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Council quietly dumps "world's first" carbon neutral target

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The City Council has dumped its goal for Adelaide to be "the world’s first carbon neutral city", despite repeated public pledges and a signed agreement with the State Government.

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Carbon neutral Adelaide?

The council signed an agreement with the Government in 2015 formalising a shared ambition for Adelaide to become “the world’s first carbon neutral city” – a goal championed by Lord Mayor Martin Haese in the years since.

The council has always been slightly more circumspect than the Government about the target – always stating Adelaide would be the world’s first “by 2025”.

But the City Council has quietly adopted a significantly less lofty ambition.

It now wants Adelaide to become “one of the world’s first carbon neutral cities by 2025” (emphasis added).

The diminished target was not mentioned during last night’s council meeting, but is stated repeatedly within its draft budget, which was approved for consultation.

Haese told InDaily this morning that while the council was still “striving” for Adelaide to beat the world to carbon neutrality, it was more important to be “authentically carbon neutral” than first.

“The City of Adelaide has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2025,” said Haese in a written statement.

“In partnership with the State Government, we will ensure that we take every genuine, authentic and measurable step to reduce carbon emissions to their lowest possible level.

“However, there is nothing stopping any other city in the world from being carbon neutral tomorrow through the purchase of carbon offsets.

“We are striving to be the world’s first, but it is more important to be authentically carbon neutral.”

His comments are in stark contrast to those he made last year, lauding the “first-mover advantage” for Adelaide’s international reputation, and its industries, if it became the world’s first carbon neutral city.

He said at the time that earning the title could constitute an “official certification” of the “clean, green” image South Australia already projects internationally, which would be “a boon for our agricultural exports” and tourism.

The Government is having no bar of the diminished ambition.

A spokesperson reiterated in a statement to InDaily this morning that: “The State Government and the City of Adelaide have a joint ambition to make Adelaide the world’s first carbon neutral city.”

“This was reaffirmed through the Carbon Neutral Adelaide action plan and work continues between the Government and Council to make this ambition a reality.”

The council’s quiet dampening of its own target comes seven months after it kicked a spectacular own-goal in the policy area by voting against buying any carbon offsets until “after all cost-effective and reasonable measures to reduce city emissions have been exhausted”.

Since no modern city can yet function without emitting some carbon emissions, any city wanting to claim “carbon neutrality” must purchase carbon offsets – such as forest conservation or carbon sequestration projects – over and above their own emissions reduction efforts, to reduce net emissions to zero.

According to expert advice and modelling, Adelaide has no hope of becoming carbon neutral within the next several decades without purchasing offsets, because exhausting “all cost-effective and reasonable measures” (as the council describes them) will take several decades.

Haese, who told the chamber immediately after last year’s vote that: “if I wasn’t laughing I would be crying,” later claimed he was comfortable with the decision because it contained the word “reasonable”, which he said was open to interpretation.

He told InDaily at the time that offsets were “an absolute necessity” for Adelaide’s carbon neutral ambitions.

Adelaide’s closest rival for carbon neutrality is Melbourne, which has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2020 (though that city will have to rely heavily on offsets, since its emissions have continued to grow, whereas Adelaide’s have been declining).

Here’s what else happened at last night’s council meeting.

First hour free car parking in the East End

The Rundle Street UPark will offer the first hour of car parking for free in a year-long trial starting in July.

The council was evenly split over North Ward councillor Phil Martin’s motion to cut the first hour charge, but Haese used his casting vote to pass the motion.

Council staff are forecasting a seven per cent decline in revenue for the car park in 2017/18.

The change is expected to cost the car park a further $200,000 – but councillor Martin argued it would be a boon for businesses in the East End that will lose out when thousands of staff and patients move from the old Royal Adelaide Hospital to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital in the city’s west.

The council’s administration had already commissioned a consultant to review UPark “facilities, fee structures and operations”, who will report to the council by the end of next month.

A motion to defer a decision on the Rundle Street UPark until after the consultant’s report is released was defeated.

City Council’s lonely opposition to small bars beyond the CBD

North Ward councillor Sue Clearihan represented the city council at the Local Government Association’s (LGA) ordinary general meeting last week.

She told the chamber last night she was overwhelmingly outvoted by other councils in a motion calling on the State Government to extend the hugely successful small bars licence beyond the CBD.

“Unfortunately I was in a minority of about five out of a few hundred,” she told the meeting.

Haese last year argued that the small bars industry is too “fragile” for the licences to be extended to venues across South Australia.

The city council last year endorsed a recommendation to extend small bars to North Adelaide (which is also in its jurisdiction).

At the time Central Ward councillor Houssam Abiad conceded that his position as a councillor and his support for the free market were in conflict when it came to small bars.

“Selfishly, from the Adelaide City Council perspective, we want to retain our competitive advantage,” Abiad told InDaily mid-last year.

“Do I, as a councillor, support Adelaide City Council retaining its competitive advantage? … 100 per cent, I do.”

However, wearing his “entrepreneur’s hat”, he said: “I support the free market”.

Council doesn’t like carbon offsets, does like carbon offsets

Despite its aforementioned carbon offsets own-goal last year, the council is keen on South Australia developing its own carbon offsets industry.

Clearihan told last night’s meeting the LGA had overwhelmingly voted for a city council motion to look at “developing a carbon offsets industry in South Australia”.

She said it had also voted to call on the State Government to develop a climate change adaptation package for regional South Australia.

The council also endorsed a motion by South Ward councillor Priscilla Corbell to include new targets – for increased tree coverage in the city and North Adelaide – in the council’s Green City Plan.

Petition urges against closing the Adelaide Aquatic Centre

The council received a petition urging it not to close the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, signed by 32 people.

Area councillor Anne Moran told the ABC last month the council’s swimming centre was “drowning” in $700,000 of debt and could close as early as this month.

However, Deputy Lord Mayor Megan Hender assured last night’s meeting that the council had “no plans” to shut the facility.

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