What does a future with climate change look like in Adelaide?

Real action on climate change requires collaboration among diverse stakeholders, including council, residents and businesses, writes Mark Siebentritt.

Photo: Fabian Blank

Photo: Fabian Blank

Daily we hear reminders of the urgent need to act on climate change. Last year alone we saw global temperatures at 1.4’C above pre-industrial levels, nearing the 1.5’C target set in the Paris Agreement, to which Australia is a signatory.

Despite various pressing issues, climate change still ranks as of one of the highest priorities for many, from global through to local communities.

In response to this concern, climate change continues to be a key talking point in political campaigns from federal down to a local government level. But beyond the slogans what does action look like at a local level for residents and businesses?

As the City of Adelaide endorses its Climate Change Strategy we can explore how the city plans to reduce emissions and build resilience to a different future climate.

Adelaide has a significant advantage in emissions reduction due to the decarbonisation of its power grid. The state’s current target is for electricity generation to be sourced from net 100 per cent renewables by 2027. As Saul Griffith, co-founder and chief scientist at Rewiring Australia, suggests, the key is to “electrify everything”.

In Adelaide, this means continuing to electrify building infrastructure, transitioning council fleet cars to electric vehicles (EVs), supporting micro-mobility solutions and expanding EV charging infrastructure to keep pace with rising EV sales.

As a result, our city will gradually start to function, look and sound different.

Some critics argue that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a “green” policy disconnected from economic realities. However, market forces are driving these changes as much as sustainability goals. Look no further than at the recent Adelaide Economic Development Agency Summit, where the Managing Director of JLL South Australia highlighted the growing demand for low-carbon buildings as a key driver for future commercial real estate occupancy.

The other side of the climate action coin is preparing for a different future climate.

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In Adelaide that means getting ready for hotter and drier conditions, with climate science already suggesting we could experience 50C days by mid-century. Heat is not only a silent killer of vulnerable people in our cities, but it reduces business activity and increases running costs.

To tackle heat, we need to plant more trees along the streets of the CBD, not just in our park lands, and ensure they are irrigated to support optimal cooling.

Large trees with extensive canopies, supported by deep, irrigated soils, will be further prioritised as long-term investments in urban vibrancy, akin to footpaths and street lights. Where trees are not feasible we will need to invest in shading structures or arbours.

Elsewhere, we’ll see increased use of road, building and roofing materials that don’t heat up as much as their current day counterparts. The trials that have dotted the city in the past, like cool roofs in Bowen Street, will become business as usual.

Implementing these changes will be challenging.

For example, how do we ensure that EV chargers are in keeping with the look of the city and their technology isn’t rapidly superseded? How will we support building owners and small businesses to make the transition away from natural gas in buildings toward electrification? How will we manage the upfront costs of tree planting with long-term benefits in mind straddling multiple generations of city users and ratepayers? How will we fund these changes?

On the point of funding, I have been an advocate of no longer purchasing carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutral status at least in the immediate short term. This was a worthy ambition in the past and drove significant focus on improving emissions reduction overall.

But as we evolve our strategy and move through times of budget repair, the focus now needs to be on doubling down on direct emissions reduction.

Real action on climate change requires collaboration among diverse stakeholders, including council, residents and businesses. Together, we can navigate this transition and make meaningful progress in creating a climate resilient Adelaide that benefits our residents, businesses and city users.

Dr Mark Siebentritt is a South Ward Councillor and Executive Director of Edge Environment.

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