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Publication details

White, NE 2012, 'Local governments’ risk-based approach to climate change adaptation: a missed opportunity for resilience in New South Wales,' poster presented to the 2012 Annual Conference, Climate Adaptation in Action: sharing knowledge to adapt, Melbourne, Vic, 26-28 June.


Parts of New South Wales (NSW) have experienced warming of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius in the period 1960 to 2009, indicating that the impacts of climate change are already being felt. Immediate, effective adaptation to potential impacts is crucial in reducing vulnerability to climate change. All three levels of government in Australia have a role in adaptation planning however it is local government that is at the ‘coal face’ of the outcomes of imminent climatic changes. This empirical research seeks to discover whether the existing institutional and cultural environment of local governments in NSW facilitates or impedes effective adaptation. Interviews were conducted with personnel from NSW local governments to discuss any adaptation processes undertaken, and the success of the outcomes. These interviews have been critically analysed by applying resilience and adaptive management theories.

The research has uncovered a pattern of predominantly risk-based approaches to climate change adaptation by NSW local governments. The factors that have lead to this dominance of risk-based approaches include: direct intervention of the Australian federal government; State based regulatory governance influences; local governments’ existing competences in risk management and hazard reduction; and organisational culture. The analysis of these factors suggests that leadership, resources and values are critical influences on adaptation decision-making processes. It is argued that risk-based approaches, which are often localised and site-specific, restrict the suite of adaptive responses that can contribute to enhancing total system resilience. This, paradoxically, can limit the capacity of socio-ecological systems within the local government jurisdiction, as well as neighbouring systems, to adapt to change, thus leading to maladaptation. Ameliorating NSW local governments’ risk-based approach to adaptation would be complex, due to the factors and influences identified in this research, and because resilience is not a normative concept and does not conform to established principles of government policy.