Exploits of an accidental leader

Exploits of an accidental leader.

This essay looks at adoption of Kyoto Protocols by City of Fremantle, Western Australia as a case study of sustainability leadership.


This paper covers a local government endeavour that I have been involved in since 2006, in the context of Sustainability Leadership.  It charts the journey for the City of Fremantle Council in adopting the Kyoto Protocols (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 1997), the motivators and the impacts.  The subsequent change in the corporate psyche exceeded the authors wildest dreams when the process was initiated.  Whilst this process was instrumental for local government it was also a personal journey for the author, at the time a relatively new Local Government Councillor wishing to play a part in addressing an international and intergenerational injustice.

 Fremantle is a Port City servicing the Western Australian capital of Perth.  Perth is credited as been the most isolated capital city in the world (Daily Telegraph 2010).  Australia has three tiers of government, Federal, State and Local and while the Federal and State Governments are recognised in Australia’s constitution, Local Government is not.  At the start of this journey the Federal Government was a right wing Liberal coalition and the State had a left wing Labor Government.  At the end of the story both those positions had changed, with a Labor Government in Canberra and a Liberal coalition in Western Australia.  Shortly after being sworn in the new Rudd Federal Labor Government fulfilled an election promise by ratifying Kyoto on 3rd December 2007.

 The Motivation

 The author was elected to Fremantle Council in May 2005 after a short, but intense time as a community activist on issues relating to community health and wellbeing.  While always being cognisant of global environmental issues through the work of people such as David Suzuki and issues such as ozone depleting CFC the author was not a climate activist.  The work done as Convenor of the local stakeholder group the Tip Action Group (Strachan 2002) and as community activist with the Save South Beach (SF&HHCA 2003) campaign served to focus the author’s attention on social equity issues which led to a heightened awareness of global warming.  That said standing for Council was not driven by global warming concerns, but by a desire for better community representation in decisions of the Fremantle Council.  At the time I considered Global Warming important, but believed abatement was the domain of Federal Government.  A year later Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Classics 2006) was on general release and stimulated members of the South Fremantle community to examine ways to take action on climate change.  One of Al Gore’s recommended actions was to lobby ones politicians, and that triggered a realisation that as a third tier politician at the Local Government level I had a responsibility to use my position to act and not default responsibility to the Federal Parliament.  If the Australian Federal Government refused to sign Kyoto then I believed it was up to Fremantle Council to let them know that their decision was not in our name.

 2006 had seen the Australian Federal Government under the Prime Ministership of John Howard steadfastly refuse to sign up to Kyoto.  Australia’s stance was seen as a calculated effort to undermine the signatory nation’s attempts to address global warming (Hamilton 2007) and was becoming an issue of national disgrace, on 18-October 2006 David Suzuki said;

By rejecting Kyoto, Mr Howard declares that Australia is an international outlaw, not to be bound by these kinds of treaties the rest of the world agrees to.”  (Suzuki 2006)

Opposition Parliamentarians were equally critical; on 1st November 2006 the Federal Member for Adelaide Kate Ellis said there was;

need for strong government leadership to address the real and present threat posed to Australia’s economy and environment by dangerous climate change” (Full transcript Appendix 1).

 With the Federal Government determined not to adopt Kyoto and the State Government paralysed by fear of cuts in valuable mining royalties, the task of government leadership on Kyoto fell to Local Government.  It was at this point I came to the realisation it was up to Fremantle Council to assert leadership and become the first Australian Local Government to make a stand by adopting Kyoto.

The preliminary work.

To fulfil my commitment it was necessary to move a motion at Council for the city of Fremantle to adopt the Kyoto protocol.  Putting this into context, the reader needs to know that Agendas for Fremantle Council Meetings are populated by the City’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) an Elected Member wishing to put an item on the agenda is required to raise a ‘Notice of Motion’ (NOM) (City of Fremantle 2005).  Having decided it was important for Fremantle to make a stance on Kyoto I asked the CEO to set up a meeting with the Director of Corporate Services, to put forward a proposal for the NOM.  The Director was supportive which was crucial for the motion’s success.  My task now was to pen a report and motion to be taken back to the Director for further advice.  Whilst he supported the report, it was agreed that the motion needed to be simplified for procedural reasons. Once the NOM was worked up sufficiently Councillors were briefed at an informal meeting of Councillors.  It is appropriate to clarify that an informal Councillors’ meeting is not a decision making forum, their aim is to furnish Councillors with the necessary information for making a decision in the chamber.  After much research and reading I prepared a PowerPoint presentation for the Councillors and Council Officers attending this meeting in which I quoted leading commentators and scientists including Tim Flannery, Ian Lowe, The IPCC Report, Nick Ford-Kelcey, Prof Chris Thomas and Guy Pearce.  There were some Councillors who stuck to the sceptic’s line, but most were convinced by the science, the biggest resistance was from Councillors who believed it was not Council’s role to make a stance on this issue.  However, the timing was right for my motion to succeed as the media was focusing strongly on Global Warming and Australia’s refusal to ratify Kyoto.  The NOM (Appendix 2) was presented to the Full Council Meeting of 25th October 2006 and following debate, Passed 10 – 1.

 Fremantle was the first Local Government to take this step but was followed in successive months by other Councils across Australia.  The passion, research and work to get to this point was extensive, but once the motion was passed Council swiftly moved onto the next item of business and it all seemed a bit of an anticlimax on the night.  That feeling was however, not to last.

  The Consequences

Once the Council decision was publicised Fremantle became a centre of attention from other Local Governments.  These enquiries were usually passed to me and I found myself helping and sharing stories with a broad range of Local Government Councillors and Officers both intra and interstate.  I developed a spreadsheet of those whom I had talked to and documented their experiences.  My first ‘public appearance’ was to make a presentation to the December 2006 meeting of the ‘Sustainability Officer’s Network Group’ (SONG).  While visiting Sydney I accepted an invitation to Manly Council to talk with their Greens Party Councillors and Sustainability Officer.  Back in Western Australia, Joondalup Council approached me to speak to their Sustainability Committee’s first meeting of 2007.  The following year I was contacted by the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) to present a paper (Appendix 3) to their August AGM on the topic of Fremantle’s adoption of Kyoto. (WALGA 2007).  The reception of the WALGA presentation was mixed.  Whilst metropolitan Councillors voiced support for Fremantle’s action, some of the rural shire Councillors continued to question the science of Global Warming.  At this time I had only been a Councillor for 15 months, many in Local Government hold the belief that Councillors should not be taken seriously until their second 4 year term, so I felt doubly honoured that the Fremantle viewpoint was getting such attention.

 The adoption of Kyoto brought about a distinct change in  Fremantle Council Officer focus under the leadership of the CEO.   With this new focus sustainability was now being actively promoted with subsequent initiatives gaining a smoother transition.  The Environmental Planning Officer had already conducted an Emissions Audit for the City as a participant in the ICLEI Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) group (ICLEI 2009).  This audit required modification to reflect 1990 levels as required by Kyoto.  Once completed in early 2007 Fremantle was well on the way to fulfilling our Kyoto commitments.

  Three years after Adoption

In September 2009 Fremantle Council exceeded the Kyoto commitment by becoming Western Australia’s first Carbon Neutral Council (City of Fremantle 2009).  I believe this is a direct result of the path mapped out in 2006 with the Council’s adoption of Kyoto.  Carbon Neutrality came about as a result of discussions I had with the CEO relating to the City of Fremantle using 100% Green Power (power generated from 100% renewable energy) and at the time an unrelated issue of how to better use the City’s car-parking income.  The CEO applied lateral thinking to link the two together to provide funding for 100% Green Power which left only a small step to Carbon Neutrality through purchasing approved carbon off-sets.

 Central in all the presentations I made on behalf of Fremantle Council was to outline the following 3 separate roles of Local Government in advancing efforts to address Global Warming.

 The requirement for Council the organisation to cut its own emissions as mentioned above.  Fremantle has exceeded the author’s expectations on this front.

 The legislative powers vested in a Local Government should be used to facilitate a transition to a low carbon economy.  An example of this is the mandating of GBCA 4 Star rating (GBCA 2009) to commercial and grouped dwelling developments in Fremantle.  After discussions with the Director of Planning he brought an item to Council on 21st January 2009 to initiate a Scheme Amendment which mandates a minimum GBCA 4 star rating for all Multiple Dwelling and Commercial development in the City.  Following community consultation, this was finally ratified by Council on 27th May 2009.  Future initiatives of Council could be to change car parking regulations to encourage alternative transport use, tailoring city infrastructure to promote cycling and pedestrian friendly streets and mandate for a traffic free Cappuccino Strip.  The Cappuccino Strip is a CBD area with many cafes and restaurants, the footpaths are full of diners seated at tables, yet busy commuter traffic still uses the roadway.

 Council should use its Leadership role to encourage the Fremantle business sector and the community to reduce their carbon footprints.  There is evidence this is starting to happen with a recent Fremantle development by the company Match receiving Australia’s first AGBC 4 star rating for a residential development (Match 2009).  The significant aspect is that Match chose Fremantle to showcase their Sustainability credentials.  Businesses such as Sungrid (Sungrid 2009) have chosen Fremantle as their base; presumably this is because they believe Fremantle’s reputation in Sustainability is good for their business.  When Fremantle the City demonstrates a 5.2% emissions cut on 1990 carbon levels, consistent with Kyoto is when Fremantle will be able to claim success.

Decision making for Sustainability leadership

Different problems require a different style of leadership, Bouwhuis proposes technical or dialectic problems can be solved “by applying a technique, formula or path to achieve a solution” (Bouwhuis 2007), while complex or wicked problems need “holistic, not partial or linear thinking” (The Australian Government / Australian Public Service Commission 2007).  Global warming is considered a wicked problem (Bouwhuis 2007) and requires enabling leadership (Moritz 2009).  The key to the success of reducing Fremantle Council’s carbon footprint is to consider it a wicked problem; however when a Motion of the Council was required the author applied ‘dialectic decision making’ (Plato ≈400BC) to achieve this.  This example demonstrates that to achieve the desired outcome flexibility in choice of leadership techniques will need to be adopted.

 The leadership shown by the author was not motivated by a decision to lead, rather by a passion to achieve a desired outcome.  Enabling leadership was shown by senior Council officers, especially the Director of Corporate Services and the CEO.


 The above Case study illustrates how leadership originating from a desire to achieve an outcome can be very powerful.   Enabling leadership was applied when dealing with the community, officers of the City and fellow Councillors and dialectic problem solving was used when dealing with rigid Council processes.  A strong advantage of an enabling leadership style is its capacity to promote an ongoing enabling process.   Dialectic problem solving and leadership should not be seen as oppositional to enabling leadership rather as the two working in synergy as in this Case Study.  The flow-on benefits were not fully anticipated at commencement, and in examining this process I believe this aspect should not be underestimated when evaluating the success of an initiative.

 I believe this Case Study illustrates success for the City both in the carbon emissions reduction initiatives adopted by Fremantle Council and as a foundation for the City’s role as a leader in sustainability.  It is now time to build on that foundation by empowering the City’s business and community sector to embrace sustainable practices.  As of October 2009 the author is no longer a Councillor with the City of Fremantle, but is nonetheless actively involved in addressing Global warming and has commenced study to achieve a Grad Dip in Sustainability at Curtin University.

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