportsgrounds, parks and gardens in the municipality. There are 305 km of drains in Stonnington – when it rains vast quantities of eater simply flow into the Yarra via Gardiners Creek. I want to investigate harvesting this storm water so it can be distributed for use on our nature strips, parks and gardens.

Ratepayers in the City of Stonnington foot the bill for all street lighting in the municipality to the tune of nearly $900,000 a year. Our street lights emit about 6000 tonnes of CO2. As a priority we will investigate, with other levels of government, how installing the new energy efficient T5 light bulbs in our street light infrastructure could be achieved to save money and reduce emissions. Stonnington does not have the resources to role this initiative out on its own – it is a worthy idea which deserves to be supported by both the federal and state governments.

Melbourne has one of the most expansive bike path networks in the world. But other major cities like Paris, and Brisbane – of all places – has a convenient, cheap and easy to use bike hire scheme, which not only forms a key component of a sustainable transport agenda but is an initiative which promotes a healthy lifestyle. Most car trips undertaken in an Australian urban context are of bike use distance – with appropriate economies of scale this could be a reality for our great city, which would add to its amenity and further its credentials as not only the world’s most liveable but most active.

From a carbon offset perspective we are working hard to improve the quality of our beautiful Yarra River and its surrounds. In August we announced a $550,000 project to help return the Yarra to its natural state through a major biodiversity project. The project, which is due to be completed in June 2010, will focus specifically on the south bank of the Yarra River under public ownership between Punt Road and Grange Road and the portion of the Yarra River bank in the vicinity of Como Park North. It will address weed control and erosion as well as increasing the level of indigenous vegetation.

While it was funded by the Federal Government through the Rural and Local Community Infrastructure Program (RLCIP), the project was developed through the innovation of local governments working together as part of the Inner Melbourne Action Plan, which includes the cities of Melbourne, Port Phillip, Yarra and Stonnington.

Stonnington is not the only Council to wave the sustainability banner but due to the many years of financial prudency we are probably in one of the best positions to try new approaches. The results we have seen so far demonstrate that residents and businesses don’t need a big whip and the threat of financial retribution to do the right thing by our environment. Enormous good will exists. Other levels of government would do well to take a leaf out of the book of local government and find ways to harness that good will rather than pursuing opportunistic schemes that seek to squeeze the last dollar out of the pocket of ordinary Australians.

Our action on climate change saves money — why does everyone else’s seem to cost so much?