Science-based Targets, the Compact of Mayors and Community Greenhouse Inventories

Alexi Lynch and Shane Melotte

Over the last month we’ve attended local government conferences and events throughout Australia where setting climate targets has been high on the agenda – including greenhouse reduction targets, renewable energy targets, energy efficiency targets and the most recent trend, science-based targets. This has been impacted by some other big changes in council land around the ongoing quest for accurate community emissions data and significant local and international programs that tie everything together.

So read on for everything you wanted to know about science-based targets, the Compact of Mayors and community greenhouse inventories - but were too afraid to ask or not sure where to start!

Back When Over 200 Councils had Greenhouse Reduction Targets

A decade ago over 200 Australian councils had greenhouse gas reduction targets. The majority of these targets were developed through ICLEI Oceania’s Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program and were aligned with the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. We generally saw targets in the range of 10-20% reduction "by 2010" compared to a variety of base years.

>> Haven’t got time to keep reading right now? Download our 2-page summary on science-based targets, greenhouse gas inventories and the Compact of Mayors.

Due to a variety of factors (including lack of monitoring, insufficient data, funding cuts and closing of the CCP Program) very few councils checked in to see if they met their targets. And even fewer set new targets. However, it seems as though we’re starting to turn full circle with targets back on the agenda. It’s fascinating to be part of the discussions having been involved back in the CCP days when targets were based on factors such as the Kyoto Protocol, funding for future action, available abatement and “what everyone else was doing”. Ultimately measurement and targets are valuable tools to help frame and focus the main game – action!

At the Energy Efficiency & Sustainability Conference in Sydney in late August we heard a great reminder from speakers of leading councils that “you won’t aim high if you don’t have a target" and “targets absolutely generate momentum to support action". Likewise, at the wonderful MAV Environment Conference in mid-July we heard how the likes of Mornington Peninsula and Macedon Ranges Shire went about developing their reduction targets.

We also heard from Stan Krpan from Sustainability Victoria talk about the TAKE2 Pledge which is Victoria’s collective climate change pledge initiative to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and keep the global temperature rise to under 2 degrees. We were thrilled to hear Stan talk about what the science says, which was also central to the conference address by Anthony Carbines, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.

As a TAKE2 Founding Partner we’ve been involved in the local government consultation process and are encouraged by the opportunity for a state government-led initiative to truly follow the science. But what does “following the science” actually mean? How the hell do you actually create a science-based target for a council?!

Science-Based Targets - The Basics

The Paris Agreement adopted in December 2015 represents a historic turning point in the international fight against climate change. Central to the adoption of the Paris Agreement are items of critical importance to Australian councils.

  1. The first is around how Australian councils set localised science based targets that align their efforts with the ambitious target to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C
  2. The second is that the Paris Agreement explicitly recognizes and engages local and subnational governments

Since the Paris conference the dust has settled and in April 2016 a total of 175 countries officially signed the Paris Climate Agreement at the United Nations. Australia was one of these 175 countries meaning we have committed to implementing an economy-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

This means the opportunity that Australian councils have for impact is now greater than ever – and indeed their advocacy position is more powerful than ever – in ensuring that national targets contribute our fair share to the critical 1.5-degree global target.

It also means that councils need to understand the importance and process of setting local climate targets that are based on science and reflect the 1.5-degree target agreed to in Paris. This requires moving away from the traditional approach of setting targets based on criteria such as available budget; community expectations; executive support and known actions. It means moving towards a science-based approach to setting targets to frame and focus action.

Science-Based Targets for Australian Councils 

A science-based carbon budget for a council’s corporate and community emissions provides a framework to set targets and demonstrate a fair share of action being undertaken. It enables a clear understanding of the scale of action that is genuinely required and helps define responsibility for action.

The Ironbark team has been drawing on the invaluable work completed by the IPCC and Climate Change Authority to translate global targets into localised carbon budgets for Australian councils. We’ve been working with councils to develop local science-based targets by scaling the national budget down to a local fair share for council incorporating variables to better represent the capacity and opportunities for a council to act on reducing emissions. From this work there are four ways a council could set a science-based target, each involving various degree of expertise to develop and a differing degree of “fairness”:

  1. Follow the CCA and adopt the same goal
  2. Derived from council population data and the CCA Budget
  3. Attempt a more representative budget using additional data
  4. Nationally Agreed Approach – Locally Determined Contributions

For any council wanting to step ahead of the curve and set a science-based target, these can be developed right now. If you want more background make sure you check out our webinar where we provide further context and demystify the concepts, and also download the presentation and 15-page Q&A Report from here.

Community Greenhouse Gas Inventories Are Back

Of course a target means nothing if you can’t determine your baseline emissions. Developing a corporate inventory is straight-forward enough. The success of a corporate inventory is based on good quality data (utility billing data, fuel cards and landfill data - if applicable) and using a recognised methodology should get you most of the way here. Having worked with many councils to complete inventories compliant with NGERS and the related NCOS protocol, we would strongly recommend councils develop a corporate inventory – at the very least to identify and prioritise opportunities for action. Do it yourself or get assistance, but most of all do it! 

On the other hand, community (or municipal-wide) inventories have been a source of frustration for many councils over the last decade.

Fortunately, things are changing. Over the last 12 months Ironbark has been working with councils throughout Australia to collate data from traditional sources (ABS and ABARES) as well as directly from utilities, CSIRO and other state sources (for example around waste and transport) to develop community inventories compliant with the GPC or “Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories”.

This last point is pretty important, because GPC is the recognised reporting standard for councils and communities. You can download it here and read through it if you have a spare 4 hours or so, noting it’s a 180-page document outlining things like accounting principles; how to define inventory boundaries; reporting requirements; calculation methods; and how to track performance and manage an inventory over time.

The development of an inventory is only the beginning – however it provides the necessary foundation and baseline data to set targets, develop action plans, define responsibility for action, engage other stakeholders to reduce emissions and track the community’s progress towards reducing emissions. 

Compact of Mayors

This all ties together with the Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of mayors and city officials committing to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change and track their progress publicly.

The Compact of Mayors is an agreement by councils to fight climate change in a consistent and complimentary manner to national efforts. The completion of emissions inventories and setting credible emissions reduction targets are two key prerequisites for joining the Compact.

The Compact of Mayors is not run by a single body like an ICLEI, C40 or the UN. Instead, all the big players are on board in a partnership supported by the who’s-who of climate change and local action. And it's big. Very big. 526 councils, representing half a billion people, have now committed to the Compact of Mayors and in doing so have committed to: 

  1. Submit a greenhouse gas emission inventory 
  2. Register a greenhouse gas reduction target 
  3. Submit a Climate Action Plan
  4. Report on current and future climate hazards 
  5. Conduct a climate change risk assessment 
  6. Develop a Climate Adaptation Plan

In Australia, five councils have completed all of these steps and have been declared officially compliant to the Compact of Mayors including Joondalup City Council (WA), Mornington Peninsula Shire (Vic) and Port Phillip City Council (Vic) who worked with Ironbark – in partnership with ICLEI Oceania – to reach this milestone in early 2016. (The other two are Melbourne and Sydney). Additional councils are currently completing the steps for compliance.

Any Australian council can commit to the Compact of Mayors. This is not about reinventing the wheel but about harnessing the collective impact of council action and working together as a sector to fight climate change. Indeed, many Australian councils have already completed many of the activities and could be compliant within 12 months. Who's going to be next to join the leadership group?

More Resources

  • Want a 2-page summary of this article? Here it is.
  • Want to watch the 1-hour webinar that explains it all in more details? It's here.
  • Want to download our detailed Science-Based Targets Presentation and 15-page Q&A Report or discuss setting a science-based target, developing a community inventory or committing to the Compact of Mayors? Right here
  • Want to know what song ended up in position number 4 in the Billboard Top 100 for 1988, the year of the Toronto Conference when countries from around the world (including Australia) first discussed implementing “science-based targets” of at least a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2005? Click here (with apologies in advance)