Power to the people - local communities unite at national climate change summit

"Take back the power!" was the catch-cry from self-professed Republican and Mayor of the Californian City of Lancaster, Rex Parris, as he launched the Cities Power Partnership Summit in Kiama last month.

Created by the Climate Council just over a year ago, the Cities Power Partnership now has 300 towns and cities involved, representing 10 million Australians. 

I attended the inaugural CPP Summit on behalf of Low Carbon Living Australia, joining local council representatives from around Australia to spend two days learning about how to tackle climate change at a grassroots level. The event showcased council driven, environmental initiatives from around the country, promoting both the exchange of ideas and approaches to problem solving.  

Rex Parris took to the stage beneath an image of Donald Trump (in all his open mouthed and double chinned glory). With this pointedly political backdrop, he shared the story of his city’s journey to becoming one of the US’s first zero net energy cities. Despite facing substantial political obstruction, Parris confronted what he describes as a “climate emergency” from an interesting, conservative’s perspective - that the reality of climate change is in fact, a public safety issue. 

With Trump dominating proceedings, Parris was able to highlight his belief that real action on climate change need not be confined to the Federal or ‘high office’ level, but should be driven by concerned citizens, people who vote, who pay rates, who participate in their communities in a myriad of ways every day.

Over the course of the conference, Parris’ enthusiasm for community driven change was reflected in the many examples that were shared from all over Australia. In Victoria, the City of Port Phillip has just built a 80MW wind farm which will power over 17,000 homes. The Sunshine Coast has become Australia's first local government to offset its entire energy consumption and revealingly, our nation’s capital is on track to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2020. Encouragingly, international behemoth Google has given the rise of electric vehicles an enormous boost, by listing recharge stations on their Google Maps app. 

From my perspective, one of the most heartening schemes presented at the CPP Summit was the Community Power Partnership Agreement, or PPA. These agreements allow renters and individuals who aren’t in a financial position to cover the upfront costs of solar installation to access renewable energy through shared community projects. Projects such as this one are now happening all around the country.

As Rex said, it’s about taking back the power and whilst the challenges posed by climate change are enormous and terrifying, if managed correctly, the opportunities it presents are seismic too. The shift to clean, renewable energy future could, for the first time in history, literally place power back into the hands of ordinary citizens, people like you and me. Which for my money, is definitely something to work towards, to demand from the powers that be and pursue from the grass roots up.