Despite a petition garnering 6,648 signatures, (1900 online) and 30 local speakers at a recent Hornsby Shire Council meeting asking council to declare a climate emergency, the motion to do so was unsuccessful. Instead an amendment was passed to commit to climate action targets, without declaring an emergency. A majority of residents present during the meeting showed disgust.

They protested outside vehemently after the meeting. Cr Emma Heyde’s motion for council to put pressure on members of Parliament to take immediate action also incorporated noting the work being undertaken in council’s Local Strategic Planning Statement, the Environmental Sustainability Strategy and Climate Adaptation Plan. However Cr Michael Hutchence said he saw no “tangible” outcome in it. Cr Mick Marr said declaring a climate emergency was an act of “philosophy” that would go hand-in-hand with climate action.

Cr Hutchence however said it was a “hollow gesture.” Cr Hutchence presented an amendment to have council take action on climate change without declaring an emergency. One of the commitments outlined in his amendment was to have council produce zero net emissions by 2050, more than 30 years away. Past research highlights the need for climate action well before 2050.

The Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils State of the Environment Report from 2009 and 2010 (NSROC State of the Environment report) said, by 2030, the annual average number of days over 35°C in Sydney could grow from four to seven days. “Growth in peak summer energy demand is likely, due to air-conditioning use, which may increase the risk of blackouts.

Warmer temperatures and population growth are likely to cause a rise in heat-related illness and death for those over 65…in Sydney increases are projected in annual deaths from the current 176 to 364-417 by 2020 and 717-1,312 by 2050. NSROC State of the Environment report said the carbon emissions reduction target for Hornsby Council to reach by 2020 was 30%.

A council spokesperson said “council has not yet reached the target 30% reduction, but is heading in the right direction.” If information such as this is already public, does it make climate emergency declaration effective in improving the decisions of policy-makers? Monash University climate change communications professor, David Holmes, said that declaring a climate emergency at council level can empower a large number of voters alarmed by climate change who live in the electorate, but not much else. “Mainly it (declaring an emergency) reinforces identity-politics of alarmed residents but will do little to persuade those that are dismissive” he said.

When asked how much power a surburban council would have to put pressure on members of parliament, he said “not much at all.” Cr Hutchence’s amendment said council will write to the State and Federal Governments, urging them to confirm their commitment to the agreed targets under the Paris Agreement. Among commitments in the amendment, one is the installation of LED street lighting – expected to reduce emissions by approximately 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The amendment also said council will review the existing Climate Change Adaptation Report with consultants to produce an updated risk assessment. To read about council’s resolution, visit www.hornsby.nsw.gov.au Sarah Caruana – local resident I’m absolutely disgusted with what happened. The people of Hornsby Shire told the councillors exactly what we wanted. We would like them to declare a climate emergency not just because it’s symbolic, it means that they will put pressure on Federal and State Government.

Grant Webster – local resident I’m extremely disappointed in the council, they failed to represent the people of Hornsby Shire, we will remember the names of the names of those who chose to vote against the motion and they will not be forgotten. They have sold out the future of the people here, we will see huge changes to our area in the next 20 to 30 years.

They will not be able to the lack of rainfall that is going to hit this region. Alexi Boyd, local business owner The point of council meetings is to hear from people, people come and express how they feel about something they’re really passionate about. We did that, I’ve never seen the chambers so full. It’s their job to represent what the community feels. Despite asking us how we feel they utterly ignored us. Don’t ask us to turn up to speak if you’re not going to listen.