LETTER | The Healthy Reef partnership will benefit Douglas


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Dear Editor,

There are two aspects to this proposal for Council’s participation in the Healthy Reef Partnership. One is the Economic aspect and the other, Environmental. Both are inextricably linked.

Firstly, I want to make the point that the Council has, in my opinion, as a significant organisation and community leader in Douglas, a corporate social responsibility to reduce its CO2 emissions. It has two opportunities to do this. One by changing its operations to directly reduce emissions generated by its activities and the other opportunity is to purchase carbon credits.

This partnership proposal now before the Council is directly focussed on the Great Barrier Reef, our number one tourism asset.

Whilst the carbon mitigation project proposed for the Council’s participation is not local, being situated west of Bundaberg, it has to be recognised that CO2 in the atmosphere does not confine itself to localities.

Because of jet streams and weather patterns CO2 moves around the planet. CO2 generated in Germany, or China or the USA moves through the entire global atmosphere, is absorbed by our oceans, including the ocean surrounding the Great Barrier Reef, causing ocean acidification and damaging the Reef.

Consequently I don’t have a problem committing to a carbon offset project in another locality because it will contribute to lowering global CO2 levels which will, because of the reasons I have mentioned, ultimately benefit the Reef.

It has to be emphasised too that this particular proposition to purchase carbon credits is a carbon sequestration project. The site nominated for the project is not one directed at reducing runoff from land into the ocean surrounding the Reef. There are separate projects addressing that threat to the Reef’s welfare, some of which the Council is already contemplating or is participating in, but in any event are also proposed as part of the recommendation before us today.

The recommendation now before the Council also includes committing to CO2 mitigation projects in Douglas. Indeed at page 94 of the CEO’s report included in today’s Council agenda just one of those projects is identified. That being a project for a behind the meter solar power generation project which will reduce Council’s carbon footprint at one of its facilities by 40%.

It has been said in recent social media posts and other places that the Council has not consulted the community about this proposition. That is incorrect. In fact I believe there is demonstrated community support for the Council participating in partnerships such as this.

In a recent survey of the community as part of the Council’s development of a corporate plan for the next 5 years, and which generated over 800 responses from the community, people were asked what their priorities would be for spending $100 of the Council’s revenue.

The result was that the Economy and the Environment ranked third and fourth respectively in priority behind Roads, which was the top priority, and Parks, Gardens and Street Beautification which was the second priority. The Economy and the Environment were given a higher priority over nine other priorities including Water and Sewer Infrastructure, Drainage, Footpaths, Sport and Recreation, Community Services and Libraries.

Additionally, there have been four community forums facilitated in recent weeks by the CEO to enable input into the Corporate Plan. There was also an on-line survey and a “post card” mail out. As a consequence of community feedback from these consultations a separately identified theme of “Environmental Stewardship” has emerged as a community priority for inclusion in the Council’s Corporate Plan. One of the goals to support this theme that the Douglas community itself has identified is “to implement programs that reduce our environmental footprint”.

The CEO hasn’t made this stuff up. As a consequence of community feedback on the draft Corporate Plan and its reflection of community priorities it is evident there is a strong preference for the Council to meet its environmental stewardship responsibilities by responding positively and proactively to threats to our environment.

The potential economic benefits flowing from marketing our green credentials is evident from the results of a community workshop conducted by the Council in Port Douglas in May of this year.

At that workshop representatives of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, the Douglas business community and our agricultural sector were supportive of the Council focussing on environmentally positive initiatives, including carbon offsetting to be used as a marketing opportunity for Douglas as a tourism destination.

I will point out also that the recommendation now before the Council is entirely consistent with the Council’s Climate Change (Council Operations) General Policy adopted by the Council on 12 December 2017 which gained unanimous support from all Councillors. The very same Councillors sitting around the table now.

In summary, this particular Healthy Reef Partnership is an opportunity to offer carbon neutral options to tourists. It aims to achieve this by working alongside local businesses and the agricultural sector in Douglas to go carbon neutral, improve water quality and promote those businesses to visitors and investors. It includes businesses and Douglas Shire Council investing into existing carbon offset projects which restore degraded wet lands, improve water quality and deliver carbon sequestration to the GBR catchment. This includes, down the track, developing local offset projects.

In light of what I have said, I believe the Council has a mandate to support this proposition evidenced by the positive outcomes for this type of initiative demonstrated at the recent corporate plan community consultations and a business forum. The community has clearly indicated it expects the Council to give strong environmental stewardship a very high priority.

I also believe I have a mandate to support this proposal because I have successfully stood at two Council elections on a platform which included the Council being strong on environmental protection, including protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree World Heritage Area.

- David Carey, Douglas Shire Council

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