Local Leadership: Tracking Local Government Progress on Climate Change

In Australia, local councils and communities have long been at the forefront of climate action, continuing their efforts, despite periods of instability and inaction at the state and federal climate policy level. In recent times, shires, towns and cities have stepped up their efforts and profile on climate change action both at home and internationally.

This report introduces the Climate Council's Cities Power Partnership program which highlights the leaders of councils and communities that are switching to renewable energy and building greener, more efficient and resilient communities.



1. Australian cities, towns and shires are at risk from worsening climate impacts, such as rising sea levels, floods, bushfires and extreme heatwaves.

  • Climate change is a major risk facing Australians living in towns and cities.
  • Australia’s capital cities are experiencing hotter, longer and more frequent heatwaves.
  • The Angry Summer of 2016/17 set over 200 temperature and rainfall records, affecting major cities and regional centres across Australia.
  • Climate change is increasing the risk of bushfires, exposing people and property on the urban bushland boundary.
  • More than 80% of Australians live on the coast, and climate change is driving sea-level rise, increasing the risk of flooding our coastal towns and cities.
  • Sydney, Melbourne, Bundaberg and Darwin, for example, are likely to experience very large increases in the frequency of coastal flooding events if we do not rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Australian cities, towns and shires are major drivers of pollution, but can also be critical hubs for climate change solutions.

  • Urban centres are major contributors to climate change, producing around three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from electricity and energy use in buildings and transport.
  • By changing the way we use and produce energy, 70% of emission reductions required to meet the global climate agreement made in Paris can be achieved in cities.
  • Solutions already employed by cities include: shifting to renewable energy for electricity generation (e.g. Adelaide); increasing the energy efficiency of buildings (e.g. East Arnhem Land); and supporting more sustainable transport measures (e.g. Gold Coast).

3. Australian councils and communities are leading State and Federal governments on tackling climate change and capitalising on opportunities in renewable energy.

  • Australian cities, towns and shires are at the forefront of climate action, despite periods of instability and policy changes at state and federal levels.
  • One in five councils surveyed across Australia are aiming for “100% renewable energy” or “zero emissions”. Examples include capital cities like Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney as well as smaller councils such as Byron Shire, Lismore, Yackandandah and Uralla Shire.
  • Already, investments in renewable energy worth millions of dollars are being rolled out across Australia by local councils and community groups. Examples include the Sunshine Coast Council’s 15MW solar farm, Lismore’s community owned and council operated solar farms, and Alice Spring’s solar city, to name but a few.

4. Australian case studies demonstrate how local governments can:

  • Make renewable energy more accessible through programs that encourage landlords, tenants and low-income households to take up solar power generation.
  • Partner with other organisations in their local area to purchase renewable energy.
  • Set and achieve high renewable energy targets.
  • Improve energy efficiency of council buildings, street lighting and set higher standards for new developments and retrofits in their council area.
  • Provide new public transport infrastructure and encourage people to shift away from driving to walking, cycling and public transport, and promote electric vehicles powered by renewable energy.