Socially, economically, and environmentally the implications of climate change will be experienced differently by communities across the country.
All communities will be vulnerable to even a relatively minor increase in temperatures. Climate projections have revealed that Australia’s average temperature will increase, with more hot extremes and fewer cold extremes. An increased incidence of heatwaves is projected to lead to an increase in extreme fire-danger days and bush fires in south-eastern Australia.
Increased frequency and severity of heatwaves will lead to a significant increase in health risks. People living in large cities can be more susceptible than non-urban dwellers to the effects of heatwaves because of the urban heat island effect. This is caused by the prevalence in cities of heat-absorbing materials such as dark-coloured pavements and roofs, concrete, urban canyons trapping hot air, and a lack of shade and green space in dense urban environments. It can result in substantially higher temperatures (particularly overnight) than surrounding non-urban areas.
Droughts are projected to become longer and more widespread, which will exacerbate water shortages, particularly in southern Australia. More frequent and intense storms and rainfall events are predicted to increase storm and flood damage to ecosystems, housing and infrastructure. Rising sea levels will heighten the risk of tidal surges and flooding in coastal regions.
Climate change impacts on rural and regional communities may be especially severe. Decreasing agricultural yields will erode the resilience of some industries, and as the market for fossil fuels changes, resource-dependent communities may also experience challenges in the future.
It is critical that communities are prepared for the impacts of climate change and adopt complementary strategies for reducing (mitigation) and managing (adaptation) these impacts. This includes seizing new business opportunities, as new markets are created in low-carbon energy technologies and other low-carbon goods and services. All communities need to prepare for a warmer world and the challenges and opportunities ahead. No community should be left behind in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Local governments and their communities are on the frontline when dealing with the risks and impacts of climate change. Councils need to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change (through adaptation) and play a significant role in reducing Australia’s carbon footprint by mitigating the CO2 emissions from their assets and supporting emission reduction efforts by their local communities. They need to work with their communities to transition them to a low carbon future.
Australian councils and communities are ready to step up to tackle climate change in a way that can stimulate economic growth and gain efficiencies in the management of their assets. Many councils have already responded to the climate change challenge by adopting proactive strategies to reduce emissions and to adapt to unavoidable climate change impacts through climate change risk assessments and adaptation plans. For other, less prepared councils, particularly smaller councils in regional areas, financial assistance may also be needed to undertake this planning.
Having identified potential solutions to the challenges, councils will need additional help to implement local projects. Implementation of these projects could have the added benefit of reducing the need for disaster recovery funding.
Local government, working in partnership with the Australian Government, can deliver highly effective climate change projects that can mitigate the production of greenhouse gas emissions, and also greatly assist the community to be better prepared and better able to adapt to future climatic conditions.
ALGA’s policy priorities are:
- A Local Government Climate Change Response Partnership Fund of $200 million over four years to provide support for councils to help their communities reduce emissions and understand and transition to the future.