Adapting to climate change

Helping communities adapt

Despite the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some level of climate change is now inevitable. NSW 2021 - A plan to make NSW number one includes a commitment from the Government to minimise the impacts of climate change on communities.

Adaptation is a way of taking advantage of the benefits and minimising the costs of climate change. Adaptation complements emission reduction measures and is a necessary part of addressing the climate change challenge. OEH aims to build the resilience of the state's natural environment, economy and communities. 

Adaptation research to support communities and the environment

In August 2013, the NSW Government launched a $2.75 million investment into new research that will assist the people of NSW to be better prepared to respond and adapt to a changing climate, and will enable the environment to be more resilient.

The NSW Adaptation Research Hub (the Hub) is a collaboration between the NSW Government and three leading NSW research agencies:

  • Climate Futures, Macquarie University
  • Sydney Institute of Marine Science
  • Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology.

Over the next three years, the Hub will:

  • fill knowledge gaps
  • foster innovation
  • produce research that will facilitate delivery of targeted policy and programs for NSW.

The research will:

  • inform the delivery of targeted policy and programs to support communities in cities and towns across NSW
  • help communities to respond and adapt to local climate risks.

The Hub delivers on the NSW Government commitment in NSW 2021 to assist local government, business and the community to increase their understanding of the climate risks and actions needed to minimise the impacts of climate change.

Helping NSW Local Government adapt

The Government is committed to 'assist local government to build resilience to future extreme events and hazards by helping them to understand and minimise the impacts of climate change'. Helping NSW Local Government Adapt lists projects to help councils manage and build resilience to the projected impacts of climate change.

Regional communities and climate change

OEH is working on a cross-government project to assess the vulnerability to regional communities to climate change. The Integrated Regional Vulnerability Assessment (IRVA) examines the potential impacts of climate change on: human health, human settlements, water, agriculture, tourism, major infrastructure, natural landscapes and emergency services, and determines the region's vulnerability to these impacts by considering socio-economic factors and environmental resilience. The project aims to provide a sound basis for local climate change adaptation planning. The first report from the South East region is available here. Future IRVAs will focus on the Riverina Murray and North Coast regions.

Infrastructure in a changing climate

Climate change will have significant impacts on infrastructure in NSW. Because of the long life of infrastructure assets, it will be particularly important to incorporate climate change risks into infrastructure planning and management.

OEH has supported the development of the Australian Green Infrastructure Council's (AGIC) Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Scheme. AGIC's Guidelines for Climate Change Adaptation (pdf 765 KB) can be used to help infrastructure designers, engineers and builders to measure and manage vulnerability to future climatic conditions. The guideline applies to all stages of the infrastructure life cycle and will help ensure the state's roads, dams, bridges, water supply and wastewater systems are resilient to the future impacts of climate change.

NSW Treasury has prepared economic appraisal guidance on climate change for assets and infrastructure assessments. Potential risks to public assets from climate change should be considered in the context of the NSW Treasury guidance framework outlined in:

Preparing Sydney for climate change

Sydney is Australia's largest city, with a population of over 4.5 million people. The city's population is forecast to grow to 6 million by 2036, while at the same time, the challenges of climate change are likely to become more apparent. Heatwaves, sea level rise, more intense and frequent bushfires, and more variable rainfall are among the key challenges Sydney will face.

The Towards a Resilient Sydney project aims to assess cross sectoral vulnerability to climate change risks and identify responses and opportunities that assist local communities to improve resilience and minimise impacts. These aims are identified in NSW 2021 Regional Action Plans for Northern Beaches, Western Sydney (Blue Mountains), and South Western Sydney. In partnership with the Department of Planning and Infrastructure and local government stakeholders, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) will:

  1. develop improved information of climate risks for Sydney
  2. assess cross sectoral vulnerability to these risks and
  3. identify responses and opportunities that assist local communities to improve resilience and minimise impacts.

This project provides an opportunity to build on existing efforts to respond to climate change by both levels of government in the Sydney Metropolitan Area, by recognising local actions to assess and address climate risks and develop adaptation strategies. The Towards a Resilient Sydney project provides a strategic, regional approach to achieve adaptation outcomes at wider scales. This approach has been outlined in the Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney Action 20.1, where the outcomes of the Towards a Resilient project will be reviewed to identify opportunities for strategic planning.

Impacts of climate change on natural hazards

The Impacts of Climate Change on Natural Hazards Profiles have been developed by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage in collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology, the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services, and the University of Wollongong, under the auspices of the NSW State Emergency Management Committee.

Profiles have been developed for NSW regions and are intended to inform decision makers about:

  • the current exposure of each region to eight natural hazards (fire, wind, lightning, hail, flash flooding, riverine flooding, heatwaves, and coastal erosion and inundation were regionally applicable)
  • projections of future changes to these natural hazards due to climate change.

Protecting ecosystems and natural hazards

To address the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, the NSW Government has developed Priorities for Biodiversity Adaptation to Climate Change.

OEH and the Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services are currently developing a NSW Biodiversity Strategy, which aims to coordinate and guide investment and effort in biodiversity conservation in NSW for the next five years.

Responding to heatwaves

CSIRO has projected that extreme heat days of over 35°c in Sydney are likely to increase from 3.5 days per year currently experienced up to 12 days by 2070 without global action to reduce emissions. As the number of days above 35°C increases and heatwaves become more frequent, more people are likely to suffer heat-related illnesses and death, with the elderly particularly vulnerable

Supported by OEH, the NSW Department of Health has developed a campaign call 'beat the heat' on how to prepare for and stay healthy in the heat, how to recognise and treat heat related illness, and how to care for people who are at risk of heat-related illness.

Managing Sydney's water resources

Balancing greater Sydney's water supply and demand over the long term requires an understanding of climate cycles and trends, as well as the potential impacts of climate change.

As part of the NSW Government's adaptive planning approach, the 2006 Metropolitan Water Plan underwent a major review overseen by the Metropolitan Water Independent Review Panel. The 2010 Metropolitan Water Plan built on the significant achievements of past plans by continuing to concentrate efforts in four major areas: dams, recycling, desalination and water efficiency. More information about the Metropolitan Water Plan can be found on the NSW Government's Water for Life website.

Page last updated: 24 September 2013