Climate Change is emerging as a vital issue for Australian communities. Even with international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the global climate is projected to undergo significant change in the 21st century, creating both risks to communities and the environment and opportunities to improve our processes, behaviours and technologies. It is important that the risks of climate change are addressed at the local level, since local attributes such as socio-economic characteristics and the physical environment will significantly determine the extent of risks, as well as the nature of adaptation responses.
Studies conducted in the region have identified 3 distinct climatic zones in, each of which is projected to exhibit variations in the nature and level of climate change impacts. There will also be differences in the extent to which these impacts are specifically felt by each community. For example, communities with older people, low-income groups, or remote and Aboriginal communities are potentially more sensitive to impacts such as heat stress and disease (Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, 2009).
In the Hunter, Central and Lower North Coast region, high population levels and growth in coastal, flood and bushfire prone areas, significant natural and built assets and a diversity of land uses make it particularly vulnerable to climate change. Key climate variables likely to influence the region and some of their likely impacts include:
- Increased temperatures – bushfires, building operational costs, human and livestock health, asset deterioration
- Changes in rainfall – reduced potable water supply, flooding, open space management, impacts on agriculture, manufacturing and mining
- Sea Level Rise - flooding & inundation, coastal recession & erosion, asset damage, loss of coastal and estuarine ecosystems
- Extreme wind and storm events – emergency services, adequacy of building standards, stormwater flooding, damage to infrastructure and natural assets
The direct organisational impacts on councils are anticipated to be significant because of the wide spectrum of operations and community services provided by them which are vulnerable to changes in climate These include (Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, 2009):
- Infrastructure & property services (road / pavement construction and maintenance, stormwater / drainage, buildings & coastal infrastructure)
- Recreational facilities (provision and maintenance of recreational facilities)
- Health services (community / workplace health, emergency / bushfire management)
- Planning and development approvals
- Natural resource management (coastal management, weed/pest management, biodiversity)
- Water & sewerage services (stormwater, wastewater & water supply)
The need for local action on climate change has been recognised by Councils in the Hunter, Central and Lower North Coast region. In partnership with HCCREMS, significant resources have been directed both within councils and towards the Regional Climate Change Program that aims to:
- Improve understanding by councils and their communities of climate change and its likely impacts
- Identify the key risks to councils and their communities arising from climate change
- Develop and implement adaptation strategies to manage priority risks
Key initiatives implemented through the Regional Climate Change Program to date include:
- Commonwealth of Australia, 2009. Climate Change Adaptation Actions for Local Government. Department of Climate Change.
- HCCREMS 2010. Climate Change in the Hunter and Central Coast Region – Adaptation Plan for Coastal Councils. Hunter Councils NSW.
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