Bellingen Shire mayor Dominic King.
Bellingen Shire mayor Dominic King.

’I hope we don’t blow it’ warns climate leader

WITH local governments increasingly taking the initiative on climate action, one local leader is up for an award.

Bellingen Shire Council Mayor Dominic King has been nominated in the National Climate Awards as an elected representative leading the way on climate action in local government.

Mr King said the nomination came amid the council’s strong work on sustainability, its stance on logging and as early adopters of a motion declaring a climate emergency.

Bushfires shine light on what’s at stake

His focus is well and truly on what council is doing as a whole, rather than the personal accolade, and he hopes the nomination will offer a platform to “keep the pressure up” on more governments to take action.

“There are nearly 100 councils of all political persuasions now, some of them quite conservative, who have declared a climate emergency,” he said.

“Local government gets it much better than any other level of government because we deal with it everyday.”

Bellingen Shire Council Mayor Dominic King with deputy mayor Jennie Fenton.
Bellingen Shire Council Mayor Dominic King with deputy mayor Jennie Fenton.

There was no better example of the challenges faced by a changing climate than last year’s bushfires, where local governments took an active role from the start.

“That really brought home that not only the science was correct but that we were seeing the impacts of it,” he said.

As the Federal Government splashed the cash to help communities recover, Mr King said Council had resisted calls for money to be spent on business stimulus and was instead focused on a longer term strategy to improve preparedness and adaptation.

One of the programs has involved mapping significant local ecosystems which were not often the focus of protection efforts, but that were still very valuable to the community.

“It was all about people and their property and they didn’t speak about Gondwanaland rainforest and that was causing more anxiety for many people in the community than the burning down of their shed.”

The intensity of the 2019 bushfires has been viewed as an early indication of what a hotter and drier climate – caused by climate change – will have in store for the North Coast in the future. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
The intensity of the 2019 bushfires has been viewed as an early indication of what a hotter and drier climate – caused by climate change – will have in store for the North Coast in the future. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Sustainability and climate solutions could lead recovery

The nomination comes as Mr King joined more than 40 mayors in committing to economic recovery solutions that create jobs and tackle climate change.

The commitment to a sustainable economic recovery aims to support industries and

sectors that invest in a zero carbon future, along with driving strong economic recovery for

communities hit hard by twin climate and COVID-19 crises.

“This is a point in time in history when we are seeing the impacts of climate change clearer than ever before,”

“It’s an opportunity for us to reset how we deal with the coming impacts of climate change … and we might not get it again.

Mr King said the perfect example of sustainable recovery in action would be the establishment of the Great Koala National Park, an initiative which would protect koalas across four LGAs and provide an “economic bonanza”.

And leveraging the region’s environmental assets to grow tourism in a similar way to what has been achieved in Tasmania and Western Australia was a priority.

“Nature based tourism is the number one type of tourism for this region and we know people domestically are looking for something different,” he said.

“That’s where I would like to see State and Federal money invested – in a concept … which makes economic, environmental, social and cultural sense.

“This is our opportunity to get it right and I hope we don’t blow it on a fossil fuel led recovery.”

The koala population across the North Coast was devastated by bushfires last year and there has been a concerted effort for years to create the Great Koala National Park. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
The koala population across the North Coast was devastated by bushfires last year and there has been a concerted effort for years to create the Great Koala National Park. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

The award winners will be announced at the virtual awards ceremony hosted by ABC’s Craig Reucassel at 6pm next Thursday and anyone can register for the public event here.

Portia Odell, acting-director of the Cities Power Partnership said that the calibre of climate solutions developed by local governments across the country was astounding.

“From innovative renewable energy deals providing communities with abundant clean, reliable and cheap energy, to supporting communities’ transition to net zero emissions, Cities Power Partnership Awards finalists are leading the way with practical local climate solutions,” she said.

“These local champions are stepping up to the climate challenge in the face of ongoing Federal climate inaction. It’s time to celebrate the local government climate heroes who are helping their communities to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.”