31 August 2018
Our changing climate will affect every community across the country. Responding to the changes that are already occurring, and planning for the changes still to come, is a huge task, with local councils on the front line.
Important decisions about services and infrastructure need to consider a range of factors to ensure community sustainability and resilience, including the best available information about our current and future climate.
Do councils have access to and use the latest climate change science information?
A small pilot study carried out by the ESCC Hub looked at how climate change information is being accessed and used by local councils, to guide the development and delivery of information products for local government.
Responses collected in a survey and interviews suggest that existing climate change information is not accessible or applicable to many council operational tasks, and council staff are not resourced nor required to interpret and apply existing information.
What are the barriers to using climate change information in local government?
A common reason for not using climate change information was that there was no ‘local’ information available. The perception that only detailed, local information (e.g. downscaled projections) is useful for planning and decision-making means that, in its absence, little or no climate change information is being considered in operational and planning decisions. These decisions, with implications for the next 20–30 years and beyond are still being made, but without considering tolerances and thresholds that current climate change information can provide insight to.
There are also a number of organisational and operational barriers. Five common issues were apparent:
- There are vastly different levels of understanding of climate change and how it may affect councils and their constituents within and between councils.
- Council staff are dealing with many (and sometimes conflicting) priorities, of which climate change is just one (and certainly not the most immediate concern).
- Councils generally have limited time, personnel and resources to devote to climate change issues. There is not always scope for long-term initiatives as councils work on a four-year cycle, in line with local government elections.
- There is an overwhelming supply of climate change information, data and advice which is not readily interpreted or applied, and so is put to the side (particularly in light of the first three factors).
- Unless considering climate change information is required as part of a standard operating procedure or legislated guideline, there is no driver to incorporate it into decision making.
A way forward
There are many tools and products being developed to assist local government apply climate change information. However, the time, resource and other operational constraints that prevent the uptake of existing climate change information are just as applicable to these products.
While these more involved tools are in development, there is scope for the development and use of simple guidelines that provide the working knowledge necessary to incorporate preliminary/high-level climate change information into planning decisions. Downscaled data may not be available for every local government area, but knowing how to use the information that is available means that climate change can be factored into planning decisions.
To this end, the Hub is developing guidelines to aid local government (and indeed, anyone interested in conducting a climate change impact assessment) to find and apply climate change science information. We’ll work with councils to develop and test the guidelines which should make it easier for planning and policy decisions to be appropriately informed by the latest climate change science.
For more information on the pilot study, download Climate change science impact: Climate change information for local government.
If your council is interested in learning more about the development of the guidelines, please contact Hub Knowledge Broker Mandy Hopkins on 03 9239 4649 or firstname.lastname@example.org.