Australian planners have declared a climate and biodiversity emergency.
It’s self-evident to say that climate change and biodiversity loss matter to urban planners. Read any planning policy from any Australian state, territory or local government and this becomes evident. So why is a declaration necessary?
The reason is simple: despite its obvious relevance and importance to the profession, we still, every day, see decisions made that do not account for the enormity of this challenge. Yes, there is the science, but if the science were enough to convince us then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
The birthplace of modern western planning lies in the utopian vision of reimagining the industrial world into healthy cities. Today we face a similar challenge, but those utopian thinkers (regardless of their merits) had the physical and tangible impacts of industrialisation to point to and fix.
We are up against a much less visible beast, one that even if appropriately addressed will never be fixed in a single political term and therefore carries much less political capital. However, the devastating nature of the 2020 bushfires has demonstrated to both rural and urban populations just how impactful not addressing this crisis can be.
The mega bushfires showed us climate change is in our backyards (CCIBY). Through both the change of our climate and ecological damage, we have seen how the management of our built environment has put short-termism, fossil fuels and private cars first, and people and nature last.
In Australia, the built environment encompasses more than a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, we need to decarbonise our sector and it is our responsibility as built environment professionals to re-examine our practices, evolve and adapt.
Seeing how central the environment is to planners, we sought to create our own “declare” movement to put praxis and accountability at the centre of the profession we so dearly love.
We take inspiration from Sue Hendler, a planning champion, who reminds us planning is a moral endeavour that is focused on long-term thinking and evidence-based planning for the public interest.
Planners Declare is as such a network of passionate and diverse planners who believe that it is important for the profession to publicly declare and advocate for a proactive, progressive and feasible response to the ecological crisis we face. Planners in all sectors, from public, private, academic to non-for-profit sectors, need to be held accountable for the actions they undertake.
In saying that, we recognise the delicate circumstances planners face either at the behest of politics or a client. We therefore want to say: we see you and you are not alone.
We are here to be critical but positive, to support some of the good work that continues to get done despite the barriers you face in being an ethical planner and effectuate real change.
We aim to provide tangible resources and platforms to address this wicked problem. Our advocacy is not founded in the belief that we need to reinvent the wheel, rather, it is pointing out the obvious and seeking to demonstrate leadership, particularly to younger planners who feel despondent about the future.
Leadership and accountability are needed in our profession across its diverse areas of practice as planning seeks (or should be seeking) to implement adaptation measures to address the climate crisis. Leadership in the planning community can take shape at multiple different levels.
At universities, university operations have the opportunity to go green and divest from fossil fuels. Planning education can also better prepare young planners for the enormity of the task they face upon entering the profession.
Private planning practices can lead by example, make changes at an organisational level (such as becoming carbon neutral) and seek to create institutional change by implementing this ethos into their client-based work. We look to those already doing this through B-Corp and other accreditations of the sort.
Local governments, as many have already started to, can implement sustainable procurement practices, continue to advocate and seek changes to current ESD requirements and prioritise active transport infrastructure.
Public planners have an even a bigger obstacle to overcome as the work they do shapes the regulations and conditions the rest of us planners work, research and advocate in. We stand with you.
The impacts of planning decisions can be disastrous, and planners often know this. It is important to acknowledge that planning operates within particular constraints that limit the degree of influence that the profession has. We are not advocating that planning has all the answers to the crisis. However, we believe that planning can and should be a vehicle for positive change rather than a safe keeper of the status quo.
We need a coordinated, consistent voice – we know the facts, we have a good understanding of how to deal with them – we need to cut through and get working. Now is the time for action, advocacy and leadership.
Planners Declare, respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners, on whose unceded lands we live and work on. If you want to join us in this declaration please sign-up at plannerdeclare.org to be notified about the launch of phase-one of the Australian Planners Declare Climate & Biodiversity Emergency Movement.
Brighid Sammon, Roland Postma, Alexandra Faure, Naomi Beck, Kristina Klimova, Andrew Holmes & Nakita Thompson founding members of Planners Declare.
Spinifex is an opinion column open to all, so-called because it’s at the “spikey” end of sustainability, focused on the more difficult or challenging issues that we need to change to create a more sustainable world. Spinifex may be inconvenient or annoying at times, but in fact, it’s highly resilient and essential to nurturing biodiversity and holding the topsoil together in a hostile environment. If you would like to contribute, we require 700+ words. For a more detailed brief please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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