There was standing room only in the public gallery on Wednesday night when Bellingen Shire Council voted to declare a climate emergency.
The motion, which passed 4-2 without amendment, recognised that "we are in a state of emergency that requires urgent action by all levels of government, that human-induced climate change represents one of the greatest threats to humanity, civilisation, and other species, and that it is still possible to prevent the most catastrophic outcomes if, and only if, societies take emergency action now".
Council also resolved to hold a workshop by the end of this year to examine how its community strategic plan, works program and planning documents can address the climate emergency.
Bellingen is the fifth council in NSW and the 15th in Australia to have passed a similar declaration and worldwide climate emergency declaration campaigns (like CEDAMIA) have signed up 423 governments to date.
Addressing the meeting, Bellingen resident Fiona Morgan from the Coffs Coast Climate Action Group noted that the world is on track for a 3.1 degree increase in temperature by end of the century, which she said will "cook us all".
"The IPCC recently said we have approximately 12 years to prevent the worst of the climate change disaster," she said.
Speaking in favour of the motion, which was put in the form of a Mayoral Minute, Cr Dominic King said concern about climate change was what had led him to become involved in local government.
"The reason climate change was always high for me was that I had a fear: a fear for what my kids would experience and what their kids would experience," he said.
He expressed amazement that climate change as an issue had turned out to be a mere blip in the state election, despite the unprecedented natural disasters unfolding all around us.
As the the tier of government closest to the people, councils would be on the frontline of dealing with the impacts of the climate emergency and needed to demonstrate leadership and start prodding state and federal governments to take action before it was too late, Cr King said.
The only person to speak against the motion was Cr Desmae Harrison, who prefaced her remarks by acknowledging the passion that had brought people to the meeting and by stating that she was not a climate change sceptic.
"I question the right of council to declare it is an emergency," Cr Harrison said, adding that this put a feeling of fear into vulnerable people.
She also said spending time writing letters to higher levels of government about climate change was a waste of council's staff resources.
In response, Cr Toni Wright-Turner said getting action started was the problem and leadership at a local level was needed.
"It is going to be local voices, local communities, the people, who will push this change as our governments are failing to act," Cr Wright-Turner said
Unlike places further west, Bellingen Shire has not been ravaged by drought and water shortages but Cr Jennie Fenton noted locals had been frightened by the ferocity of the storm that struck before Christmas.
"So many people felt the winds in that storm were like nothing they'd seen before," she said.
Cr Steve Klipin said although he always feels some reservations about council becoming involved in matters that at face value seem not to be part of its core business, in this instance he thought supporting the motion was a no-brainer.
"It's not dissimilar to the action local governments took in the 1980s, banning radioactive waste travelling through their communities," he said. "Supporting this is not a Greens thing. This is not about politics. This is about a moral imperative that affects all of us."
Cr Desmae Harrison and Cr Steve Jenkins voted against the motion, while Crs King, Fenton, Wright-Turner and Klipin voted in favour of it. Cr Steve Carter was absent.
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