LONDON, May 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One of the
highlights of the Sydney social calendar has long been the
spectacular Lord Mayor's New Year's Eve party, held each year at
the iconic Sydney Opera House.
This year, however, the money put into hosting the exclusive
bash for the city's well-heeled has been reallocated to
something more important, the mayor says: Ramping up action on
"People have been quite amazed that I'd do something so
radical," said Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who has run the
Australian city since 2004 – and who last year took political
heat over the rising cost of the party, which accompanies the
city's famed fireworks display.
At a meeting late last year of the C40 network of cities
that are leading on climate change action, she said, "the
message to all city leaders was that to have any realistic
chance of meeting the Paris Agreement, we had to do twice as
much in half the time".
So the approximately A$750,000 ($560,000) cost of Sydney's
big bash is now instead going toward things such as 10 new urban
parks over the next year, a zero-carbon building competition,
efforts to help tenants access renewable energy, retrofitting
buildings for energy efficiency and expanding efforts to help
commercial buildings cut their emissions.
Creating climate-friendly projects that people can see and
benefit from on a daily basis – particularly new parks but also
bike lanes and pedestrian-only streets – is crucial to building
and maintaining support for action on climate change, Moore told
the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
"People can't see emissions reductions," she said. But
giving residents visual signs of green progress – amenities they
want that also happen to cut emissions – "creates some
ownership," said the mayor, who walks in the city's parks most
days with her husband and dogs.
ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2050?
The emissions-cutting moves are part of the city's broader
Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan, which aims to reduce the city's
emissions by 70 percent by 2030 and make it carbon neutral by
That is underway through efforts such as upgrading the
city's car fleet to hybrid vehicles, planting 10,000 trees,
promoting car sharing, installing solar systems and water
harvesting, and working with businesses to cut emissions,
particularly through better building design in the fast-growing
So far, the city's emissions have fallen by a little over a
quarter since 2006 – despite a 25 percent growth in population
and about A$26 billion ($19 billion) spent on development in the
city since she took office, Moore said.
Commercial buildings in particular have managed to reduce
their emissions by more than a third, through energy efficiency
pushes and other action.
That's happened despite an indifferent or occasionally even
hostile attitude toward climate action by Australia's national
government, which under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott scaled
back carbon reduction efforts, disbanded a key climate advisory
group and was widely seen as obstructing action on climate
Such foot-dragging has happened despite clear evidence of
the damage climate change is causing in Australia, such as
blistering heatwaves and worsening bleaching and die-back of
large parts of the country's famed Great Barrier Reef, Moore
That the United States now also is slamming the brakes on
climate action under President Donald Trump is "very
distressing, frankly," she said.
"What's heartbreaking is the damage governments can do in a
short time when they're in power. The clock is ticking (on
climate change), we're aware there's so much to do and we're
still fighting these battles," she said.
The good news, she said, is that in terms of addressing
climate change "the action is really in our cities".
"It would be good to have our governments working with us,
supporting us, having policies of their own. But if they don't
want to do that, we just want them to get out of the way," she
The level of support for the city's green ambitions is
evident in the mayor's own longevity.
After making climate change an early focus of her time in
office, she has gone on to win three more elections, despite
harsh criticism by some segments of the country's media over
moves such as adding bike lanes, which opponents said would
worsen traffic congestion.
"I was pilloried over the bike lanes – the tabloid press
really went to town," she remembers. "But guess what? People
like riding bikes and they're getting out there," she said.
She counts Sydney's business community as an ally in her
climate change push. Having long-term plans and goals on climate
change has helped win support from businesses, which can plan
with more certainty about what's ahead, Moore said.
To get ambitious enough action to effectively address
climate change, "leadership is absolutely crucial," she said –
and she thinks city governments are well placed to provide it,
particularly with national action faltering in parts of the
"We get up in the morning and do something. That's the
fantastic thing about city government. We do things and we
change people's lives," she said.
(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Zoe
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