The greatest threat
Climate change. It’s here and it’s happening all around us.
It affects the air we breathe, the water we drink, our weather patterns, food security, industry supply chains, financial markets, and all the natural, economic and social systems we’ve come to depend on. It damages our infrastructure and harms both our health and the health of other living things.
Our planet has warmed by about 1°C since industrialisation (taking 1850–1900 as the baseline period). And it’s on track to warm further. This will mean more serious and frequent heat extremes and bushfires, fewer cold extremes, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans.
The World Health Organization calls climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.
Our role in countering climate change
One way or another, a lot of our work relates to climate change.
‘The EPA has a two-pronged approach to mitigating the effects of climate change,’ says our Executive Director for Engagement, Education and Programs, Liesbet Spanjaard. ‘A lot of our programs are designed to help prevent the effects of climate change, especially in the waste space. We also manage the clean-up and recovery efforts of major climatic events like bushfires and floods.’
In 2021 the NSW Government released the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041: Stage 1 2021–2027. This document explains how NSW will transition to a circular economy. It focuses on cutting the State’s emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which are major culprits in warming the atmosphere.
Diverting materials from landfill is the ultimate objective of many of our programs and policies such as Love Food Hate Waste, Bin Trim, NSW’s 20-year waste strategy, the New South Wales Plastics Action Plan and Remanufacture NSW.
‘The EPA has a two-pronged approach to mitigating the effects of climate change’
Under the State’s Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020–2030, the EPA is working to make sure activities in NSW take at least as much greenhouse-gas pollution out of the air as they put into it. This is the bedrock for other State actions on climate change.
We were very busy in 2022 with recovery and clean-up efforts after the floods that affected northern NSW and communities around the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers. These extreme weather events have been linked to climate change. And the catastrophic bushfires of 2019–20 were promoted by high temperatures and prolonged dry weather, also attributed to climate change. Nearly three years on from those fires we’re still providing support for the clean-up efforts, through five major recovery programs.
A formal action plan
In August 2021 the Land and Environment Court ordered the EPA to take steps to safeguard against climate change. This was after a bushfire survivors’ group, Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, argued to the court that the EPA hadn’t been doing enough to curb greenhouse-gas pollution of the atmosphere. In response, we’re developing a formal climate change action plan. The court ruling has only served to strengthen our resolve to work with government, industry and the people of NSW in reducing emissions.
Going carbon neutral
We’ve started our journey to become a carbon neutral government agency.
Our Carbon Neutral Working Group is looking to change processes and behaviour within the EPA. And that in turn will be another step towards achieving the NSW Government’s Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020–2030.
The working group has 18 members from across the EPA. It has identified key areas where real change can be made: transport, datacollection, working from home, procurement and communications.
‘The Carbon Neutral Working Group is passionate and active’
‘The Carbon Neutral Working Group is passionate and active,’ says Audrey Yim from the group’s communications team. ‘There’s been sustained interest in participating. It just matches the values of the staff.’
This year we also engaged consultancy 2XE to advise on how we can reduce our carbon footprint. 2XE found most of our carbon emissions are from electricity use (55%) and fuel-driven fleet vehicles (21%). It suggested three major changes: using light sensors and energy-efficient equipment in the office; using hybrid or electric vehicles for our car fleet; and switching our energy supply to renewable sources.