The City of Sydney Council: Adapting for Climate Change

PhD student Lisette Collins & Prof David Schlosberg explain their parts in adapting Sydney for climate change

In the same week that the Federal government announced a ‘pathetically inadequate’ 26 -28% target for emissions cuts, the City of Sydney Council has launched its strategy for adapting to climate change. Based in the political and scientific reality of a climate-changed environment, ‘Adapting for Climate Change: A Long Term Strategy for the City of Sydney,’ was presented to a host of internal and external stakeholders, including Sydney Water, local businesses, the Sydney Opera House, Red Cross and many more.

The strategy is the result of an extensive process to identify and prioritise adaptive actions on climate change for the City to undertake over the next half-century, with the first ‘action pathway’ defining immediate adaptive action over the next 15 years. Adaptive actions for increasing heat, variation in rainfall, increases in air pollution, bushfire conditions, drought, and sea level rise can be found in the Strategy. There is also a suite of combined risks identified – the Strategy notes the importance of embedding adaptation into all Council operations, ensuring social wellbeing, increasing livability, maintaining economic productivity and more.

The ‘Adapting for Climate Change’ strategy is the result of deep cross-sector engagement, with several internal and external workshops, along with a two and half day Citizen’s Panel that our Sydney Environment Institute research team co-developed with the City of Sydney. The community provided input into the identified risks, adaptation actions, and adaptation principles that contribute to the Strategy. The principles for adaption policy developed by the citizens now stand as the guiding principles of the City’s strategy, and include a call for policy to be resilient and long term, flexible and dynamic, based on the best science, and comprehensively communicated with the public. Citizen input is highlighted throughout the Strategy, with the recommendations endorsed heavily by the Panel marked throughout the plan. The process illustrated that City residents want an adaptation policy that helps to build a more just and sustainable Sydney.

The deliberative process has received positive attention from a number of areas, and Professor Schlosberg presented an analysis of the event at the recent UNESCO ‘Our Common Future Under Climate Change’ conference in Paris. In addition to presenting at academic conferences, we are writing up our findings about citizen concerns and hopes with regard to adaptation, including their desire to address not just risk, but also social vulnerability, as well as their support for transformative approaches to a more climate-friendly economy in the City.

Once again, local governments like the City of Sydney have shown initiative on climate action despite a deep lack of leadership, funding and support from the Commonwealth. We were very pleased to be involved in the public engagement process for this adaptation plan, and look forward to more opportunities to work with the City. In the meantime, residents and stakeholders can still influence the policy. The Strategy can be accessed here, and is open for pubic comment until October 16.




Image: my_elbow ‘Beauty of the storm’ via Flickr Commons