Igniting change in local government: lessons learned from a bushfire vulnerability assessment

26 Jan 2009

Local governments and communities have a critical role to play in adapting to climate variability and change. Spatial vulnerability assessment is one tool that can facilitate engagement between researchers and local stakeholders through the visualisation of climate vulnerability and the integration of its biophysical and socio-economic determinants. This has been demonstrated through a case study from Sydney, Australia where a bushfire vulnerability assessment was undertaken as the first-step in a project to investigate local government perceptions of climate vulnerability and adaptive capacity. A series of relevant biophysical and socio-economic indicators was identified that represented the region’s exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity with respect to bushfires. These indicators were then combined to develop maps of net landscape vulnerability to bushfire.

When presented in a workshop setting, vulnerability maps were successful in capturing the attention of stakeholders while simultaneously conveying information regarding the diversity of drivers that can contribute to current and future vulnerability. However, stakeholders were reluctant to embrace representations of vulnerability that differed from their own understanding of hazard, necessitating the demonstration of agreement between the vulnerability assessment and more conventional hazard assessment tools. This validation opened the door for public dissemination of vulnerability maps, the uptake and use of the assessment in local government risk assessment and adaptation planning, and more focused case-studies on barriers to adaptation.

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