Opinion

Climate change adaptation plans at a local level in Australia

Lisette Collins on climate change adaptation plans in local governments around Australia.

Lisette Collins, PhD candidate at The University of Sydney, has published a database of Australian climate change adaptation plans. 

I am a PhD student studying climate change adaptation plans (CCAP) across Australia. In initiating this research it became apparent that there was no single repository for CCAPs developed in the country, although many of the council employees I spoke to indicated that it would be a useful resource. Therefore, as the basis of my research I have compiled this database of CCAPs which I hope will continue to grow as adaptation planning develops in Australia.

Ninety-eight CCAPs were collected from across the country, a mix of individual council and regional efforts with a total of 166 councils (and counting) who have a plan. NSW has the most individual CCAPs of any state/territory, and both NSW and Western Australia have the most regional CCAPs. In developing the database of CCAPs, it was important to define exactly what constitutes a CCAP within the context of this research. As an academic typology of CCAPs is yet to be developed, I created categories from observations made in the process of collating a personal database of Australian CCAPs: overarching, coastal, corporate, and case study.

The overarching CCAP is typified by its aim to cover as many affected areas, departments and industries as possible within the council. They cover concerns as varied as water, agriculture, transport, human health, biodiversity, tourism and recreational activity. Coastal CCAPs are those developed to address the specific concerns of coastal areas at risk due to climate change. Their importance is underscored by the statistic that 85% of the Australian population lives within 50km of the coast.1 The third category includes corporate CCAPs which are developed by local councils with the intention of planning for changes to the business community caused by predicted climate change. Finally, case study CCAPs are plans for specific areas within local government jurisdictions, e.g. Kingston beach in Tasmania, and Launceston’s plan to ‘green’ the Inveresk Precinct.

This database indexes only one of these four types of CCAPs – the over-arching document. By their nature, these CCAPs include a wide variety of stakeholders and present solutions for many operational areas within a local council. Analysis into such a cross section of climate change adaptation planning allows me to get a feel for adaptation on a larger scale across the country. Also, concentrating on overarching documents allows me to consider plans from a number of different areas in Australia. Any council may develop an over-arching document – however the coastal plan is restricted to a particular geography and corporate and case study CCAPs are less prevalent.

The most consistent and efficient way to go about collecting such information was to visit the website of every council in the country and to search for a CCAP. Such policies are public documents and should therefore be accessible though council websites. The database also notes the geographic type and population of each council. Local councils were identified via contact lists available on each state/territory Local Government Association website.

With the database in hand, the next task involves identifying the scope of vulnerability within each CCAP. There was notable variation in the identification of risks in climate change adaptation plans across Australia. My research categorises these CCAPs into biophysical-based vulnerability or socio-political inclusive plans. The latter are plans that make reference to education, vulnerable groups, and/or mental health. My thesis will explain how councils come to include or exclude these socio-political factors in adaptation planning.

Access the Australian Climate Change Adaptation Plan Database_05052016

Image: Blue Mountains Local Studies