Martin Haese

Adelaide City Council last week released a raft of incentives of up to $5000 for battery storage, $5000 for solar installations and up to $1000 to switch from regular downlights to LEDs. These incentives, available to businesses, schools and residents, dovetail into a state government strategy to make Adelaide a national leader in sustainability. Following is a substantial extract from a speech that prefigured that commitment delivered by Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese to around 800 delegates at the national assembly of the Australian Local Government Association in Canberra on 15 June.

You may be aware that Adelaide has been attracting a lot of attention recently, and I believe we are well on our way to becoming one of the world’s best small cities.

Adelaide needs to be outward-looking, innovative and most importantly, sustainable. It is with these principles in mind that the premier and I recently announced Adelaide’s intention to become the world’s first carbon neutral city.

We have signed two important international agreements, the Compact of States and Regions and the Compact of Mayors.

This makes South Australia the first Australian state where the state government and city council have both signed key international agreements on climate change.

The goal is to create an “Adelaide Green Zone” with extensive green infrastructure, electric and hybrid vehicles, and a high-level of community commitment to carbon neutrality.

I am passionate about local government’s role in addressing climate change not only across Australia, but across the world.

While the international process of intergovernmental negotiations on climate change has almost ground to a halt, local governments around the world are agreeing on priorities for action. We are at the forefront of change.

Today I’d like to discuss why Adelaide has set the goal to become the world’s first carbon neutral city. I’ll explore why local government has the potential to be a powerful agent of change on climate change, why Adelaide is well-placed for success, and what our city’s next steps will be.

Why Carbon Neutral Adelaide?

Setting a goal to become the world’s first carbon neutral city is ambitious, but there are considerable gains to be had.

The pursuit of this target will strengthen our position as one of the most liveable and sustainable cities in the world, and set an important example internationally.

Adelaide will be able to join forces with other progressive global cities, to share experiences and success stories that can be repeated nationally and internationally.

I also believe that doing the right thing for the environment can be, and inevitably will be, good for our economy. The goal of carbon neutrality will attract investment, and drive innovation.

Businesses will also want the reputation that goes along with being a carbon neutral city.

Eighty percent of carbon emissions are produced by the commercial sector, providing major entrepreneurial opportunities for green businesses. Developing green infrastructure and investing in local green energy will create jobs.

Why should local government lead?

While climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our world today, local government is extremely well-placed to address it.

Like our conference title says, we are the level of government that is “closest to the community”. We have considerable power to bring about real change.

For the last 20 years local government has been a consistent and steady performer in the field of carbon reduction, while others have wavered. We’ve led the way, taking decisive action on transport emissions, urban biodiversity, urban regeneration and waste management.

Local government now has a great base from which to lift our efforts and seize the economic, social, & cultural potential for our communities.

It’s largely local government that is responsible for making policy a reality. According to United Nations estimates, more than 70 per cent of climate change reduction measures and up to 90 per cent of climate change adaptation measures are undertaken by local government.

Local government is also tailor-made for public engagement and stimulating local action. The changes that need to be made will have a real impact on people’s daily lives and it is vital to get the public on board.

Local politicians also facilitate public participation and ensure local people are consulted on projects that affect the landscape, such as wind farms, green walls, energy-saving lighting, and more.

Local governments understand local circumstances, and we can produce unique solutions that result in effective action.

Strong local leadership and forging partnerships between local governments will cut costs and improve policy delivery. We can bring together different sectors of the community together, to turn good ideas into tangible results. Cooperatives for local energy production are a good example of this.

Why is Adelaide well-placed for success?

Adelaide is well-placed to become the world’s first carbon neutral city. Adelaide City Council has a long history of tackling climate change and is a leader among the local government sector for its work in this field.

South Australia was also the first Australian state to legislate a specific greenhouse emissions reduction target.

Since 1994, Adelaide City Council has reduced carbon emissions from its own operations by 60 per cent and carbon emissions from the City community have reduced by 19 per cent since 2007.

We’ve achieved this outcome by greening the grid with wind power, solar power, greening city buildings and other energy efficiency initiatives. We’ve driven this change through incentives, education and partnerships.

In doing so we’ve achieved a number of firsts. We run Tindo, the world’s first electric solar bus to be recharged using 100 per cent solar energy. We’ve got the world’s first public electric vehicle charging station at the Adelaide Central Market. We are also the first Council in South Australia and one of the first in the country to install LED lights on a large scale.

Council’s partnership with the State Government is also very important. This type of collaboration – also known as “vertical alignment” – has strengthened considerably in recent years as Adelaide pursues its vibrant city agenda. It now stands us in great stead to pursue our goal of carbon neutrality.

What steps are we taking?

Since we announced our goal in late April, things have moved quickly. In recent weeks, the Adelaide Town Hall has played host to a number of events.

These included the first council and state government staff strategic workshop and a visit from the Asia Pacific Energy Centre during its low carbon study tour. Last month the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, also paid a visit to Adelaide.

Council and state government are working hard to map out our next steps together. The draft foundation report should be completed by the end of this month, and we are formalising the terms of our working relationship.

We are also building the business case for action, in the lead up to the Paris climate talks in November. Council’s and state government’s partnership sets an important international example, which we hope to share at these talks.

Expectations are high for local government’s role in climate change to be officially acknowledged in Paris, and we certainly hope this takes place.

Council and sate government staff are also working to identify sole and joint projects and engaging with the community.

One of Council’s most exciting ventures will be a $1 million Green Streets Initiative, as part of the 2015-16 budget. This project will see green walls and rooftop gardens established on Council-owned buildings, as well as more street trees.

The development of an Adelaide design manual, our urban design framework, is also underway. This will give us a clear strategy for how we will trial and implement green infrastructure.

In addition, council is in the process of reviewing its Sustainable City Incentives Scheme, which provides generous reimbursements for the installation of water and energy conservation devices. This scheme is available to all residential properties, sporting clubs and community organisations in the City of Adelaide.

We are looking at expanding the scheme to businesses, schools and office buildings, increasing the financial rebate amount, and expanding the types of energy efficiencies and renewable energy technologies on offer.


The fight against climate change must be fought by everybody, or it cannot be fought at all. Local government has a key play to role, which must be recognised by international decision makers.

As local governments we need to mobilise communities, business and citizens on climate change, but to do this we need support and investment.

Pursuing carbon neutrality need not be a drain on your city or your economy. In fact, the opposite is possible, as your goals can open up opportunities for innovative new partnerships, technologies and jobs.

Adelaide City Council is proud of its commitment to carbon neutrality and we are keen to share our journey.

Join the Conversation


Your email address will not be published.

  1. Adelaide: “one of most liveable and sustainable cities in the world.”
    Except when it comes to transport.
    More than 82 per cent travel to work by car (2011 statistic).
    The Best Australian Cities website ranks Adelaide last for projected growth in urban public transport.

    Councillor Mark Hamilton actually wrote a manifesto to encourage more car use in the city, as well as scrap bus lanes and put a moratorium on bike lanes!

    And yes, the Frome Street bike lane was constructed by the council, and it has led to an increase in cycling and reduced traffic congestion (according to a recent independent report published by Adelaide City Council itself). However – On Tuesday at the Economic and Community Development Committee meeting, Councillors voted to develop options and costings to return the street to four lanes of traffic during peak times, allowing parking in off-peak times.

    More roads, and wider roads lead to induced demand – that is, more traffic.

    Adelaide, like the rest of Australia, is falling a long way behind the rest of the world in safe, sustainable, active transport within cities, and this needs to be addressed to make Adelaide “one of the most liveable and sustainable cities in the world.”