Management approaches

Greenhouse gas emissions reduction

Greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets exist on several timescales:

  • Australia’s commitment under the Cancun Agreement is for a 5% decrease on 2000 levels by 2020. While this will be formally assessed and reported to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in April 2022, the available data show that this target has been achieved. In formal terms, achievement of this target is assessed by comparing emissions over the 2013–20 period with targets for each year on a sliding scale from 0 in 2000 to 5% in 2020.
  • As of 27 October 2021, Australia’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement is for a 26–28% reduction in emissions, based on 2005 levels, by 2030. Under current Australian Government policy, the metric against which this target will be assessed is a comparison of cumulative emissions for 2021–30 against a trajectory to 26–28% below 2005 emissions by 2030. The Australian Government has also committed to net zero emissions by 2050 but does not intend to formally legislate that target at this time. Emissions for the year to December 2020 were 20.1% below the 2005 baseline.

All states and territories have set targets for net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier (Table 1). In some cases, these targets are formally legislated, whereas in others they are stated government policy. Renewable energy targets also exist nationally and in some states. In Tasmania, net zero emissions were achieved in 2019, due primarily to the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector being a very large sink and the predominance of zero-emissions sources in electricity generation, but it is unclear whether the LULUCF sink will be sustained at a level sufficient for net zero emissions.

Table 1 State and territory greenhouse gas targets and progress

State or territory

Date of net zero commitment

Intermediate targets (from 2005, unless stated) and renewable energy targets (if any)

2019 emissions change from 2005 (%)



40% (from 1990 baseline) by 2020, 50–60% by 2025, 65–75% by 2030, 90–95% by 2040.

100% RET by 2020


(–45 from 1990)



35% by 2030




50% RET by 2030




30% by 2030




50% by 2030

100% RET by 2030








28–33% by 2025, 45–50% by 2030

40% RET by 2025, 50% by 2030






ACT = Australian Capital Territory; n/a = not applicable; NSW = New South Wales; NT = Northern Territory; Qld = Queensland; RET = renewable energy target; SA = South Australia; Tas = Tasmania; Vic = Victoria; WA = Western Australia

  1. Tasmania has a legislated target of 60% reduction by 2050 (under the Climate Change (State Action) Act 2008) but has announced an intention to legislate for net zero by 2030.

Source: DISER (2019)

Some local governments have also set emissions reduction targets. In most cases, these refer to emissions arising directly or indirectly from a local government’s own activities, but some, such as the City of Sydney (which has adopted a target of net zero emissions by 2035), refer to the community as a whole.

A major Australian Government scheme to support emissions reductions is the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), under which funds are made available through an auction process to support projects that will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by reducing direct emissions or sequestering carbon. In the most recent auction, in April 2021, $108 million was committed to 10 projects, with plans to achieve 6.8 megatonnes (Mt) of mitigation. The ERF also supports the architecture for defining and measuring units of emissions and mitigation (Australian Carbon Credit Units – ACCUs), and supports voluntary offset schemes (see Private sector action for emissions reduction). Vegetation-related projects made up 59% of ACCU supply in the first quarter of 2021 (CER 2021), and waste-related projects accounted for another 27%. In addition, the ERF includes a safeguard mechanism under which the largest emitters are required either to keep their emissions below a baseline or to purchase credits to offset their excess. The ERF achieved 16 Mt of emissions mitigation in 2020, about 3% of average annual Australian emissions (CER 2021).

The Renewable Energy Target, which has been in operation in some form since 2001, sets a target for the amount of energy generated from renewable sources. The 2020 target of 33,000 gigawatt-hours was achieved in January 2021. Together with support for small-scale renewable energy (such as rooftop solar), these have achieved 37.3 Mt in mitigation in 2020. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) provides grants to support renewable energy projects, focusing on pathways to commercialisation for new technologies, with funding rounds for particular technologies and/or projects. ARENA has provided $1.77 billion in funding for a total of 602 projects from 2012 to 30 June 2021. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation also provides finance for renewable energy, energy efficiency and low-emissions opportunities.

Further initiatives have been introduced or are under development (see New technologies). In the transport sector, a Future Fuels Strategy is under development. A discussion paper was released in February 2021, and funding has been budgeted to support the strategy’s implementation, including a Future Fuels Fund to support grants made under the auspices of ARENA. This is intended to develop a pathway towards the uptake of low- or zero-emissions technologies in the road transport sector.

State and territory reduction programs by sector

A wide range of state and territory programs support emissions reduction within their jurisdictions, in some cases complementing national programs. There are also examples of specific emitters having their emissions regulated at state level as part of licensing conditions imposed under broader project environmental approvals. The list of programs below is not exhaustive but provides an indication of the range of programs in place in various parts of Australia.


Programs include the following:

  • Promotion of renewable energy generation developments, including by supporting improvements in transmission infrastructure. A number of potential Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) have been identified in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria (AEMO 2020). These are areas that are considered a high priority for developing transmission infrastructure, currently a limiting factor on some potential renewable energy developments (AEMO 2020), because of the potential for renewable generation in these areas. New South Wales has committed to development of 5 REZs, in New England, the Hunter Valley, the Illawarra, the South West and Central West–Orana (which will be the initial pilot project), and Victoria has announced funding for development of 6 REZs.
  • Purchasing renewable energy. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has achieved a 100% renewable energy target. This is implemented through a reverse-auction process, in which generators are invited to bid to supply renewable energy to the ACT at a fixed rate (feed-in tariff). Although economic development benefits for the ACT form part of the criteria for assessing bids, the generation capacity can be supplied from anywhere in the National Electricity Market. Other jurisdictions are also making use of reverse-auction mechanisms to support renewable energy targets at the state and territory level.
  • Promotion of local renewable hydrogen industries. As an example, Western Australia has developed a strategy and roadmap for development of a local renewable hydrogen industry, with a fund to support specific projects (so far mostly used for feasibility studies). This aims to develop hydrogen as both a fuel source and a feedstock for industrial processes, leveraging some specific advantages of Western Australia. These include the availability of very large potential solar and wind energy resources in the Pilbara and Mid-West regions, respectively, and the existence of a workforce with relevant skills from the liquefied natural gas export industry. More recently, the Northern Territory, which has many of the same advantages, has also developed a renewable hydrogen strategy.


Programs include the following:

  • Support of increased uptake of electric vehicles. At state and territory level, initiatives in place in one or more jurisdictions include funding the expansion of charging infrastructure, stamp duty and/or registration fee concessions, interest-free loans or direct purchase subsidies, and targets for purchasing zero-emissions vehicles for government fleets and public transport.
  • Increased investment in public transport and active transport (cycling and walking).
  • Land-use planning to support reduced demand for transport (e.g. by encouraging higher-density development near major public transport and employment centres).

Built environment and infrastructure

Programs include the following:

  • Promotion of energy efficiency in the built environment, including minimum standards for new builds, energy audits, and assistance for improving energy efficiency of existing buildings. Energy efficiency is the major focus of Sustainable Development Goal target 7.3 (By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency).

New buildings and, in the case of commercial buildings, major refurbishments are required to meet minimum energy efficiency standards. For commercial buildings, these are covered under 2019 changes to the Building Code of Australia. New freestanding residential houses are required in all states and territories (except for New South Wales, which has a separate system – the Building Sustainability Index to achieve a 6-star rating under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme, known as NatHER). The 6-star standard was introduced in 2010.

However, building stock is slow to turn over, and the large majority of Australian buildings, both residential and commercial, will pre-date the 2010 standards for many years to come. The upfront cost of many efficiency measures is also a significant barrier in many cases.

To address this issue, numerous state and territory schemes aim to support energy efficiency upgrades of existing buildings, including incentives for installation of energy-efficient appliances. There are also various schemes to support energy efficiency audits of residential and commercial property. Direct investment has been made in some states in energy efficiency upgrades for public housing.

Rental properties, both commercial and residential, provide a particular challenge because of the mismatch of costs and benefits between owners and tenants – owners generally incur the costs of efficiency improvements, but the benefits primarily accrue to tenants, through reduced energy costs. For commercial buildings, the Building Upgrade Finance program in South Australia is a partnership between building owners, financiers and local councils that ties loans for upgrades to the building (rather than to the owner), and provides a framework for owners and tenants to share the costs and benefits of upgrades. In March 2021, Victoria introduced a new minimum heating standard for rental residential properties.

Government operations

Programs include the following:

  • Reduction of emissions in government operations, including targets for low-emissions outcomes in government purchasing (e.g. of vehicles), and installation of solar panels on government buildings such as schools. The scope of government emissions will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, depending on, for example, the extent to which public transport is operated by government versus the private sector. Most states and territories, and many local governments, have set targets for emissions reductions in their own operations.
  • Improved capture and use of greenhouse gases generated in waste management facilities, in conjunction with local government.

Land use

Programs include the following:

  • Land management, including the regulation of land clearing, and support for carbon farming. A significant focus of the 3 tropical jurisdictions, in conjunction with the Australian Government (see case study: Arnhem Land Fire Abatement program, in the Carbon capital assets section in the Land chapter), is to work with Indigenous communities to enhance the capacity of tropical savanna regions to act as a carbon sink by promoting traditional burning early in the dry season (and thus limiting more destructive fires later in the season).
  • Promotion of lower-emissions outcomes in agriculture, including supporting relevant research and development.

Some of these strategies have also been adopted by local governments, particularly in the larger local government areas. Reduction of emissions associated with waste management has been a particular focus for local councils, because waste management is primarily a local government responsibility and emissions associated with landfills make up a large proportion of the carbon footprint of many councils. These reductions are carried out both by capturing gases produced in landfills for re-use, and by reducing the volume of waste going to landfill through recycling and composting initiatives. Installing more efficient street lighting is also a major emissions initiative for many local governments in urban areas. Councils in some areas have formed consortiums to purchase renewable energy in bulk.

Private sector action for emissions reduction

There is no legally binding requirement at present for private sector entities in Australia (other than large emitters, which fall under the ERF safeguards mechanism, or multinational entities covered by legislation in other countries) to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

However, a substantial number of companies and other organisations have made voluntary commitments to reduce or eliminate their net emissions over time. This includes taking action to reduce emissions from their own activities, and purchasing offsets for their emissions. Many private sector entities have committed to pathways to reach net zero emissions by 2050. For example, several major superannuation funds have committed to net zero emissions from their investments by 2050. An assessment by ClimateWorks Australia and the Monash Sustainable Development Institute has found that, of 195 organisations assessed, 52 were committed to a pathway consistent with net zero emissions by 2050 (ClimateWorks Australia 2021).

The Australian Government supports certification for net zero emissions under the Climate Active banner, which assesses claims against the Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard (previously the National Carbon Offset Standard). The Climate Active branding was introduced in 2019, although carbon-neutral certification has been available since 2010. Certification can be sought either for an entity’s business operations as a whole or for specific items (e.g. products, services, events, buildings). Buildings are certified through the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) or the Green Building Council of Australia. As of 13 August 2021, 173 entities had Climate Active certification at an organisational level, and a further 79 for specific products, services, programs, building portfolios or facilities (Climate Active 2019).

The Clean Energy Regulator provides a framework for companies to report emissions, which supports carbon markets and can be used as a basis for corporate reporting (e.g. to the Australian Stock Exchange) under the National Greenhouse and Energy Regulator scheme. There are also state-level frameworks for endorsement of private sector emissions reductions pledges, such as the Take 2 program operated by the Victorian Government.

Assessment Effectiveness of management – greenhouse gases
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Adequate confidence

Government policy, particularly at state and territory and local levels, is helping to reduce Australia’s emissions. However, Australian emissions are not declining at a sufficient rate to achieve benchmarks consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.
Related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal targets 7.2, 13.2

Assessment Understanding of processes and projections
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is effective, meaning that management measures maintain or improve the state of the environment, but pressures remain as significant factors that degrade environment values. The situation is improving.
Adequate confidence
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was improving.
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was effective, meaning that management measures maintained or improved the state of the environment, but pressures remained as significant factors that degraded environment values. The situation was improving.

There is good understanding of broad processes, and improving confidence in modelling projections at both the national and regional scales. The national greenhouse emissions reporting system is continuing to improve.

Assessment Planning and process
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Adequate confidence
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was stable.
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation was improving.

National targets for greenhouse gas reductions (26–28% on 2005 levels by 2050) remain unchanged since 2016. All states and territories, and some local governments, have set net zero targets by 2050 or earlier, as has the Australian Government.
Australian Government strategies relating to climate change have been broadly similar since 2016, although there have been some changes to specific programs. All states and territories now have wide-ranging climate change strategies, although many are only in the early stages of implementation. There is also substantially increased engagement by local government, often with support from state government, in planning for climate change. Local government is especially important in climate change adaptation since many of the impacts of climate change fall within their area of responsibility. Collaboration between state and local government in this field is substantial in most states.

Assessment Outcomes
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is stable.
Adequate confidence
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was partially effective, meaning that management measures had limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The trend was unclear.
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that management was ineffective, meaning that management measures failed to stop substantial declines in the state of the environment. The trend was unclear.

Current and projected levels of success of national, and state and territory abatement programs suggest that 2020 targets (5% reduction below 2000 levels) have been achieved, even without including short-term reductions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australia’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement is for a reduction of 26–28% on 2005 levels by 2030. A further reduction of 6–8% on 2020 levels is required by 2030 to achieve an annual value in 2030 26−28% below 2005 levels, which will require a slightly faster annual rate of emissions reduction than that achieved between 2013 and 2019. A substantially increased rate of emissions reduction will be required to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier.

Indigenous knowledge and management

Predictions about long-term changes in the Australian climate and the global climate outlook will have an immediate impact on Indigenous knowledge across Australia. These impacts will be experienced by Indigenous people on a local scale and will influence the way in which they manage their traditional knowledge systems and practices, as they have a deep connection to the environment. The ways that Indigenous people connect to and manage knowledge are based on the cultural methodologies applied on a local scale. Indigenous knowledge and management will vary in a diverse range of environmental settings depending on the practice and protocols applied. These cultural methodologies will determine the adaptive measures taken to combat cultural change caused by climate change.

For Indigenous people to predict local climate systems and forecast local weather, they rely largely on knowledge that has been passed down by their ancestors, and gained by reading Country and the natural indicators in the environment. These natural indicators rely on rainfall, good soil health, good populations of native plant species, abundance of biodiversity, the sun and many other environmental factors to maintain culturally healthy systems and consistency. These natural cultural indicators are crucial to the way in which Indigenous people plan in caring for Country and maintain their cultural traditions.

The greater the environmental change, the greater the cultural shift in knowledge that is held within the landscape to predict and forecast weather patterns. Indigenous people continue to rely on the environment within their traditional Country to maintain their knowledge systems, and these are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Seasonal indicators are also integral to fire and other management practices (Hill et al. 2013). This can involve the way that Indigenous people see, feel and interpret Country. If Country is no longer healthy, Indigenous people can see and feel these unhealthy changes.

Although traditional ecological knowledge is the fundamental information source presented orally and handed down for Indigenous people, the emerging climate services sector could deliver a more informed capacity to assist First Nations people better prepare seasonal planning and participate in informed decision-making processes that affect their Country and their knowledge.

Oral knowledge

Indigenous knowledge is oral knowledge, spoken language and cultural expression, and is locally based. Indigenous cultural frameworks include cultural laws and lore, ways of doing, language, dance, song and story. Indigenous people have passed this knowledge down intact since time immemorial, and this practice continues today. Oral knowledge, to Indigenous people, is a unique dataset belonging to them. It is about exercising knowledge and telling the story in a way that cannot be written down and does not need to be, especially if it is sacred knowledge. This includes the way in which knowledge is applied to climate.

Indigenous groups focus on their Country, and how they apply this knowledge is their unique interpretation of their Country. It is related to their embedded knowledge framework; although collectively these systems are diverse, there are commonalities in knowledge and practice across Indigenous groups.

The current poor state of research and data collection for Indigenous people’s traditional knowledge systems can be due to the fear of sharing and elements of the past, and to the complexities of policy and lawmaking in Australia to protect inherent cultural knowledge and the people who maintain it (see the Heritage chapter). Traditional knowledge and practices cannot easily be transferred across to a mainstream framework because these types of frameworks do not always recognise traditional knowledge as science, and there is no pathway followed to understand why Indigenous knowledge and management do not always look like a dataset. In addition, consent to use traditional local knowledge comes with a set of agreed protocols and rules.

Land management and science

Indigenous land management also plays a major role in adaptation to climate change.

Indigenous management practice is a term that describes how Indigenous people use their Country and maintain their traditional knowledge systems. Management is the same as ‘maintenance of culture’; maintenance is about caring for Country and ensuring that knowledge is healthy. Indigenous people need to have an uninterrupted legal connection with their environment to allow maintenance of their culture and ensure that continuity of culture is never broken. Laws and policies governing access to, and use of, the environment sometimes limit the way in which Indigenous people would manage and use their Country (see the Heritage chapter). In some cases, traditional practice, such as cultural burns or tree-marking, contravenes state laws. So active management of Country using traditional lore can present difficulties and legal complexities.

Opportunity exists to integrate western science–based measures of management with Traditional Owner science at an equal level of caring for Country. Indigenous knowledge is a science, and, although western science is a discipline of a separate set of knowledge systems, it also involves diverse thinking. Indigenous knowledge welcomes western science to complement a vast array of cultural methods, and vice versa; the general view is that a learning exchange between Indigenous science and western science can take place.

The only issue that will arise is if western science is viewed as the authority, and traditional knowledge belonging to Indigenous people is seen only as complementary, so that traditional knowledge must fit into a western science framework and ideologies. Indigenous people do not need western science to validate their science. However, western science requires Indigenous ways to meet the standards of western science; otherwise, their knowledge and ancient processes will not be accepted.

Programs such as the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Climate Systems Hub that see Indigenous people as equal partners are at the forefront of Indigenous-led climate action and allow Indigenous people to be active agents of change.

Climate adaptation

Ultimately, climate change is an issue because of the impacts that it will have on a very wide range of natural and human systems (see the other chapters for details of the impacts on various aspects of Australia’s environment).

The timelag between a change in global emissions and resultant changes in the climate means that the climate change that will occur over the next 20–30 years is responding to greenhouse gas emissions that have already taken place. Change on this timeframe is inevitable and largely independent of what happens to emissions in the future. Future emissions will have a strong influence on the trajectory of climate over the second half of the 21st century.

This means that further adaptation to climate change will be required over the next 20–30 years, regardless of emissions trends. Action is needed in both the public and private sectors to mitigate the impacts of climate change and manage climate risk.

As with management of emissions, a very wide range of activities is taking place in this area across all levels of government and through various nongovernment entities. Examples listed in this section are not intended to be exhaustive, and in many cases comparable activities will be happening elsewhere.

Managing climate risk

Climate is a critical factor that needs to be taken into account in risk management throughout the public and private sectors. Many sectors, most obviously agriculture, have long needed to consider and manage the risks associated with year-to-year climate variability. Climate change has amplified many of these risks, introduced new ones, and potentially exposed a broader range of sectors, activities and places to risks that were previously relatively localised. It has become increasingly recognised since 2016 that managing climate risk is an essential component of overall organisational risk management in both the public and private sectors.

All levels of government have a role in climate change adaptation. All state and territory governments have climate adaptation plans (either in their own right or as part of a broader climate policy), and some have a process for ongoing review and reporting against these plans. Some jurisdictions are also in the process of developing sector-specific plans (see Mitigation of specific impacts). Governments also provide support to other organisations for management of climate risk, largely through making relevant climate information available; an example is the Queensland Future Climate Dashboard, which allows users to visualise high-resolution projection data for a place or region of interest.

The Australian Climate Service (see the Extreme events chapter) was established by the Australian Government in 2021 to help users (with an initial focus on Emergency Management Australia, and the National Recovery and Resilience Agency) to understand threats posed by a changing climate and natural hazards, by connecting sources of government data in different agencies: the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, CSIRO and Geoscience Australia. The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, which had supported national capacity development in climate adaptation, completed its Australian Government funding in 2017, although some of its resources are maintained by Griffith University and are still in use. A new cross-hub climate adaptation program under the NESP, led by the NESP Climate Systems Hub, commenced in 2021.

Local governments have a major role in climate change adaptation and managing climate risk, because they are at the front line of many of the impacts of climate change. They are responsible for many of the assets that are placed at risk by climate change, and also have statutory responsibilities for land-use planning and the built environment. However, some forms of climate change adaptation require major investment in new infrastructure or retrofitting of existing infrastructure. This may exceed the financial capacity of local government in the absence of additional sources of funding, as councils are typically responsible for assets with a value around 10 times their annual budget.

Many local governments are also relatively small entities that have limited resources to develop their own climate risk management processes and adaptation plans. Three approaches that have been used to address this issue are as follows:

  • Groups of councils develop joint plans. For example, the AdaptWest partnership is a collaboration between 3 councils in the western suburbs of Adelaide (Port Adelaide Enfield, Charles Sturt and West Torrens) to develop and implement climate adaptation plans and associated initiatives in their region (URPS 2016).
  • State and territory governments develop tools that can be used by local government to support planning. For example, the New South Wales Government has developed a Guide to climate change risk assessment for NSW local government, which provides a detailed guidance for councils in carrying out their own risk assessments, and the Climate risk ready NSW guide, which provides detailed guidance for state government staff in carrying out climate change risk assessments (DPIE 2019).
  • State and territory governments provide grants to local governments to support the development of adaptation strategies. An example is the QCoast2100 program, which has provided grants to coastal local governments in Queensland to develop coastal hazard adaptation strategies.

In the private sector, insurers and financial institutions have a significant role in management of climate risk. They have a substantial exposure to climate risk in their own right, but also play a role in pricing risk for other entities. In extreme cases, an entity or activity exposed to an unacceptable level of climate risk may have difficulty in obtaining finance, or may find insurance expensive or unobtainable. A 2020 review reported that building and contents insurance premiums in the highest-risk postcodes in northern Australia were 3–10 times higher than those in southern Australia, despite the sum insured being lower on average (Tooth et al. 2020). It also reported a number of studies that found a likely increase in the number of high-risk properties with further climate change.

The prospect of reduced insurance premiums can provide strong incentives for risk mitigation, either at the individual property level (such as retrofitting buildings for greater cyclone resilience) or in the development of risk mitigation infrastructure. An example of the latter is that, after numerous flooding episodes in Roma in the late 2000s and early 2010s, which led to sharp increases in insurance premiums, local and state governments invested in the construction of a levee, resulting in an average decrease of 34% in insurance premiums for properties protected by levee. High insurance premiums may also provide an economic incentive for development to be relocated away from high-risk areas such as floodplains.

Governance frameworks for managing climate risk

A key part of the framework for climate risk management has been the recommendations of the G20 Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TFCD), which first reported in 2015. These recommendations set out principles for entities to use in assessing and managing their exposure to climate risk. They are relevant both to entities that are required to make disclosures regarding their financial performance (e.g. publicly listed companies), and to those that are not, including public sector bodies.

In Australia, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority aims to ensure that entities it regulates are actively seeking to understand and manage the risks of a changing climate, without prescribing any specific framework for entities to do so. A draft Prudential Practice Guide on climate change financial risks was released for consultation in April 2021. Guidance on the management of climate risk is also provided through several government and nongovernment channels, such as the Australian Sustainable Finance Roadmap produced by the Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative (a nongovernment body). The Climate Measurement Standards Initiative, an industry-led collaboration, is leading the development of standards to assess climate-related physical risks to buildings and infrastructure in support of TFCD disclosures.

There are other regulatory frameworks that require entities to consider climate risk in their planning. For example, in Victoria, the Climate Change Act 2017 requires decision-makers under a range of other legislation (such as the Water Act 1989, the Environment Protection Act 2017, the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and the Marine and Coastal Act 2018) to consider the potential impacts of climate change on their decisions or actions.

In some cases, responsibility for managing aspects of climate risk is split. One example of this is the application of planning controls to limit development in areas potentially vulnerable to climate change, such as low-lying areas at risk from sea level rise. In all states, planning decisions in coastal areas are generally the responsibility of local government, but local governments are required to take projected climate change into account under state planning policies (or equivalent). In the ACT, which has no coastline, and the Northern Territory, planning decisions are the responsibility of the territory governments; the ACT has no local government, and, in the Northern Territory, local governments have an advisory role only. Most states set a projected sea level rise benchmark (e.g. 0.8 m rise from pre-industrial level by 2100 in Queensland) for councils to use in their planning decisions, although New South Wales leaves the setting of benchmarks to local government. In South Australia, development applications involving coastal land must also be referred to the Coastal Protection Board (see the Coasts chapter).

Mitigation of specific impacts

Many adaptation actions are designed to minimise the risk or magnitude of specific impacts of climate change.

Land use

An important part of climate change adaptation is minimising the extent to which new developments occur in areas that are vulnerable under climate change scenarios. The most visible example is land vulnerable to sea level rise. Several jurisdictions have incorporated a requirement to consider climate change projections (such as projected sea level rise) into their planning legislation. In some cases, councils have adopted more stringent provisions than required under state policy – for example, in Victoria, the Moyne Shire has adopted a benchmark of 1.2 m sea level rise by 2100 in planning for Port Fairy, whereas the benchmark used by Victoria at state level is 0.8 m.

Sea level and coastal impacts

Coastal areas have a high level of vulnerability to climate change. Sea level is projected to increase from 1995–2014 levels by 0.28–1.01 m by 2100, depending on the emissions pathway, leading to a large increase in the frequency of inundation of susceptible areas. Some coastlines are also highly susceptible to erosion, which is likely to be exacerbated by rising sea levels. A large proportion of Australia’s population lives near the coast, and there is extensive development in many areas that are at risk from coastal inundation or erosion. Sea level rise also poses a risk to natural ecosystems, such as mangroves, in the coastal zone (see the Coasts chapter).

In the major cities, ports, and industrial areas associated with ports, are often in locations particularly vulnerable to sea level rise; residential areas are also at risk in some regions. One example of a particularly vulnerable region is the Port Adelaide area in South Australia. This area already experiences inundation of some areas, which floods low-lying residential areas and disrupts transport, under the existing climate (e.g. during an event in May 2016). Projections carried out as part of the western Adelaide region climate change adaptation plan (see Managing climate risk) show that many more built-up areas around Port Adelaide will be susceptible to occasional inundation by the latter part of the century, especially under higher-end sea level rise scenarios.


The availability of water is highly sensitive to climate. A given change in rainfall will generally result in a change in streamflow, which multiplies the rainfall change, so what may appear a relatively modest rainfall change (such as the decreases of 10–20% in cool-season rainfall observed in southern Victoria and south-west Western Australia) can result in a very large change in streamflow, with major consequences for overall water availability. This is important in the longer-term management of water, including the development of infrastructure (see the Inland water and Urban chapters).

Built environment and infrastructure

The built environment plays an important role in mitigating the impacts of climate change on human health. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings, in addition to reducing the demand for energy, will lead to indoor temperatures remaining cooler during heatwaves. Numerous programs are addressing this (see the Urban chapter).

The electricity sector, which has a mix of public and private sector participants, has a high level of exposure to climate risk. The exposure involves supply (solar, wind and hydro-electric generation all depend on weather conditions), demand (which is highly sensitive to temperature), and the resilience of generating and transmission infrastructure to risks such as severe weather and bushfires.

The Electricity Sector Climate Information project was established in 2018−19, with Australian Government funding, to improve information on climate and extreme weather for the electricity sector. It is led by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, with support from the Australian Energy Market Operator (Climate Change in Australia 2021). The main purposes of this project are to manage risks to reliability and resilience of electricity systems, and to build sector capability to assess climate risks. Outputs from the project include a standardised climate risk analysis methodology and assessment framework, detailed case studies, and weather and climate information tailored to the electricity sector. They also include reports on the impact of extreme heat on renewable energy generation, and a report on using extreme and compound events for decision-making.

Emergency management

Climate change is expected to increase the risk of several natural hazards (see the Extreme events chapter). Heatwaves and extreme fire weather are expected to become more common; extreme rainfall is expected to become more likely in many parts of the country; and higher sea levels are likely to increase hazards in coastal areas. This potentially increases losses as a result of natural hazards, as well as creating additional stresses on emergency management. Compound events, or coincident events in different parts of the country, are particularly stressful for emergency management capacity.


Climate change raises human health and wellbeing issues. More lives have been lost through heatwaves than through any other natural hazard in Australia (Coates et al. 2014). The frequency of heatwaves has been increasing and is expected to continue to increase. A higher frequency of smoke pollution associated with bushfires is also likely to have adverse health impacts.

Urban areas are typically hotter than surrounding rural areas (the ‘urban heat island’ effect), especially in heavily developed areas with limited vegetation cover (see the Urban chapter). This increases heat stress on human health in these areas, particularly during heatwaves. One method of mitigating this impact is to reduce the intensity of the urban heat island effect by increasing vegetation cover within the urban area (which also has other benefits, such as sequestering carbon). The ACT Government has set a target of increasing tree canopy cover within the urban area of Canberra from its current 19% to 30% by 2045. Targets for increasing tree canopy cover have also been set in many other Australian urban areas by local councils, or as part of metropolitan planning processes. A potential barrier to this in some areas is limited water availability, or other stresses associated with climate change, making it more difficult to maintain existing trees or establish new ones.

There have been substantial improvements in heatwave warning services since the 2009 summer heatwave, which is estimated to have resulted in 374 excess deaths in Victoria (excluding those related to bushfires) (DHHS 2012). In some states, state and territory health or emergency authorities, in conjunction with the Bureau of Meteorology, now issue warnings or alerts ahead of major heatwaves. Specific mitigation actions include engaging with vulnerable people (especially the elderly). In addition to these specific mitigation activities, the development of heatwave warning services has increased public awareness of heatwaves as a high-impact natural hazard.