Climate change adaptation in the Australian Capital Region

Emerging issues in the context of regional planning
Regional planning Climate change Climate change adaptation Australian Capital Territory New South Wales


The impacts of climate change will occur at a range of scales that will often not align with governance boundaries. Floods, bushfires, storms and heatwaves are key risks for the ACT and across the Australian Capital Region (ACR) which will increase in intensity with climate change. Both direct and indirect impacts, as well as responses, may cross jurisdictional borders and strong coordination processes will be needed for effective adaptation. Significant lessons were learned, for example, from the 2003 bushfires that crossed from NSW into the ACT, including regarding the benefits of established cross-border collaboration mechanisms, and early action in threat management.

There is a growing imperative for climate change adaptation so that communities, businesses and governments understand likely risks and have the capacity for action to maintain well-being, sustainability and productivity in a changing climate. Projections of climate change are improving in scale and resolution, and there is now high confidence that key impacts to the region include an exacerbation of extreme weather events as a result of climate change. Such impacts include an increase in morbidity and mortality from heatwaves, increased damage and repair costs to critical infrastructure, reduced agricultural production and water supply, and more frequent loss of assets and local habitat. The vulnerability of the ACR to these impacts is increased in areas where there is an ageing population, limited access, or a relative lack of services.


This research explores where an effective approach to climate change adaptation would benefit from cross-jurisdictional approaches, and it identifies key emerging challenges from a changing climate in the ACR and opportunities for transboundary collaboration and initiatives. The research also explores interlinkages between regional planning and climate change adaptation, and identifies the opportunity provided by integrated regional planning for building a more resilient and climate-adapted region. The research approach has included a literature review of climate science and impacts in the region, adaptation studies and regional planning; analysis of plans and strategies from local, state and territory governments in the region to identify gaps and the extent of complementarity; and, interviews with 26 representatives from governments, regional organisations and industry associations.

Research findings

Effective governance for climate change adaptation across jurisdictional boundaries can be challenging, as significant differences in adaptive capacity, priorities, regulatory frameworks and planning time horizons may exist. Key cross-scale challenges for local adaptation identified from the wider literature include: (i) poor access to and understanding of the risks of climate change; (ii) inconsistent governance structures and leadership; (iii) poor coordination and communication both vertically and horizontally; (iv) inconsistent problem definitions and frameworks for adaptation; and (v) competing priorities due to limited operations resourcing to plan for and implement responses.

Substantial progress has been made in the ACT and adjoining NSW councils, and more broadly in NSW, to establish crossborder governance mechanisms. The ACT–NSW Memorandum of Understanding on Regional Collaboration, the NSW Cross Border Commissioner, the Canberra Region Joint Organisation, and the Australian Capital Region Regional Leaders Forum support information sharing, coordination and joint initiatives, and solutions to more effective service delivery. These mechanisms are accompanied by a number of sectoral strategies such as for catchment management or transport planning where the scale of the issue demands a regional approach.

Research undertaken for this report, including review of plans and adaptation strategies and detailed interviews with 26 people from all spheres of government and regional organisations, found that there is an opportunity now for regional planning that can integrate climate change adaptation, population growth, housing and infrastructure demand, services, and biodiversity conservation. There will be a need to explicitly focus on likely climate change risks in the cross-border governance mechanisms, and to identify and address barriers to on-ground adaptation action. Adaptive opportunities for industry are also likely to arise from cross-jurisdictional collaboration, although little attention has been given to this in some sectors to date.

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