Net zero emissions for local councils

Climate change is affecting communities across Australia and across the globe. Taking action now to reduce emissions is crucial to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The NSW Government's Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020-2030 is the foundation for the State's action on climate change and to our goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050. It outlines the NSW Government’s plan to take action and protect our future in collaboration with industry, communities and households. Delivery of the Plan will grow the economy, create jobs and reduce emissions and ensure New South Wales is well placed to prosper in a low carbon world.

The Plan aims to deliver a 50% cut in emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels as the first stage to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

By reducing emissions, local councils can help to increase the resilience of their communities and act as a catalyst for New South Wales to meet its net zero emissions goals.

NSW councils play a key role in the shift to net zero emissions as leaders, place makers and through their connection to local communities. Local councils can support the transition through reducing their own emissions across their operations and through the provision of essential services such as waste management, transport, planning and infrastructure for their residents and businesses.

What does net zero emissions mean?

Net zero emissions refers to a state where emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (including carbon) are counterbalanced by the removal of greenhouse gases.This means reducing emissions as far as possible, then offsetting the remainder.

Actions local councils can take

The actions local councils can take to achieve net zero emissions for their operations and community can include, but are not limited to:

  • switching to renewable energy through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) or on-site solar
  • improving the energy efficiency of buildings and infrastructure (e.g. upgrading streetlights)
  • implementing low carbon transport such as electric vehicles and active transport options
  • diverting organics to reduce emissions from landfill
  • adopting a circular economy model where goods and services and any associated waste or by-products are re-used elsewhere in the community or recycled
  • encouraging farmers to incorporate activities such as minimising fertiliser usage, maintaining ground cover, implementing crop rotations and participating in carbon farming activities
  • increasing the canopy cover in towns and cities to minimise urban heating, increase habitat and sequester carbon
  • using low emissions building materials in new constructions to minimise the usage of traditional materials that produce high levels of emissions during manufacturing
  • offsetting any residual emission sources which can’t be reduced (e.g. diesel-powered generators).

Benefits of reducing emissions

There are many financial, environmental and social benefits for councils and their communities by reducing emissions and transitioning towards net zero. These benefits can include but are not limited to:

$  financial benefits

  • Installing or purchasing renewable energy can help local councils manage energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Many renewable energy projects generate cost savings over time in addition to reducing emissions.
  • In some circumstances, excess solar energy can be fed back into the grid which can generate additional income for communities and shorten pay-back periods.

 environmental benefits

  • Prepare your community to be more resilient to climate risks such as bush fires, storms, floods and sea level rise.
  • Better protect your natural environment’s threatened flora and fauna species, landscapes and waterways.
  • Combat urban heating by increasing green cover in your area.
  • Play your part to help limit global warming.

 social benefits

  • Provide cleaner air, green spaces and healthier environments for your community.
  • Demonstrate that your council is responding to community expectations to act on emissions.
  • Reduce transitional and liability risks within your Local Government Area (LGA).
  • Join a growing network of climate leaders from across New South Wales and the world.

NSW councils taking action on emissions

We recently visited 4 councils across New South Wales to hear about the benefits that reducing emissions and committing to net zero for operations and community can bring.

Towards net zero emissions: councils leading the way

Regional councils making big changes

The economic case for net zero emissions

Local council progress on net zero emissions

In May 2020, we completed a project to better understand the collective action NSW councils were taking to reduce emissions both within their own operations and the local community. To gather this information, the project included an online survey and focus groups with council staff in addition to interviews with industry experts.

Ninety-nine local councils took part in the state-wide survey, representing 77% of local councils within New South Wales. The survey covered:

  • current status of council led action on operational and community emissions
  • key barriers to developing and implementing net zero strategies
  • the needs and support required for councils to act on emissions. This includes emissions data and modelling tools, resources and government facilitated support.

LED light replacement on Olympic Boulevard at Sydney Olympic ParkThe survey demonstrated how local councils are taking action on net zero emissions across the State:

  • 53% of respondents have developed or are developing an emissions reduction target for their operational emissions
  • 25% of respondents have developed or are developing a reduction target for their community emissions.

To hear about the actions being taken, the targets being set and the tools being used by NSW councils to reduce operational and community emissions, download our two-page research summary.

Download the research summary: Supporting NSW Councils to reduce emissions (PDF 96KB)