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Broad interpretation keeps council's carbon neutral ambitions alive

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Members of the city council’s staff appear to be relying on a non-literal interpretation of a key council decision to preserve the possibility of a carbon neutral Adelaide.

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In late 2016, the Adelaide City Council voted to put off buying any carbon offsets – activities outside the council’s geographic jurisdiction that prevent, reduce or sequester greenhouse gases – until emissions reduction projects within the CBD and North Adelaide are “exhausted”.

The council resolved to “exhaust all cost-effective and reasonable carbon reduction projects prior to purchasing carbon offsets in its pursuit of carbon neutral operations by 2020”.

A literal reading of the decision would cruel the council’s ambitions of making its own operations carbon neutral by 2020, and seriously threaten the broader ambition for achieving carbon neutrality in the CBD and North Adelaide by 2025.

This is because, as InDaily reported at the time, projects aimed at reducing emissions from energy, transport, waste and buildings in Adelaide are unlikely to approach being “exhausted” until at least the year 2050, according to State Government modelling.

That modelling shows that, by 2050, more than 20 per cent of the emissions reduction task would still have to be achieved by purchasing offsets. Without carbon offsets, in other words, carbon neutrality appears beyond Adelaide’s reach for several decades.

Government modelling shows emissions reduction projects are unlikely to approach completion until after 2050.

But the council’s administration has drafted two new strategic documents that feature the purchase of carbon offsets, implying a non-literal interpretation of the words “prior to” from the 2016 council decision.

The “Carbon Neutral Council Roadmap” and the “Cost Effective and Reasonable Decision Making Framework” draft documents will be presented to a council committee meeting next week.

The documents are to feature the implementation of “carbon reduction measures in preference to purchasing offsets” and “purchasing carbon offsets for emissions that cannot be avoided”.

The draft roadmap, as described in council agenda papers, would also outline the process to seek carbon neutral accreditation for the council’s operations under the Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard.

A spokesperson for the council declined to provide the roadmap or the decision-making framework documents but said they would be presented to next week’s committee meeting.

InDaily sought clarification from Lord Mayor Martin Haese concerning the circumstances under which the council would purchase offsets and how the 2016 decision should be interpreted, but we received no response.

Haese has previously argued the inclusion of the word “reasonable” in the 2016 decision provided enough latitude to allow the purchase of carbon offsets which are necessary to meet the council’s ambitions.

The council’s carbon neutral strategy includes transitioning its entire fleet to electric vehicles by the year 2030 and installing additional solar panels on council buildings.

The council’s administration is due to present options for a 100 per cent renewable electricity supply for council operations at next fortnight’s council meeting.

Last month, Environment Minister David Speirs told InDaily the new Government was in the process of assessing the “effectiveness” of the programs of the Environment Department – including the Carbon Neutral Adelaide partnership signed by the council and the Weatherill Government in 2015.

Under the agreement, both levels of government agreed to make Adelaide the “world’s first carbon neutral city” (although some of the council’s documents on the subject are more equivocal, stating that Adelaide is to become “one of the world’s first carbon neutral cities”, and nominating a 2025 deadline).

In the 2013 and 2014 financial years, the council purchased $25,809 worth of carbon offsets which would remove almost 4000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, through the protection of old-growth Tasmanian forests.

The City of Melbourne aims to be carbon neutral by 2020 – though unlike Adelaide, the Victorian capital has yet to “de-couple” its carbon emissions from GDP growth.

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