Image from NSW SES

An auditor-general report has called out NSW as the only Australian state or territory not to deliver a state-wide climate change adaptation action plan, despite massive impending risk to public services

It may seem like common sense that all of our built environment assets, both public and private, face a major risk from the worsening impacts of climate change.

However, a new report from the NSW Audit Office found state agencies have fallen dramatically behind in addressing climate risk and developing resilience plans.

NSW auditor-general, Margaret Crawford

According to even modest predictions, over the coming years Australia is set to experience more extreme temperatures, storms, floods, bushfires, droughts and higher sea levels.

Due to the significant costs and impact these risks present, NSW Treasury and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) have a responsibility to assist state agencies in developing resilience plans. 

The auditor general’s report found that so far efforts to do so had been “insufficient” and that DPIE had failed to deliver a state-wide climate change adaptation action, despite being promised by government for completion in 2017.

NSW is alone in having no state adaptation strategy, which all other Australian jurisdictions do, and despite the inevitable billions of dollars that will need to be spent dealing with future disasters, government plans for a Climate Change Fund were also never finalised, the report said..

See recent articles on other infrastructure agencies recommendations that have urged strong attention to climate impact.

Treasury estimates the annual costs incurred by natural disasters will roughly triple by 2060.

“In recent years, natural hazards exacerbated by climate change have damaged and disrupted government transport, communications and energy infrastructure,” the Audit Office report stated

“As climate risks eventuate, they can also increase hospital admissions when people are affected by poorer air quality, and make social housing dwellings or schools unsafe and unusable during heatwaves.”

The report found DPIE’s approach to developing climate projections was robust, but had failed to translate into empowering agencies to deal with climate risk. 

Nine out of 13 government entities examined had not completed climate risk assessments for their assets and services, totalling $120 billion of exposed public assets.

The report also found that DPIE was “not considering the future impacts of climate change in updates to the BASIX targets for energy and thermal comfort.”

BASIX is set for an overhaul this year, with the auditor general far from alone in concerns over how current building standards will hold up over the coming decades in the face of far more extreme climate conditions. 

NSW building standards unsuitable to meet future climate conditions

The report has recommended far greater engagement from Treasury and DPIE to strengthen and monitor agency progress which includes developing clearly defined roadmaps and plans for action. 

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  1. The reality is that NO State or Territory is on top of this and they’re all working in the vacuum of poor federal leadership on climate adaptation. Some States have an adaptation strategy in place but it only reaches to 2050 (29 years away) or 2070 at best (some regions in SA). The federal gov doesn’t even have a Strategy – it’s just an outdated loosely worded policy with no idea of who pays or who does the work. And while everyone continues to focus on the sparkly mitigation side the need to adapt is going to bite us all in the a*se. What we actually need is all tiers of Gov coordinating adaptation strategies, from national to bioregional to inter-state, inter-LGA and local.