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For decades, Australian local governments have been at the forefront of climate action. Councils have implemented energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on their assets and with their communities that have resulted in millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas abatement and have worked with and mobilised communities to join the challenge at the grass roots level. Fast forward to 2016 and the successful Paris Agreement 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. The first is around how Australian councils set localised science based targets that align with the ambitious target of the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees. The second is that the Paris Agreement explicitly recognizes and engages local and subnational governments, which is a significant success for councils and regions around the world.

So now what?

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.

This means Australia has committed to implementing an economy-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The strength of this target can and should be debated, but it is a national target and Australia has signed the Paris Agreement. This means Australian councils now have a critically important role to play – and indeed a more powerful advocacy position than ever – in ensuring that national targets are met, and giving the world the best chance of meeting the overarching 1.5-degree target.

This means councils need to understand the importance of setting local climate targets that are based on science and in doing so reflect the 1.5 degree target agreed to in Paris. To do 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 that is derived from analysis completed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Australian Climate Change Authority (CCA).

Dozens of councils around Australia are now setting science-derived targets. The Science Derived Targets Working Group is comprised of Australian local government and climate change experts who share knowledge on developing carbon budgets and setting targets that are in line with the latest science, as well as being equitable and fair across Australian councils.

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