Council’s carbon claims disappear into thin air

FREMANTLE council has falsely claimed carbon neutrality for the last two years, having quietly abandoned the purchase of carbon credits to offset its greenhouse emissions.

The council told the Herald this week it would now remove its carbon neutral signage after councillors voted on Wednesday to phase out the One Planet sustainability framework it has been using over the last decade.

Instead it has adopted a “net zero” approach which will see it try to reduce its emissions in line with the 43 per cent target by 2030 set by the Albanese government.

“Until the net zero approach was adopted by council, the option remained to purchase offsets for previous years and retain this status,” the City said in a statement to the Herald.

But with the council’s finances under increasing pressure, carbon credit prices ballooning and questions being raised about the effectiveness of many offset projects funded by credits, the council’s last expenditure was $46,000 which paid for its carbon output in the 2019/20 financial year.

That was split into $14,000 for a Wheatbelt revegetation project and $32,000 for a wind power project in India.

Wind power

A report to the council said Australian carbon credits have risen between 300 – 500 per cent in the last three years, while affordable international projects are getting harder to find.

“[The cheapest international credits] is investing in a wind power project in China priced at $7 per credit (exclusive GST),” the report said.

Despite a decade of following the One Planet principles, the council also failed dismally to hit the 40 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target it set when adopting the Low Carbon City Plan in 2011.

The council was supposed to hit that target by 2020 and had undertaken a number of initiatives such as investing in solar panels for 10 of its buildings, installing a geothermal heat pump and natural gas co-generation to warm its leisure centre pools, purchasing an electric vehicle charging station and upgrading to LED lighting.

But the latest stocktake of the council’s greenhouse gas emissions, done in 2020/21 found that it had improved it position by just 2 per cent since 2007/08.

The council said that changing methods of recording emissions might not given an accurate representation between years.

“The City committed to using carbon credits to help reach carbon neutrality, which was an accepted standard in previous years.

“When carbon credits were adopted, there were less green power solutions and alternative technologies available to help address climate change.

“Over time more sustainable technologies and greener power solutions have become available. This will allow us to move away from carbon credits, which have become more challenging.

“Responsible governments, organisations and individuals are now working towards net zero.

Over the past decade, the City has demonstrated an ongoing commitment towards reducing emissions as well as using carbon offsets.

Examples include the City exceeding its annual tree planting targets, the construction of the Walyalup Civic Centre, which uses solar power and passive heating and cooling solutions, the installation of LED street lighting, solar-powered lighting at South Beach carpark, the introduction of the FOGO system and the use of geothermal energy at the Fremantle Leisure Centre.

The City has also partnered with WALGA and Synergy to receive 100 per cent renewable energy to displace the fossil fuel energy at 14 City buildings and facility sites that include the Fremantle Arts Centre, the Fremantle Leisure Centre and the Samson Recreation Centre.”

Mayor Hannah Fitzgerald says the city was at the forefront of addressing climate change and used tools and solutions that were available.

“The carbon credit market has changed significantly in terms of cost and credibility of some suppliers.

“The number and type of solutions now available that go directly to reducing our own emissions have increased significantly in recent years and the City is moving to keep pace with that change.

“We have invested in solar and geothermal energy for our facilities and buildings, planted more trees, installed energy-efficient LED lighting, signed up for 100 per cent renewable energy and have now adopted a net zero position that brings us in line with federal and state agencies.

“Addressing climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our lifetimes and how we tackle this monumental task is continually changing.

Monumental task

“Although the City has used carbon credits in the past, and will continue to use them where we cannot directly reduce our emissions, we have a preference for using our resources for direct emission reduction strategies and practises.

“As credible carbon credits become more costly, continuing to purchase them simply to retain a ‘carbon neutral’ status could be at the cost of doing real projects here in Fremantle that deliver carbon reductions.

“We are also committed to transparency about the level of emissions that we need to address, even to the extent of including those of our contractors.

“I believe that this approach is both ambitious and responsible.”

Former mayor Brad Pettitt, who got the council into One Planet, wasn’t thrilled it was being phased out, but said adopting net zero approach was a better approach than the old carbon neutral setting.

Dr Pettitt, now a WA Upper House member for the Greens, said the big difference was that net zero had tangible targets along the way, while carbon neutrality had a longer-term aim that made it harder to quantify how an organisation was travelling.

But he expects the council’s emission to drop more quickly since the last audit, saying there had been a number of delays to projects caused by Western Power.

A big one is switching street lighting over to energy efficient LED lights, which could have the power bill and reduce maintenance costs.

“NGOs tried really hard to come up with a model, and local governments would pay for it themselves if they could realise the cost benefits, but Western Power just wouldn’t get on board,” Dr Pettitt said.

He also expects councils to start purchasing electric vehicles for their fleets, as the cost is starting to become competitive with standard cars.

Dr Pettitt says the 43 per cent emission reduction is “absolutely achievable” but will need further investment.

“This goes for all levels of government; you don’t get real reductions in emissions without investing in renewable energy, in more electric vehicles and with more efficient buildings.”

One Planet’s global head office Bioregional UK has put Fremantle’s status as a “One Planet Living Leader” on hold and says the council may be stripped of the title if it can’t show “tangible improvements”.


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