Greater Shepparton City Council has declared a climate emergency and will spend the next 10 years targeting zero emissions.
A four-way tie between the eight councillors in attendance at Wednesday's council meeting was broken by a casting vote from Mayor Seema Abdullah, as Cr Les Oroszvary was absent.
Councillors Dinny Adem, Dennis Patterson and Chris Hazelman all voted with the mayor in favour of the declaration. Under council policy the mayor has the privilege to break the deadlock, allowing her to vote twice in favour of the declaration.
Cr Adem said taking into account the coronavirus pandemic it might seem inappropriate to declare a climate emergency. But he pointed out the hypocrisy in accepting scientists’ concerns regarding the coronavirus but rejecting scientists who have concerns regarding climate change.
“At this crucial time of human history we all turn our eyes and ears anxiously, yet confidently, to the medical scientists whose knowledge and advice we trust in,” he said.
“Yet for our less instantiations seemingly inconceivable looming crisis such as climate change, we discuss, debate and even dismiss; yet inevitably and incrementally we adapt.
“Along this journey we question the science from eminent experts of the same calibre we are currently entrusting our lives with right now. I truly believe we are the frog in the pot at this instance.
“... climate change is something we still have the ability to affect. We as Australians, we and every other nation must act now.
“Proactive social behaviour changes accompanied with political foresight and leadership will flatten the climate change curve.”
Cr Patterson admitted he wasn't originally going to vote for declaring an emergency but announced he had changed his mind.
The word ‘emergency’ played a role in the council nearly rejecting the declaration of a climate emergency.
The four councillors who voted against it — Bruce Giovanetti, Shelley Sutton, Kim O'Keeffe and Fern Summer — all said using the word emergency was "alarmist" and would instill fear in the community.
The four said the council was already making progressive moves to combat climate change and agreed it needed to continue reducing emissions.
“I have had a lot of people in the community speak to me and say they don't want an emergency,” Cr Sutton said.
“I think if we keep going, doing what we're doing — we're planting trees, putting solar panels on roofs — we're doing a lot of things in this space that we should continue to do.
“It's not an emergency at this stage. The coronavirus is an emergency, a car crash on the causeway is an emergency but I don't think climate change is an emergency.
“I think it's something that is happening, maybe, and it's something we should be doing. I think the weather patterns have changed and I don't really know whether by us declaring an emergency anything else is going to happen.”
Cr Sutton said the council could stick to reducing emissions without declaring an emergency. She said declaring a climate emergency would cause added stress for the younger members of the community.
In response, Cr Adem said the wording was taken out of context.
“In this context the word ‘emergency’ isn't something comparable to my hair being on fire right now; this is putting a title on a movement,” he said.
“Climate emergency is about a movement around the world. It starts small, swells, evolves and it's about changing the hearts and minds of people to understand this is not an emergency that's today, tomorrow or next week but it's all pushing and leading towards a drastic situation in five, 10, 20 or 30 years down the track.”
Chief executive Peter Harriott told the council the decision to include the declaration motion was on the request of community members.
“A report has been prepared in response to people from the community who asked council to consider it. We did what we normally do, put a report together and present it."
By accepting the staff recommendation, the council will adopt a 2030 zero emissions target and now must develop action plans to ensure it sticks with its plan.