Adapting to climate change means taking action to manage or reduce the adverse consequences of a changed climate.
To manage current and future climate, a local government organisation may need to adapt its assets, resources and operations. Adaptation planning is the process of analysing, selecting and prioritising measures in response. For local councils, adaptation planning on climate change can help to:
- embed adaptive measures into council operations and processes
- comprehensively address climate risks while reducing the cost and extent of remedial action
- engage management in long-term risk management
- build internal partnerships for adaptation responses across the different functional areas of councils
- identify community expectations about service provision.
How to start
A council should first complete a climate change risk assessment (PDF 1.53 MB) of its assets and operations before it looks at how to manage them through adaptive responses.
Each council needs to take into account its geographic location, the projected effects of climate change, and the demographics and culture of the council area. The ‘adaptive capacity’ of council staff—their capability and resources to respond to climate change—should also be considered.
Establishing the scope of the planning is important: planning may focus on reducing risks to council assets, for instance, or it may be driven by representations from the community. The scope will determine which stakeholders are involved and the approach taken to consultation.
Ideally, your adaptation actions will align with the planning and reporting guidelines for NSW local government (PDF 115 KB), which include a 10-year community strategic plan, a resourcing strategy, a delivery program and annual operational plans.
The responsibility of assessing and responding to climate-related risks requires the skills of all functional areas of a council.
The considerations of not only staff in the environmental department but also those in engineering, planning, health, property services and the executive are especially important.
Climate change adaptation planning will in time become standard practice in all organisations, just as workplace health and safety practice has become integrated. As with most council activities, community engagement and participation are critical to the success of an adaptation plan.
Prioritising adaptation actions
The level of priority given to each specified adaptation measure needs to take into account the immediacy of the threat, the resources available, the vulnerabilities of the location, and community expectations.
Some effects of climate change may present extreme risks that are very unlikely to occur; others may not require a response until sometime in the future, even though they may already be affecting council operations.
Climate change threats addressed in a typical adaptation plan include emergencies (such as bushfires, more frequent storms, heatwaves and flooding) or longer term issues (such as rising average temperatures, water resourcing and asset maintenance). Adaptation is an iterative process. Every measure will need to be monitored and reviewed as your understanding of climate risks alters or as priorities change, for example because of:
- new or improved climate data becoming available
- changes to community demographics
- changes in technology lowering implementation costs
- new regulatory or legislative obligations or requirements.
Planning resources and networks
In these examples of adaptation plans by NSW councils, the authors have employed a range of approaches and formats. Representatives from each council are available to share advice and insights into their work:
- Ku-ring-gai Council Adaptation Strategy (PDF 1.4 MB): contact Dr Jennifer Scott
- Shoalhaven Adaptation Plan (PDF 1.73 MB): contact Elizabeth Dixon
- Hunter and Central Coasts Rural Councils Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PDF 1.26 MB): contact Steve Wilson
Local Government NSW (LGNSW) also provides useful case studies and resources outlining climate-change-related strategies and measures under way in NSW:
The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) has a portal that provides a range of resources for local adaptation practitioners. This includes examples of Australian adaptation good practice, international case studies, adaptation frameworks and links to podcasts and videos about local adaptation action.