Robin Goodman & Hartmut Fuenfgeld, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Presentation Title: From strategy to action: Climate change adaptation and local government planning processes in Australia



Southeastern Australia is one of the urban climate change hotspots of the developed world, where multiple risks overlap, creating significant threats to urban populations and challenges to urban planners aiming to reduce the vulnerability of people, infrastructure and services. While it is generally assumed that Australia as a nation has a comparatively high adaptive capacity, much of the climate change adaptation efforts seen to date have taken place at the local government level. Among municipalities, significant differences exist with regard to local government engagement in climate change adaptation planning and, even more so, commitment to proactive implementation of adaptation action. While many local governments have developed adaptation strategies and climate risk assessments, few have progressed to a stage of implementing meaningful and effective adaptation actions. Land use planning is a pivotal mechanism through which adaptation strategies can be turned into actions. Comparing three cities (Bendigo, Melbourne and Geelong) with different climate risk profiles, of different size and differing progress with adaptive urban planning, the extent to which strategic thinking around responses to climate change is impacting land-use decisionmaking frameworks was examined.

Key Lessons Learned

  • Individual and organizational leadership, institutional innovation and collaboration are critical factors in addressing the strategic challenges that cities face in the context of climate change impacts.
  • The climate of political and public discourse has affected the sense of urgency in Victoria regarding climate change adaptation action and has affected the sense of legitimacy that local government planners must make decisions on that basis.
  • Adaptation planning and preparation that have not translated into planning action are a result of how climate change problems are framed, which is often in terms of corporate risk and managing that corporate risk. This results in competing claims, where often the loudest and most urgent usually wins, with concerns regarding climate change often considered too distant. Planning has a tendency towards focusing on the bureaucratic tasks in order to avoid the difficult issues, e.g., establishing committees, writing cross organizations reviews or strategies.   
  • There remains a critical lack of leadership on climate change at the national level in Australia. 


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