Cr Neil Westcott proposes Parkes to host Climate Action Forum

Parkes councillor turns to peers for support of a Climate Action Forum

A Parkes councillor has called upon his peers to join him in taking steps towards climate action by supporting a climate forum held in town.

Cr Neil Westcott put forward a motion at Parkes Shire Council's August meeting on Tuesday and with it, four recommendations.

He has asked council to consider holding a Climate Action Forum in Parkes - to be funded from the Town Improvement Fund - and that a steering committee be formed with interested councillors and senior staff to investigate options of holding the forum - "to focus on affirmative actions that can be taken to adapt or combat the effects of a changing climate on our community/region".

He's also suggested council investigate partnering with the Cities Power Partnership fraternity - a program organised by Australia's Climate Council that saw Parkes among the first 35 local councils to join - to assist with the forum.

READ MORE:

"July was the hottest month the world has ever recorded. Data from thousands of surface monitoring stations and ocean buoys show that July 2019 was the warmest month on earth since at least 1850," Cr Westcott said.

"The Northern Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of America (NOAA) announced that July 2019 was the 415th straight month that was warmer than the 20th century average. March 1985 was the last month to be cooler than the average of 1900-2000.

"According to NOAA, Arctic and Antarctic Sea Ice were their lowest levels on record for the month, missing a total of one million square miles. If this were a country it would be the 10th largest nation in the world."

We look at these large numbers, the mind struggles to grasp the scale of the problem, but here we are locally, enduring our third dry winter in a row.

Cr Neil Westcott

Cr Westcott said what made the data all the more astounding was that it has happened without the influence of an El Nino event.

El Nino is an irregularly occurring and complex series of climatic changes affecting the equatorial Pacific region and beyond every few years, characterised by unusually warm, nutrient-poor water off South America's west coast.

"We look at these large numbers, the mind struggles to grasp the scale of the problem, but here we are locally, enduring our third dry winter in a row," Cr Westcott said.

"Breaking our own all-time records, we see our dependence on the Lachlan bore fields becoming more and more important as Wyangala heads to below 20 per cent capacity. For those of our friends on the Macquarie River, the situation is far more desperate.

"I am not so naive though, to think I can stand here today and demand as representatives of the community of the Parkes Shire, that this council uniformly and with haste pass a motion of climate emergency.

"I do, however, through this notice of motion ask my fellow councillors to consider their roles as leaders within our community, to give opportunity to the holding of a climate forum here in our shire that will enable us to hear from the very best in climatic science we can attract and also just as importantly let questions be asked, doubts expressed and new insights found."

The forum is expected to feature guest speakers and councils who are leading the way in local action and matters, such as drought resilience, would be invited to present.

Cr Westcott is hoping the forum will lead to an action report that will allow council to focus on the representations it can make on behalf of the community and the actions, policy and initiative that can be implemented.

Council's senior staff supported the four recommendations suggested by Cr Westcott in its report tabled at Tuesday's meeting - as did most councillors.

"I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't support it. That's how strongly I feel about it," Cr Bill Jayet said.

"It's not about the present, it's about the future... We've got so much to gain out of being proactive."

Cr Patrica Smith admitted she did resist climate change for a while but said there was a need to make people understand what's going on.

"I just [thought] times change you know, different seasons, everything like that," she said.

"But looking overseas we have a problem."

Mayor Ken Keith described the motion as commendable.

"We can look at what the local impact has been but more importantly, we can come up with some actions. We as a council can encourage our community to try and mitigate the effects in our shire," he said.

Cr Louise O'Leary, in support, said it was about having discussions and learning information.

"The more we can absorb and have that knowledge, we empower ourselves. So I think we need to empower our communities, whether they agree or disagree, I think it's about having that discussion," she said.

A steering committee was formed at the end of the discussion and includes Cr Westcott, Cr O'Leary, Cr Jayet, Cr Keith and Cr Ken McGrath.

Cr Westcott added the move to address climate change wasn't for "ourselves" but for the children born and yet to be born within our shire.

"Councillors, I would see this as a positive response to the difficult reality we all face together - not just in the immediate, but longer term as a community in regard to climate change," he said.

"This is an issue that at all times needs to be beyond partisan politics, regardless of what happens at state or federal level. As a community we should be proud that for many years this council has been proactive in the area."

Council has approached the impacts of climate change with a number initiatives. These include the early adoption of solar power across the shire, being a foundation member of the Cities Power Partnership, posing motions at the Australian Local Government National General Assembly for the federal government to do more about climate change and the substantial indexing of the town's new water and sewer plants from the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA).

"A forum as proposed can help inform us of the actions our community want to take, and the actions a civic leader should take," the report tabled at the meeting read.

"While there would be a small cost in holding the forum, it is thought that such a forum would be the logical next step in council's response to the growing risks for regional Australia.

"Currently 29 of the 537 councils Australia-wide have declared a climate emergency. They join 880 local governments worldwide who have similarly resolved to seek their federal governments to take affirmative action on climate change."

ALSO MAKING NEWS: