Sustainability issues in Canberra – background

The ACT Government has long been aware of the need to improve the sustainability of Canberra. In 2004 it published an ecological footprint for Canberra which revealed that 

“…because of our affluence, the density of our city and our location we are consuming at levels which are slightly higher than nationally, and that the land required to maintain our lifestyle is greater than the area of the ACT…”.

An update of that footprint was released in August 2008 as part of the ACT State of the Environment Report 2007/2008. This showed that while Canberra has improved in some areas, such as water conservation (under stringent water restrictions), other areas required improvement:

“It is estimated that about 5000 tonnes of salts are released into the Murrumbidgee each year from Canberra household greywater, in particular from the detergents we use in our homes.”
 “…..each of us spends an average $1475 per year on unused items (mostly food) makes us the most wasteful jurisdiction in Australia.”
 “…. the ACT has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per person from residential electricity in the country.”

The report also revealed the ACT’s ecological footprint had increased by 15% per person since 1998.

There have been a number of strategies, plans and actions to improve Canberra’s sustainability including the 2004 Canberra Plan.  Of note is the 2007 ‘Weathering the Change – The ACT Climate Change Strategy 2007-2025’.  The Strategy commits the ACT Government to a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60% of 2000 levels by 2050, with a milestone of limiting 2025 greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels. 

This presents a challenge especially when the average Canberran was responsible for 13.7 tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2005. This is equivalent to having more than 3 cars on the road per person each year. This adds up to 4.45 million tonnes of greenhouse gases for 2005, an increase on previous years.

The ACT's emission profile is different to the national profile. There is almost no heavy industry or intensive agriculture in the Territory; instead our emissions are primarily (72.2%) due to heavy consumption of electricity (and gas) to heat, cool and light our buildings followed (distantly but significantly) by our use of motor vehicles (22.8%). Due to the ACT's unique emissions profile, it is very important that we address our building energy efficiency, urban planning and transport planning and practices.

The ACT State of the Environment Report 2007 – 2008 warns that we need to accelerate our actions on these fronts whilst still maintaining community wellbeing, and improving our management of ecological systems.   Of most relevance to the Sustainable Future program is the recommendation that:

We have a wealth of knowledge upon which to draw in our universities, CSIRO and ACT research centres. The government has policies on sustainability and the business community is recognising the importance of sustainability and climate change to their future. These are strong building blocks upon which to progress change.

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