Mapping coastal Sydney’s vulnerability to climate change

14 May 2008 0 Share

The storms of June 07 threatened the carpark at Bondi.

The storms of June 07 threatened the carpark at Bondi.

A vulnerability assessment released today by CSIRO and the Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG) will help Sydney coastal councils understand their vulnerability to climate change and prepare to adapt to potential impacts.

“The consequences of climate change in Sydney’s coastal region will be driven as much by socio- economic factors and decision making as by climate hazards such as heat waves and storm surges,” says research leader Dr Benjamin Preston, from the CSIRO Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship.

“Different areas of Sydney will experience climate change in different ways depending on their geographic location, demographics, and the resources and tools at their disposal to manage future climate change risk,” Dr Preston says.

The three phase project began by using climate change projections and socio-economic data to generate maps of vulnerability to five climate change impacts: extreme heat and health effects; sea-level rise and coastal management; extreme rainfall and stormwater management; bushfires; and ecosystems and natural resources.

These vulnerability maps were used in a second phase, stakeholder workshops with all 15 SCCG member councils, to improve researchers’ and SCCG member councils’ understanding of the range of potential climate change impacts, and the underlying causes of those impacts.

“By combining our vulnerability assessment with councils’ own knowledge and risk management experience, we can advance the thinking on the implications of climate change and what will be needed for communities to respond,” says Dr Preston.

The project’s final phase, a series of case studies based on the vulnerability assessment and council stakeholder workshops, aims to identify the factors that influence councils’ capacity to respond to climate change. This analysis will study institutional issues affecting adaptation – decision making processes, planning schemes, community aspirations and infrastructure demands – to identify interventions to help councils adapt to climate change through future management decisions.

“This vulnerability assessment is an essential first stage in a journey to better understand the impacts of climate change on the region, and move towards more effective and adaptive management,” says SCCG executive officer Geoff Withycombe. This research was funded under the Australian Government Department of Climate Change’s Adaptation program, in collaboration with the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The Report

The report ‘Mapping Climate Change Vulnerability in the Sydney Coastal Councils Region’ has been produced by the Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG) and the CSIRO Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship, in collaboration with the University of the Sunshine Coast. It represents the results of the first phase of a two year project funded by the Australian Government Department of Climate Change (DCC) National Climate Change Adaptation Program (NCCAP).

The fifteen member councils of the Sydney Coastal Councils Group are taking a leadership role and working together to address regional climate change adaptation through a cross sectoral, whole-of-Council systems approach to the management of the effects of climate change. This project was initiated to address an identified lack of regionally-specific information that can assist councils in planning for the effects of climate change.

The goal of the project is to explore the issues of climate change vulnerability, risk management and adaptation, with a focus on the adaptive capacity of local councils to address issues of regional significance. It has brought together some of the nation’s leading climate adaptation experts to design and implement an integrated research effort.

Figure 1. Relative Vulnerability of the Sydney Coastal Councils Region to Climate Change

Figure 1

Figure 1

Overall vulnerability of the SCCG region to climate change, based upon the vulnerability layers for the five impact areas: extreme heat and health effects; sea-level rise and coastal management; extreme rainfall and stormwater management; bushfire; and effects on ecosystems and natural resources. Climate vulnerability is driven not only by physical changes in the climate, but also by factors such as demographics, economics, landscape and infrastructure that influence the sensitivity of places and populations to climatic changes and their capacity to respond to reduce risk.

NOTE: It is important to recognise that estimates of vulnerability do not necessarily predict what the specific consequences of climate change may be or their magnitudes. The relative vulnerability mapping conducted for this project represents a preliminary step in the analysis of climate change vulnerability and potential consequences in the Sydney region, rather than the final story. While relative vulnerability maps may be useful for identifying and prioritising at-risk areas, they are just one of a broad range of tools that can be used to inform planning and decision-making.

Council-by-Council Findings

The following table highlights some of the key challenges for each council that were identified in the assessment process. In addition to helping explain why certain councils appear as more or less vulnerable in the assessment, they also indicate areas where councils may opt to for more detailed assessments to clarify the extent to which additional management interventions are necessary.

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