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More than 90 per cent of local councils in Victoria and NSW concerned about impacts from climate change.

• 11 November 2022 • 4 min read
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More than 90 per cent of local councils across NSW and Victoria are concerned about the effects from storms and flooding on their communities in the coming months, as a major impact of climate change.

At the same time, ratepayers are looking to their councils for action to help mitigate against the effects of climate change in their neighbourhoods.
As nations meet for COP27, the 27th annual UN meeting on climate change, the critical role of local government in preparing and supporting communities to manage its impact has been highlighted in a new report by Maddocks.

Managing Climate Risk: Council Benchmarks presents insights into how local government is managing climate risk, based on the responses of almost 200 local councils in NSW and Victoria.

Councils are overwhelmingly aware of the risk of climate change for their communities and the need to take action to manage those risks. Heatwaves, drought, bushfires and rising sea level were also highlighted as of significant concern with climate change impacting vegetation and wildlife, residents’ wellbeing and local industries such as declining tourist numbers.

The findings come as regions along Australia’s east coast are experiencing a third consecutive La Nina event. It suggests a more collaborative approach is now required between council areas to ensure there is greater protection in the years ahead.

Maddocks Partner Patrick Ibbotson said: “All levels of government are grappling with the repercussions of climate change and shifting weather patterns – but it’s at the local level that we find the greatest sense of expectations from Australian communities.
“Councils need to be leading discussions with their communities, and importantly, with each other so that a coordinated response is enacted to better protect local residents, industries and environment.

“While NSW and Victorian councils have adopted many initiatives to help meet their net zero targets, they risk litigation if they are not seen to be doing enough to mitigate, adapt and transition for climate change. They need to systematically understand how climate change risk interacts with their core functions such as approving developments and management of bushfire and flooding risk.”

Areas of exposure

When asked about the greatest areas of exposure in relation to potential climate-related litigation, respondents cited negligence claims, as well as broader risks related to planning functions including allowing development in high-risk areas and ensuring sustainable design and building standards to climate risks.

While 70 per cent of participants said their council had undertaken a risk assessment to determine what actions are needed to prevent climate change damage, a number expressed concern that assessments were out of date or still underway, while others said their council lacked sufficient resources for completion.

Community and Council knowledge

As the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are projected to rise, rate payers will increasingly look to their council for guidance in how to prepare their homes, businesses and local community for what lies ahead.

Despite the high expectations, a third of respondents said their local communities had no understanding of the issue of climate risk.

The report also found:

  • Of those councils with net-zero plans in place (61 per cent), 84 per cent are improving energy efficiency of local buildings and infrastructure, 82 per cent are switching to renewable energy such as on site solar, and 67 per cent are increasing canopy cover in towns and cities.
  • Just over 30 per cent of respondents are using low emissions building materials in new constructions while 23 per cent are offsetting residual emission sources which can’t be reduced.
  • A number said they were also divesting from suppliers that profit from fossil fuels.

The report also found that councils are reaping economic benefits from net zero policies, primarily due to managing energy costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (85 per cent).

Almost 80 per cent of respondents said there were long term cost savings from renewable energy projects. A number of council staff said electric vehicle charging stations and battery projects were also delivering more income and cited other indirect benefits such as attracting new business and residents to communities.

Policies and Procedures

A very high number of councils have put in place policies to help manage climate risk issues with almost three quarters of those surveyed having sustainable procurement initiatives (73 per cent) while almost 70 per cent have renewable and low carbon energy projects in place.

Around 85 per cent of councils said they had measures in places for sustainable development of their capital works programs.

About Maddocks

Maddocks is a proudly independent Australian law firm that works closely with corporations, businesses and governments throughout Australia and internationally. We advise national and international clients across infrastructure and development, and the education, government, healthcare, and technology sectors, from our Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney offices. Our specialist expertise includes dispute resolution and litigation, employment and safety, financial services, franchising and insolvency.

For more information:

Lisa Macnamara
Head of Communications
Tel: 02 9291 6114
[email protected]

Read Managing Climate Risk - Council Benchmarks

We asked nearly 200 people within local government for their views on the importance of climate change, how they perceive the actions being taken to date by local government, and whether they are seeing the collaborative approach that is now required.

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