What is climate change?

    Climate change is the name given to shifts in temperature and weather patterns  that normally occur over long periods of time. Although weather may change quickly, like when a hot day can suddenly become cold and wet, climate change is involves changes to the average (or normal) weather conditions and affects the overall nature of an area. For example, the climate of an area may change from cold and wet most of the time to hot and dry. It is important to understand that small changes in climate such as average temperatures can lead to big changes in how often we experience extreme weather events such as floods, heat waves and storms and how severe these events are when they occur. Importantly, the plants and animals that support life on earth are under increasing stress from these changes and global systems of food production are threatened by the current rate of climate change. 

    Why is climate change happening?

    Our current way of generating energy is largely from burning coal, oil and gas. This activity leads to carbon dioxide gas getting into the atmosphere and trapping heat from escaping like a warm blanket in winter. This is called the greenhouse effect and it is changing our planet. 

    Another important gas contributing to the problem is methane which is released from the breakdown of plant and animal waste (importantly for Council, from our waste facility) and from the release of gas normally stored underground which happens as we extract gas for use as an energy source. 

    Why is Council thinking about changes that normally occur over thousands of years?

    Climate is changing much faster than it has in the past, making it harder for us to keep up. We are seeing changes happening so fast that we need to start planning now for changes that are expected this century.  

    We need to prepare for some significant challenges ahead as our weather is influenced by the effect of the gasses being released every day across the world. Even if we do make rapid changes to move away from adding extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by using other forms of energy such as solar, wind and water, there are likely to be some difficult times ahead from the gasses that are already released and the climate changes already locked in. 

    What is climate change adaptation?

    Climate change adaptation is asking what we can do to minimise the harm and prepare for a future where the weather is more extreme. It doesn’t stop us working as hard as we can to stop making the problem worse, which is why we also have a Climate Change Mitigation Plan about how we are going to get to net zero emissions by 2030 for Council and 2050 for the community.  

    We are expecting more powerful storms, higher ocean water levels, more devastating bushfires and longer droughts. At a local level we want to prepare for these challenges as best as we can.  

    The draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan discusses each of the key hazards and what actions we can take to address them. Some of these adaptations will not need to happen for many years as some climate change will occur relatively slowly, but we need to plan ahead and be ready to act as conditions change. 

    How have we prepared the draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan?

    The draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan has been prepared from looking at what scientific predictions have been made for our future climate and talking to council staff and other experts about how these changes might affect our services and assets such as buildings, footpaths and roads and what we can do deal with these impacts. The first step was doing a risk assessment about what our future climate might mean for our current land uses and assets, then this technical assessment was discussed with Council staff to get an idea of what might be done to reduce the worst effects. Although the draft plan is focussed on Council operations, it is also considering broader community impacts of climate change. 

    What are some of the key issues we are thinking about?

    The draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan breaks down climate risk into different hazards, but it is important to remember that they are all related to each other. We can see that droughts contribute to bushfire hazard and storms affect flooding and coastal erosion. The draft plan tried to use a small number of themes to help focus attention on what actions we needed. 

    Will Wollongong get hotter?

    Wollongong is expected to get hotter over the next 80 years. This will lead to more ‘very hot’ days and longer heat wave events where it stays hot for several days at a time. We are lucky to have the ocean near us to help keep us cool, but this doesn’t always protect us from the stress of heat on our community. We particularly want to make sure that the very young and older residents can stay safe during heat wave conditions. The ‘very hot’ days are those that pose the greatest risk to our community, extreme heat is one of the biggest, yet least recognised, killers of vulnerable people. 

    Council needs to better understand the impact of heat on our communityThe draft adaptation plan suggests Council look at where heat is going to have the biggest impact on our community and developing approaches to reduce these impacts. We are also going to continue to consider heat in the types of materials we use in building roads and how we design community facilities. 

    Will Wollongong experience changes to flooding?

    Rainfall is expected to be less in winter, but there is likely to be bigger downpour events in summer. Wollongong has been dealing with flooding for many years, so we are in a strong position to deal with future flooding impacts. Our adaptation actions focus on continuing this good work and making sure stormwater networks are maintained to handle storms and we are equipped to respond to flood emergencies. We also need to help our community to understand and prepare for flooding events. 


    What changes to bushfire risk do we expect?

    The risk of major bushfire events, like we saw in the Christmas New-year period of 2019/2020, is likely to increase as the region experiences hotter summers and drier winters. Wollongong has a lot of vegetation that could be subject to bushfire, so we need to plan carefully to manage this risk. 

    Our draft adaptation plan suggests that Council continues to update its safety and risk management approaches as we experience worsening bushfire conditions. It also calls on Council to begin working with First Nations traditional owners on managing bushland using traditional knowledge and practices. 

    Will we have more storms?

    Storms are a normal part of the weather affecting Wollongong, but with climate change, it is expected that storms could be more intense and are likely to occur more often. Due to our coastal location, storms can be associated with large waves and increased tides leading to coastal erosion and flooding. All of these risks mean that buildings and assets that could withstand a storm in the past may be damaged by future storms.   

    Our approach to preparing for this future is based around developing and implementing an Open Coast Coastal Management Program over the next few years. This will guide where we build new infrastructure such as surf clubs, roads and bridgesand how we manage existing infrastructure as the coast changes. We will also continue to respond to emergencies and support the community to recover from storms. 

    Will we have more droughts?

    Wollongong is expected to see reduced winter rainfall and increased drought conditions in the future. This may lead to stress on our playing fields and public spaces such as parks and natural areas. It would also likely lead to restrictions on use of drinking water. 

    To help protect against drought, Council will review its water efficiency and consider water harvesting and storage options.  

    What changes in sea level rise can we expect?

    As the earth warms, ice melts and flows into the ocean leading to the total amount of water in the ocean increasing. For Wollongong, this means that the average height of the ocean is increasing each year. A small change in the sea level can lead to big impacts on the coastline. We will expect to see the combination of more intense storms and sea level rise leading to increased damage to the coastline such as the erosion of beaches and the damage tocoastal infrastructure such as cycleways, carparks, roads, stormwater networks and surf clubs. 

    To manage this risk, Council is preparing an Open Coast Coastal Management Program. We are also looking at reviewing our response through work health and safety and ongoing improvements to our approach. 

    What happens next in our planning?

    Your feedback on this draft plan will be reported back to Council along with any changes to the draft. If Council adopts the plan, we will add the actions to our supporting document action register and work through how we will implement them. The outcomes of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan will also be reported to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. This information is publicly available and encourages thousands of other cities like ours to work to address climate change. 

    What can you do to help?

    Adapting to climate change is a challenge for all of us. Let us know what you would like Council to focus on to address these issues. Can you think of ways that we can do better? Use the feedback form to let us know.