Bikeways.

South-east Queensland faces the brunt of climate change and councils are stepping up

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Intense bushfires, worsening droughts, storms and floods — south-east Queensland has already experienced climate change and is in line for more.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth assessment report, released in August, painted a bleak picture of humanity’s impacts.

Global temperatures have increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, and without immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions keeping that warming effect to just 1.5 or 2 degrees will be out of reach.

Australia’s land area has already warmed by 1.4 degrees, but there are steps that can be taken, however small, to prevent further warming.

Climate expert and Griffith University professor Brendan Mackey is a co-author of the IPCC’s next report on the impacts of climate change, due in February.

Global consequences

Sea level rise is an acknowledged and predicted issue, but south-east Queensland is also vulnerable to stronger tropical storms, bringing heavier flooding and coastal erosion.

Bushfire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer, and water conservation is increasingly a problem.

Regions such as Ipswich and Springfield, where rapid urban development has replaced tree cover with heat-trapping rooftops, are facing heatwaves and storms.

The sun sets on houses in a Ripley housing estate.The sun sets on houses in a Ripley housing estate.
Housing developments around Ipswich, like this street in Ripley, face their own challenges with increased heat and less tree cover.(

ABC News: Rachel Riga

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Talking about only 1 or 2 degrees of warming may not sound like a problem, Professor Mackey said.

“Think of it like a thermometer for earth’s health,” he said.

“A healthy body temperature for adult humans is 36.1, 37.2 degrees.

“If you get to 38 degrees, that’s not much more above 37 degrees, but that indicates you’ve got a fever.

Local challenges

In south-east Queensland, local governments are part of a grassroots push to make those changes.

In May, Lowy Institute polling showed 60 per cent of Australians consider climate change an immediate issue — a concern that is feeding through to local governments.

Firefighters at the destroyed Binna Burra Lodge in the Lamington National Park.Firefighters at the destroyed Binna Burra Lodge in the Lamington National Park.
Ancient rainforest burned in the 2019 bushfires on the Lamington Plateau in the Gold Coast Hinterland, destroying the heritage Binna Burra Lodge.(

ABC News: Jennifer Huxley

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The Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership enrols councils in climate mitigation strategies.

Program director Portia Odell said 147 councils, representing more than half of Australia’s population, signed up in just four years.

“I think it’s a symptom of the federal inaction on climate,” she said.

Perspectives on climate change have shifted rapidly since former Queensland Premier Jeff Seeney ordered Moreton Bay Regional Council to remove any reference to climate change from planning policies in 2014.

Now, Queensland’s state government has several programs, such as a $13 million coastal hazard adaptation program, comprehensive climate information, and an acknowledgement of the risks ahead.

Councils have also formed their own local alliances and joined third-party programs to make change.

Planning ahead

While planning legislation is set by the state government, councils create overlay plans and codes to guide development.

Urban greenery also falls squarely within a council’s remit, adding more trees to a city’s canopy to cool and clean its air.

“Urban design, suburban design, how we design houses, how we position them on blocks — all of
these things can help manage rising temperatures,” Professor Mackey said.

Two men are building a house. A cement mixer sits in the foreground of the construction site.Two men are building a house. A cement mixer sits in the foreground of the construction site.
Logan’s population boom has driven more property sales and development.(

ABC News: John Gunn

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In June, the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) launched a climate action plan as a blueprint for how planning legislation could be altered to respond to climate change.

PIA Queensland president Shannon Batch said she hoped the state would adopt the suggestions.

“Our first action is looking at a common climate change goal across all planning legislation which isn’t in the purview of councils to manage, but will impact how they do things,” she said.

For south-east Queensland’s councils, climate change is an issue increasingly at the fore, not just in planning but in all aspects of daily business.

Jump to a summary of local council plans, and click the link in each section for further information:

Brisbane

Australia’s largest council is carbon-neutral and has committed $550 million to green bridges for active transport.

Brisbane has a target of 50 per cent shade cover over footpaths and bikeways and 40 per cent bushland cover.

Queensland Government building 1 William Street and other buildings in Brisbane CBD, with houses at Highgate Hill in view.Queensland Government building 1 William Street and other buildings in Brisbane CBD, with houses at Highgate Hill in view.
Tree cover is a priority for Brisbane.(

ABC News: Chris Gillette

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The council also launched subtropical design guidelines and green building incentives policy, and is slowly shifting to electric buses.

Gold Coast

With kilometres of sandy beachfront and engineered canals, the Gold Coast has included climate change impacts in its City Plan’s coastal erosion, flood and bushfire codes.

Mayor Tom Tate said the council has also prepared a coastal adaptation plan and updated its bushfire management plan.

An aerial photo of Surfers Paradise skyline, buildings and beachAn aerial photo of Surfers Paradise skyline, buildings and beach
The Gold Coast is working on coastal management plans to address climate change.(

ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale

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Cr Tate said the council is “striving to reduce our emissions every day and believe it is up to future councils to decide on any emission target”.

Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast council has a strong climate change platform, targeting net-zero emissions by 2041.

In 2010 it adopted a Climate Change and Peak Oil Strategy and constructed a 15-megawatt solar farm, offsetting its electricity consumption.

The council is also leading a campaign for the region to be nominated as a UNESCO Biosphere, has a Coastal Hazard Adaptation Strategy, and converts landfill biogas to energy at its Caloundra Renewable Energy Facility.

Moreton Bay

A fast-growing population centre, Moreton Bay is developing a Coastal Hazard Adaptation Strategy, and is also trialling electric cars in its fleet, prioritising renewable energy and green business.

Mayor Peter Flannery says councils have “limited powers to affect major change, so we will need strong leadership from state, federal, and international governments”.

Caboolture West will be renamed by Moreton Bay residentsCaboolture West will be renamed by Moreton Bay residents
Caboolture West, a new Moreton Bay suburb, will be home to thousands more people as the region faces a population boom.(

Supplied

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Logan

In August, Logan council adopted a 10-year Climate Change Resilience Strategy, embedding climate change action in corporate policies.

Solar panels on the Loganholme Wastewater Treatment Plant south of Brisbane.Solar panels on the Loganholme Wastewater Treatment Plant south of Brisbane.
Solar panels on the Loganholme Wastewater Treatment Plant south of Brisbane.(

Supplied: Logan City Council

)

Logan is also installing solar panels on council administration centres and has recently completed a 1-megawatt solar farm at the Loganholme Wastewater Treatment Plant.

It aims to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2022.

Redland

Redland City Council has 335 kilometres of coastline and expects dramatic sea level rise within this century, according to its Coastal Hazard Adaptation Strategy.

Mayor Karen Williams said the council’s planning policies also had a “due regard” for climate change.

“Its Flood and Storm Tide Hazard Overlay, for instance, accounts for a 0.8m sea level rise by 2100, as well the southerly migration of cyclonic activity due to warmer waters and a 10 per cent increase in the intensity of cyclonic events that would be expected to occur in the region,” she said.

Noosa

Noosa council was the first local council to declare a climate emergency in 2019. The council targets net-zero emissions by 2026.

Noosa is expecting more heatwaves, intense storms, and sea level rise, but was also hit by bushfires in 2019.

A firefighter watches a blaze at Noosa, Queensland.A firefighter watches a blaze at Noosa, Queensland.
Noosa was hit by bushfires…

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