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Better government coordination is required for Australian cities and towns to adapt to the impacts of climate change

02 Nov 2023

The lack of coordination between Australia’s different levels of government is a key barrier to achieving comprehensive and integrated climate change adaptation strategies in Australian cities and towns, according to new AHURI research.

The research, ‘Improving Australian climate change adaptation strategies: learning from international experience’, undertaken by researchers from Curtin University, examines successful climate change adaptation practices, strategies and policies implemented internationally that could support the sustainable development of cities and towns across Australia.

‘Adaptation strategies focus on reducing the impact of climate change on our cities and towns. An example of an adaptation strategy from our research is Riba-roja de Túria in Spain, where the town planted 35 hectares of low-flammable vegetation to protect the town from bushfires while also promoting community awareness. These adaptation strategies are different to mitigation strategies, which concentrate on tackling the causes of climate change,’ says lead researcher Dr Francesca Perugia of Curtin University.

Australia currently lacks a strong overarching direction in climate change adaptation, including legislation and funding. In a peer-reviewed 2019 assessment of adaptation plans of 54 countries, Australia was the worst performer. This poor performance can be linked to the narrow scope of Australia's approach to adaptation, including the lack of political leadership, the division of powers, and allocation of responsibilities, across the three tiers of government. ‘While adaptation is a shared responsibility between governments at all levels; businesses, communities and individuals, state governments need to lead the way and deliver strong leadership’ says Dr Perugia.

The research interrogated urban adaptation strategies in three international case studies: flooding prevention in Tulsa, USA; bushfire reduction in Riba-roja de Túria, Spain; and cyclone proofing in Florida, USA. In Tulsa, adaptation strategies are supported by overarching national policy and funding frameworks, and the combination of top-down and bottom-up solutions provide the best results. All three case studies emphasise active community participation and leadership in devising and delivering their adaptation strategies.

‘Building community resilience and preparedness includes increasing awareness of climate change for households and communities, including improving their preparedness and understanding of natural disasters,’ says Dr Perugia. ‘Climate change resilience is also improved by strengthening stakeholders' networks between different sectors and between institutions and community’.

The research found that Australian cities and towns should incorporate three main strategic approaches for effective climate change adaptation:

  • long-term investment and holistic approaches
  • building community resilience to deal with the impacts of climate change
  • innovation in structural solutions that respect and reinforce the local ecological system as a way to build resilience.

We invite you to explore the AHURI cities and urban hub, and consider how your organisation might contribute to the next phase—delivering a comprehensive National Cities Research Program to ensure the decision making that underpins our urban future is supported by the best evidence delivered by AHURI’s national network of research partners.

Read the research

Improving Australian climate change adaptation strategies: learning from international experience

Improving Australian climate change adaption strategies: learning from international experience