Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore with C40 executive director Mark Watts.

The relationship between Sydney and other tiers of government is hampering the city’s ability to respond to the climate change challenge, a Sydney briefing from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group has heard.

Speaking to an audience at Sydney Town Hall on Monday, C40 executive director Mark Watts said collaboration was needed between all levels of government to effectively tackle climate change.

Mr Watts joined Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Greater Sydney Commission environmental commissioner Rod Simpson to talk about how cities were placed to tackle climate change post-COP 21.

He said the relationship between cities and state and federal government was more problematic in Australia than perhaps any other country in the C40 network.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore concurred, voicing her frustration regarding the dismal level of cooperation and collaboration between different tiers of government in Australia, and the limited ability of local government to act on climate issues.

“We’re really stymied by [the governance structure in Australia],” Ms Moore said. “We started our cycle work at the same time as [former New York] Mayor Bloomberg. We had the same advisor. They went on to do it and I had to deal with [NSW roads minister] Duncan Gay.

“I’ve had to deal with an absolute Sword of Damocles. We’ve been committed to cycling… And, you know, I’ve been persecuted by the Murdoch press for cycleways – like I’d been installing atomic plants rather than separated cycleways… It hasn’t stopped us doing it. We’re doing it. And it hasn’t stopped my votes. But it’s a fairly unpleasant environment to operate in. To the point where [Mr Gay] even came in to remove a cycleway that cost us $4 million to put in. It’s the state government going against what all these other cities around the world are doing.”

However, Ms Moore was optimistic that relations were improving.

“I think it’s getting better,” she said. “The former prime minister [Tony Abbott] came in saying, ‘I don’t have a cities policy.’ That was fairly disastrous when the majority of Australians live in cities. The new prime minister, one of the first things he said when he came in was that he’d develop a cities policy. He’s appointed a cities minister, Angus Taylor, so we know there’s commitment there but we haven’t seen action just yet. So we’re remaining positive.”

She also said the council had “a very positive relationship” with NSW planning minister Rob Stokes.

“We’re up there doing as much as we can. We keep going. We’re pushing really hard, but it’s bloody hard.”

Ms Moore noted an important area for collaboration was improving building performance, something the audience heard had saved New York $8.5 billion.

“We need to work with the state on the green building code. We know that’s so important, particularly in our residential area. This is just absolutely critical for the future.

“I think given the imperatives of climate change, that it’s absolutely critical that our state and federal governments share a common vision.”

According to emcee Adam Spencer, Ms Moore let loose a wry smile as Mr Watts described a meeting with Rio de Janeiro mayor and C40 chair Eduardo Paes, who turned up late covered head-to-toe in dust. He’d just come from detonating a six-lane elevated highway that dissected the CBD.

“You’d like to blow up a highway that doesn’t exist yet,” Mr Spencer told the Lord Mayor, referring to the planned WestConnex motorway.

Mr Watts said in place of the highway in Rio was now “a wonderful shared space”, home to the C40 offices.

“[It’s] connected with light rail, there are bus lanes all the way along, there are beautiful cycling paths that allow you to get out all along the beach to Copacabana, and they’re entirely segregated cycleways. And thousands and thousands of Rio citizens use it.”

Local government in Australia, unfortunately, didn’t enjoy the same powers as some international counterparts.

Mr Watts told The Fifth Estate that C40 had not dealt with relationships between cities and other tiers of government but would start to in the future, as it was “clearly becoming a serious barrier to the next stage of action”.

He also said that, apart from intergovernmental collaboration, there was real power in cities getting together, sharing learnings and advocating for greater climate action. In fact, it was estimated that 30 per cent of the carbon emission reductions made by cities was due to collaboration.

As an example he pointed to Los Angeles’ innovative LED rollout in 2007, which was copied by cities around the world and is now seen as business as usual.

The C40 is currently working to lobby the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to make a special report on climate and cities.

“Every five years it decides on just two foci for what it will devote this huge scientific research effort,” he said. “And one of the options for the next period is the role cities can play in delivering the Paris agreement. So we are lobbying very hard.”

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  1. I agree that government collaboration on climate change between city, state and federal governments is a major policy and implementation impediment to climate change action.

    However there is a need for greater collaboration by city governments in our metropolitan regions. C40 unlike the 100 Resilient Cities program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation has taken a metropolitan wide approach to resilience planning.

    C40 should look at how C40 can support all 41 cities and 31 cities in Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan regions respectively for a joined up cities response to climate change action.