Tourism, climate change and adaptation: New South Wales local government responses

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Publication details

White, NW 2010, 'Tourism, climate change and adaptation: New South Wales local government responses', paper presented to the NCCARF Climate Adaptation Futures Conference, Gold Coast, QLD, 30 June.

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Regional Futures Institute, Southern Cross University, Australia

Climate change is one of the most significant contemporary challenges facing humanity. Apart from attempts to mitigate climate change through reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, planning for the impacts of climate change is arguably the most important path forward. While the social and economic impacts will be significant, planning for the physical impacts of climate change (PICC), including sea level rise, coastal erosion, increased incidences of drought, extreme weather events, reduced agricultural production and more, is central to stemming the environmental impact and consequently the social and economic impact of climate change, including the impact on tourism industries.

In Australia, all levels of government have a role through regulation and policy in adapting to the PICC. However it is at the local government level where much of the responsibility is expected to fall. The challenge for local governments is to identify climate change vulnerabilities and reduce the risks. The implications of the PICC for tourism are dependent on how successfully this challenge is addressed. This study aims to examine the perceptions of NSW local government planners regarding the planning that has been implemented for the PICC and for tourism at local government level in New South Wales, and analyse the implications for local government and for tourism industries.

The data for the study were collected through a voluntary, anonymous questionnaire which asked about planning for climate change, tourism planning and climate change action. The questionnaire was posted to each of the 152 local governments (councils) in NSW, with the aim of eliciting responses from one planner from each council in NSW. A total of 56 questionnaires were completed and returned, and the results show a high perceived vulnerability of local government areas (LGAs) to the PICC but a broad lack of confidence in planning measures. Increased extreme storm events were rated as the most significant potential physical impact of climate change, followed by damage to infrastructure and increased drought. The effectiveness of all planning and policy instruments, the NSW standard Local Environmental Plan (LEP) framework and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 was perceived as very low, indicating a broad scale lack of confidence in planning measures in NSW for the PICC. The perceived effectiveness of these same planning elements rated only slightly better for tourism planning.

One quarter of respondents thought their council had taken no steps at all to plan for the PICC. Furthermore, 61.8 percent of councils are believed to have taken less than three steps to plan for the PICC. The most selected step planners thought their council had taken was collaboration with other council(s). The overall efficacy of steps that had been taken received a low rating from the planners. Respondents, on average, thought their council should take more than double the number of steps over the next five years to plan for the PICC than they have to date. Additionally, respondents overwhelmingly thought that their councils should undertake risk assessments for the PICC over the next five years. The development of policy and collaboration with other councils were also considered important steps that councils should take. Two thirds of planners thought that special provisions addressing climate change should be added to planning instruments and the NSW standard LEP framework.

These results were found to have considerable implications for local governments and for tourism industries in NSW. Local governments that fail to plan for the PICC are considered more vulnerable, not only to the PICC, thereby reducing their resilience, but also to civil and public liability claims and litigation. The implications for tourism industries include increased vulnerability to the PICC but are also compounded by the poor perceived efficacy of the tools to plan for tourism. The results of the study indicate that improved tools for planning for the PICC and for tourism are needed. These improved planning tools can emerge through the application of an iterative adaptive management framework which facilitates constant learning from past inadequacies and applying the lessons learnt to adjust the planning tools. Implications of the results of the study, along with recommendations for future research and the development of appropriate measures to improve the planning framework for local government in New South Wales are presented.