What is climate change adaptation?

Climate change adaptation means being prepared for a changing climate by taking action to reduce the impacts. It also includes taking advantage of opportunities a changing climate provides.

Why has the City of Sydney developed Adapting for Climate Change?

It would be irresponsible to ignore the fact the world climate is currently changing. Most cities around the world are making plans, and over 90 councils around Australia have prepared or are preparing climate adaptation plans.   

The impacts of climate change will affect everyone, but will be most serious for vulnerable people in our community. Adapting for Climate Change has been developed so the City can plan to protect people, assets and services.

Why is the City adapting to climate change rather than reducing or preventing our greenhouse gas emissions?

Mitigation is vital to worldwide efforts to reduce the human influence on the global climate system, while adaptation is responding to the changes already underway. The City is doing both. We have a commitment through Sustainable Sydney 2030 to cut greenhouse gas emissions in our local government area by 70% by 2030, compared to 2006 levels.

The City has developed a suite of green infrastructure master plans that provide targets and practical measures to address the City’s commitment. These include plans for increasing our use of renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as decentralised water and waste.

How was the strategy developed?

Our consultants performed extensive scientific and technical studies. We checked these with our Science Reference Group including the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. 

We consulted with staff across our organisation, as well as stakeholders from emergency services, utilities, charities, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, business and other levels of government. We consulted with the community via a citizens’ panel.

How will the climate change for the City of Sydney local government area?

Increasing heat – average temperatures are expected to rise by between 1.6 and 3.1°C by 2070. Heatwaves are expected to become hotter, longer and more frequent. We currently experience temperatures of 30°C or more 15 days per year. This is expected to increase to 22 -117 days by 2070.

The average annual rainfall will continue to feature the natural variation of dry spells and wet periods, but downpours and storms are likely to occur more often.

Air pollution is expected to increase. Hospital admissions for respiratory issues in Sydney are expected to rise 200% by 2051, compared to 2006 levels;

Bushfire conditions are expected to increase. Very high fire danger periods are expected to increase by 10 -50%. This is likely to strain essential services and air quality in our local government area (LGA);

Drought conditions are expected to increase, interfering with plant growth, the survival of animals and food production;

Sea level is projected to rise 0.9m by 2094 compared to 1995 levels. The location and topography around Sydney Harbour means this will not affect our local government area in the near future as much as others areas

What risks do these changes pose for us? How will we respond?

Risks from increasing heat:

·  Heat stress – there may be more hospital admissions from extreme heat, higher morbidity levels and more pressure on social services;

·  Disruptions to infrastructure – increased heat may disrupt transport systems and cause traffic congestion. It may also put strain on the electricity network;

·  Extreme heat may have an impact on outdoor work leading to health and safety risks and impacts to workforce productivity; and

·  As more people seek shelter in air conditioned buildings there may be more pressure on the energy system.

Actions we can take:

·  Communicate and raise awareness on heatwaves, air pollution and extreme weather;

·  Work with energy companies to assess vulnerabilities in the energy system so we can build in resilience;

·  Use trees, plants and other natural systems to provide shade and shelter from the heat whilst absorbing storm water and air pollution; and

·  Design City buildings, facilities, streets and open space to withstand extreme heat. 

Risks from changing rainfall patterns:

·  Flash flooding;

·  Property and infrastructure damage; and

·  Damage to homes and workplaces, forcing people to seek shelter, disaster relief and assistance with rebuilding/clean up.

Actions we can take:

·  Continue to manage flooding in our LGA;

·  Work with emergency services to prioritise and coordinate our response; and

·  Factor changing rainfall into land use planning and design of infrastructure and open spaces.

Risks from bushfire conditions and air quality:

·  Community members may experience severe breathing difficulties and psychological stress; and

·  Economic impacts – bushfires in surrounding areas may disrupt business and services. Workers and other commuters may have difficulty accessing the city.

Actions we can take:

·  Contribute to community awareness and education on the health risks from smoke and air pollution;

·  Identify vulnerable community members and places they could seek refuge; and

·  Contribute to a coordinated emergency response.

Risks from sea level rise:

·  Increased financial burden – maintaining and protecting properties and infrastructure around the harbour will be expensive; and

·  Reduced accessibility to the harbour. The area around the harbour will also look different, including some of our iconic landmarks.

Actions we can take:

·  Develop a sea level rise adaptation action plan;

·  Identify ways to protect foreshore areas at risk;

·  Ensure sea level rise is factored into our plans including our Flood Plain Management Plan and Asset Management Strategy; and

·  Advocate to the NSW government for a state planning framework to address sea level rise and storm surge.

Combined risks:

·  Climate change may put our basic living conditions and quality of life at risk. The sense of well-being and harmony within our community may deteriorate;

·  Failure to stay up-to-date on climate science, global emissions and climate data may lead to poor decision making;

·  The buildings and infrastructure we build must withstand future climate changes. If building codes and standards rely on historical climate data, our future construction may be at risk;

·  Business and economic activity may be disrupted by climate impacts; and

·  Financial viability – climate change may impact our financial resilience. Insurance for the City’s assets and property could become very costly.

Actions we can take:

·  Incorporate climate adaptation into all future City decision-making;

·  Establish a panel of experts to help us with ongoing review of climate science, risks and how we should respond; and

·  Advocate for revised design and building codes that plan for climate change.

Will the City need to work with others to implement the strategy?

Many of these measures will require collaboration with other tiers of government, other organisations and our community. The strategy provides clarity around the City’s role in implementing each measure.