Communicating the need for climate change response

Climate means change!  How do we tell our communities?


Greg Hunt, Executive Officer


Climate change impacts have the potential for serious disruption for our communities.  In this paper, I explore some implications of the looming changes, report on examples of successful approaches for community engagement and explore issues still to be addressed.


In June, 2008 the WPGA (now the South East Councils Climate Change Alliance, SECCCA) released the report People, Property and Places:  Impacts of Climate Change on Human Settlements in the Western Port Region . This presented the projections developed by CSIRO and Marsden Jacob Associates of regional climate change impacts, described separately for each of the 5 member councils, and the possible socio-economic consequences.

 Biophysical impacts  Indicative change 2030  Indicative change 2050
 Fire weather

Days/yr of forest fire risk


Increase by 1 – 2


Increase by 1 – 7

 Indicative change 2030  Indicative change 2070
 Average temperature


Average days > 35 oC

 Increase by 0.5 – 1.1 oC


Increase by 1 – 3

 Increase by 0.9 – 3.5 oC


Increase by 1 – 17

 Average rainfall


Extreme rainfall

2 hr events

 Decrease 0 – 8%



Increase 15 – 25%

 Decrease 0 – 23%



Increase 20 – 70%

 Sea-level rise


Storm surge

ARI 1:100 yr event

 Increase to 0.17 m



1:40 yrs – 1:6 yrs

 Increase to 0.49 m



1:20 yrs – 1:1 yr

Examples of the projected biophysical impacts, a complete listing of the projections and their consequences is shown in the attached table Overview of Climate Change Impacts in the Western Port Region.


With the identification of the expected biophysical impacts, risks assessments were conducted in association with council staff for the impacts projected for their councils. On the basis of these risks, adaptations workshops were held, with participation from councils, government agency staff and others. These explored the range of adaptation options available to each council in response to these risks.

Both the risks and adaptation options are described in the report Impacts of Climate Change on Human Settlements in the Western Port Region: Climate Change Risks and Adaptations released in October 2008. SECCCA and member councils are working through the responses that they can make to provide protection for their own infrastructure and support for their communities.

Project responses

The project Impacts of Climate Change on Human Settlements in the Western Port Region: an Integrated Assessment has generated considerable interest in the region and more broadly. It is one of the first opportunities to take the global phenomenon of climate change, apply its projected impacts to a specific region and investigate the range of responses that might be available for implementation. While there might be little opportunity to have a direct influence at a global level, a member of a community can surely respond at the level at which they live and work, in their local community. It is perhaps little surprise that it is local government where much of the work in responding to climate change, whether involvement in mitigation programs or in adaptation approached, is occurring.

Victoria experienced 3 days of extreme temperatures in January 2009 as a result of which there were 370 extra deaths, while a week later 170 perished in the Black Saturday bushfires. The temperatures were as follows:

Wed Jan 28     43.4oC

Thur Jan 29     44.3oC

Fri     Jan 30     45.1oC

Sat    Feb 7       46.4oC

Melbourne had a record run of 123 days above 20o0C to April 11 this year. The previous record run was 78 days. In conjunction with Victoria’s Department of Human Services, SECCCA councils have developed heat wave strategies for the protection of communities in these times of climate change induced extreme weather. These have been incorporated into councils’ Emergency Management or Public Health Plans.

Climate change impacts are not just in temperature. The data from the Impacts of Climate Change project indicates that Western Port communities will experience more frequent and more severe rainfall, high winds and storm surges. Local government has an important role in disseminating information and educating the community to assist in preparation for these events and to hasten the recovery In this project, investigating and planning for increased community preparedness will minimise the effects of these impacts, improve recovery responses and identify and prepare sections of the community that are more vulnerable to the anticipated impacts.

SECCCA councils have developed and trialed communication strategies for bringing their communities further into the conversation regarding climate change. The starting point is different for each council, but the messages are consistent and informed by the CSIRO-developed data.

Emergency Management frameworks are typically based upon discrete stages:  Prevent, Prepare, Respond and Recover. Local government has a number of staff positions in these areas with work programs directed to one or more of these stages. For example, for the stages Prevent and for Prepare, planning departments apply local policies designed to direct development in safe areas, drainage engineers design and implement fold management infrastructure and operations while community care and service provision departments develop materials and advice for residents for ‘fire-proofing ‘their properties. Councils each have a designated MERO, a Municipal Emergency Response Officer, with a responsibility to maintain an oversight of the council’s emergency response program. The MERO is also the liaison officer with the emergency services who are active in the Respond stage.

Local government has a statutory role in the delivery of support and services in the Recover stage. As well as developing project responses for prevention and Preparation with council staff, SECCCA wishes particularly to work with potential partners to develop project-based responses for its council members to assist in the development and implementation of Recovery programs.

Council responses

The Climate Change Risks and Adaptations report was presented to each member council of the WPGA as the basis for developing their own responses to its findings. Elected councillors received a half-hour face-to-face briefing from the WPGA where they could consider the data and clarify its findings. Briefings at staff meetings have been given and council staff representatives on the WPGA Management Committee have been kept informed on implementation progress in each council.

Unsurprisingly, councils are responding differently on behalf of the different risks they face and in consideration of their different communities. The following description of activities underway is by no means exhaustive with regard to the range of council responses.

The response to the report has been under consideration by Bass Coast Shire Council. A briefing on the first report People, Property and Places was given to approximately 80 council staff in July 2008. In June 2009, a forum was held with representatives of council, police, state emergency services, Country Fire Authority, Ambulance Victoria, Phillip Island Nature Parks (a major local employer) and the Salvation Army.  Participants at this forum considered the climate change data from the Climate Change Risks and Adaptations report to inform the development of a framework for a local response. In the first instance, this resulted in identifying key themes for response by the Bass Coast Shire Council and the emergency services partners.

in priority order for response, the first five themes to emerge are as follows:

Potential Themes
Educate the community and manage expectations
Whole of community/agency approach (e.g. emergency services, volunteers, other services)
Preparedness (e.g. health systems, communications and community capacity)
Behaviour change
Risk assessment on community and assets including critical infrastructure, habitat & animals



The future directions to be taken by council in response to these themes will be considered within the context of the Council Plan and the associated Environmental Sustainability Plan.

Other issues raised throughout the workshop that relate to participation were:

  • Need to continually improve partnerships across local agencies
  • Volunteer recruitment, retention and management
  • A set structure and terms of reference for any group that may be formed
  • Potential to link into other already established groups

The council considers that it will be important that participants both commit to and understand the need for long term planning from a local perspective that links with both regional and state climate change initiatives.

Another council has  established a cross-council Climate Change Taskforce, chaired by the Director Planning and Development Services, to oversee a whole-of-council response. Following the briefing to elected councillors, the Executive Management Group (CEO and 4 Directors) was briefed and then in turn, the Management Team (EMG and the 23 team managers) received a briefing. From this, each manager has established a briefing for their Team leaders, so that findings relevant to their teams can be considered in the budget process, work program development and allocation of responsibilities.

Some teams have anticipated climate change impacts and have been making adaptation responses already. For example, the Parks and Reserves Team reported at their briefing that for some 4 years now they have progressively changing to more drought-tolerant grass species on their recreation parks and ovals. They have reduced the number of times that they cut the grass, they have installed water tanks and they have taken out contracts for recycled water.

The Community Safety Team were enthusiastic participants in the development of the Heat Wave strategy to improve the level of care afforded to vulnerable citizens in the event of heat waves. This strategy is being incorporated into the City’s Public Health Plan.

Other teams to be briefed included Building Services, Youth and Family Services, Arts and Leisure, Planning, City Living, Community Care and Health Promotion, Contracts and Purchasing, Communications and Organisational Strategy.

The Climate Change Task Force prepared a booklet for distribution to residents. This is well illustrated and written in plain language to explain the climate change data. It includes descriptions of council’s adaptation actions and advice for residents for mitigation actions.

Another council which also established a council-wide taskforce, chaired by the General Manager of Development started by conducting internal briefings for staff to familiarise them with the climate change projections for the municipality.

The task force is currently examining implementation of adaptation responses within the context of the cities Statement 2025 – A vision for our community’s future which incorporates the council’s sustainability policy. In the development of their Public Health and Well Being Plan, responses to climate change impacts were incorporated. Data from the report People, Property and Places was presented for consideration at the community-wide workshop, with 80+ community members present, held to initiate the development of the plan.

In yet another of SECCCA’s member councils, there were briefings at elected councillor level, at Senior Executive level and at department level. This council commenced their response with a public engagement program, starting with a booklet for their residents Climate Change: what we are doing about it and a program of 12 community Climate Change Conversations at which data from the report would be discussed. Details of this project are given in the paper Telling them all we know.

Over 3000 people attended. At the completion of the program, a group within the council was established to consider the next activities that should be developed; having raised expectations the challenge before council was to meet them. The shire’s monthly newspaper contains a dedicated section within it to update residents on progress in responding to climate change.

What did we learn?

The data contained in the report People, Property and Places – Impacts of Climate Change on Human Settlements in the Western Port Region: an Integrated Assessment was a necessary precursor to these council responses. In many of the briefings, the first question asked is often “from where did this data originate and can we have confidence in it?” When the answer “it was generated by the CSIRO using accepted international methodologies” is given, participants then get on with considering its implications. The authority of the CSIRO behind the data is invaluable.

A further precondition to broad-ranging council activity is the sponsorship of the response by a senior staff member. While the response within one council might have been some time in commencing, once the Director Planning and Community Services gave his imprimatur to this work, it proceeded apace. Upon release of the report, the Chief Executive Officer of another council initiated the community response immediately and gave the program of climate change conversations a suitable budget allocation. He personally chaired each one of the 12 forums.

A further element for the success of the project was the localisation of the project to each council. That data was considered at the municipal level and analysed for its implications for discrete communities at their various geographic locations meant that residents could see its relevance for them. The tree-changers in the forested foothills of the Great Dividing Range  face very different issues arising from very different impacts from the sea-changers in the low-lying coastal villagers at the north end of Western Port. Both need to see data of relevance to them in order to take notice.

The project aroused considerable interest  – for its methodology and particularly for its findings. Briefings and presentations have been provided to the widest range of relevant forums. The project has been the subject of a presentation to the 17th NSW Coastal Conference held at Wollongong in November 2008, presentations at ICLEI’s Climate Change Adaptation – Local Government Leadership Forums in Melbourne (March 2009) and Hobart (May 2009) and at RMIT University’s workshop Bushfire Research after February 7, what can we expect and what is needed? The project was described in some detail at a hearing before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts’ Inquiry into climate change and environmental impacts on coastal communities. It was also featured in the DVD Local Adaptation to Climate Change made for screening at the Australian Council of Local Government held at Parliament House, Canberra, in late June 2009.

Where to from here?

SECCCA wishes to develop a project-based regional response for member councils to complement their separate intra-council programs.

The region is a major producer of food for local consumption and for export. The agricultural production on the drained Koo Wee Rup Swamp that fringed Western Port results in some sediment loss and more nutrient loss from this land. This should be the subject of further work as the future of food production needs to be secured within the context of reductions in water availability, higher temperatures and urban encroachment. This investigation into building production capacity should also be accompanied with work leading to a commensurate reduction in impacts upon the natural values of Western Port.

It is the responsibility of each council to provide for its residents, so implementation of the adaptation responses that provide for more informed planning, better infrastructure provision and maintenance and more effective community care should be built into council planning and operations. It is the role of SECCCA, on behalf of its member councils, to provide a regional response, working through appropriate projects that are important to councils. Five such projects are listed above and further responses will be developed into project briefs and funding sought to deliver upon them as adaptation responses progress through council, communities and local organisations. SECCCA acts in a service role for implementation of adaptation responses, maintains oversight of council activities in this area and assists where-ever appropriate to maximise the benefits of this innovative project.

Downloads of the project reports are available on the WPGA website – their URLs are as follows:

People, Property and Places – Impacts of climate change on settlements in the Western Port Region


Impacts of climate change on settlements in the Western Port Region; Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Report


Telling you all we know – conversations about Climate Change on Mornington Peninsula

For further information, please contact SECCCA on 0400 948 546 or

Overview of Climate Change Impacts in the Western Port Region

Climate variable Indicative change* Exposed people and land** Exposed property and infrastructure** Most sensitive locations Economic

and social impacts

Vulnerable sectors Vulnerable groups
Sea level rise / storm surge (Chapter 3) 2030 2070 §  up to 2,270 people directly exposed

§  due to coarse resolution of topographic data, people and properties exposed to inundation may be understated, especially along Port Phillip Bay coastline


§  ~1,030 residential properties

§  ~60 commercial and other properties

§  most beaches, coastal wetlands and foreshore reserves

§  most boating facilities

§  ~ 87km of roads

§  some drainage infrastructure

Bass Coast:

§  Cowes, Rhyll, Cape Woolamai

§  Bass River

§  Grantville, Coronet Bay

§  possibly in vicinity of Inverloch


§  no major settlements


§  Tooradin, Warneet


§  most of central and northern foreshore

§  Kananook Creek and surrounds, including possibly Frankston CBD and Seaford wetlands and surrounds

Mornington Peninsula:

§  Crib Point, Hastings, Shoreham and Stony Point (Western Port Bay)

§  possibly Balcombe Creek, Dromana Bay, Safety Beach, Dunns Creek, West Rosebud (Port Phillip Bay)

§  partial or (in worst case) complete loss of land values in affected areas

§  major amenity impacts associated with damage to beaches and foreshore reserves

§  impacts on businesses dependent on beach related tourism

§  increased insurance costs or lack of access to insurance

§  costs associated with beach and foreshore maintenance (e.g. beach renourishment)

§  tourism

§  recreation and boating

§  local government

§  low income households

§  elderly households

Sea level rise ↑ up to  0.17 m ↑ up to

0.49 m

Storm tide – max. height, 1:100 year ARI (current 2.10 m, Cowes) 2.29 m 2.74 m
Storm tide – max. height, 1:100 year ARI (current 1.16 m, Frankston) 1.37 m 1.80 m
Storm surge – change to 1:100 year ARI ↓ to

1:40 – 1:6

↓ to

1:20 – 1:1

Inundation area Western Port Bay

(1:100 year storm surge)

up to

12.6 sq km

up to

17.7 sq km

Inundation area Port Phillip Bay***   (1:100 year storm surge) up to

1.1 sq km

up to

1.6 sq km

Extreme rainfall

(Chapter 4)

2030 2070 §  up to 39,480 people

§  up to 580 km2 of land

§  ~13,390 residential properties( incl. rural), (~3,200 dwellings)

§  ~2,050 commercial, industrial and other properties

§  public infrastructure including schools, health care facilities, halls

§  reserves and parks

§  ~1,412 km of roads, 26 bridges

§  extensive drainage infrastructure

§  railway lines

Bass Coast:

§  Bass River flood plain


§  all of southern section of Shire / Koo Wee Rup Swamp


§  much of eastern and southern sections of city

§  significant pockets around  Hallam, Narre Warren, Berwick (e.g. Hallam Main drain) and Cranbourne


§  most of central and northern coastal hinterland

§  Frankston CBD

§  Seaford wetlands and surrounds

Mornington Peninsula:

§  Crib Point, Hastings, Shoreham and Stony Point

§  increased flood damage to public infrastructure, especially roads and bridges

§  increased flood damage costs to residential and commercial buildings (minimal)

§  disruption to transport

§  increased emergency services demand and costs

§  lost agricultural production

§  health impacts related to disruption of water and sewerage services

§  stress and social disruption

§  local government

§  transport

§  rural / agriculture

§  residential and commercial

§  utilities (drainage)

§  emergency services

§  low income households

§  businesses and properties without adequate insurance

§  residences with limited freeboard above 1:100 year flood (e.g. <300 mm clearance)

§  properties not adequately prepared or maintained

2 hour ↑ 15-25 % ↑ 20-70 %
12 hour ↑ 3-22 % ↑ 17-61 %
24 hour ↓2 – ↑17 % ↑ 16-50 %
72 hour ↓ 2-16 % ↑ 19-48 %
Maximum flood heights
Flood return intervals (ARI) ↓  flash

↔ riverine

↓ flash

↓ riverine

Windiness and storms

(Chapter 4, Box 3)

2030 2070 §  entire population §  older buildings

§  electricity & telecommunications infrastructure

§  parks and gardens

§  exposed coastal and elevated areas §  increased damage costs to residential, commercial and public buildings

§  increased emergency service costs

§  disruptions to electricity supply

§  emergency services

§  electricity and telecommunications

§  residents in low quality housing

§  properties with large trees

Extreme winds ↓1 – ↑5 % ↓3 – ↑14 %


* Key to climate changes: ↑ increase; ↓ decrease; ↔ no significant change.  Absence of number next to arrow indicates magnitude of change has not been quantified.

** Based on current (2006) population and projected changes to 2070.  *** Subject to considerable uncertainty.



Climate variable Indicative change* Exposed people and land** Exposed property and infrastructure** Most sensitive locations Economic

and social impacts

Vulnerable sectors Vulnerable groups
Fire weather

(Chapter 5)

2030 2050 §  up to 73,620 people, mostly adjacent to bushland

§  up to 468 km2 of land

§  28,443 residential properties (incl. rural)

§  459 commercial and industrial

§  5,301 public use and unspecified including schools, medical facilities, reserves and parks

§  1,621 km of roads and 49 km of rails

Bass Coast:

§  Phillip Island around Cowes and Rhyll

§  a large area in the north of the shire to the east and south of Grantville

§  north and south of Wonthaggi


§  bushland settlements in urban rural fringe including Emerald, Cockatoo, Gembrook, Upper Pakenham, Upper Beaconsfield


§  limited areas, principally bushland settlements in urban rural fringe around Narre Warren North & East


§  central areas around Langwarrin

§  southern boundary around Frankston South, Langwarrin South

Mornington Peninsula:

§  urban fringe, semi-rural and rural areas scattered throughout Shire, especially bushland and adjacent areas

§  increased damage costs to residential properties

§  health impacts including loss of life and air quality

§  increased emergency service costs

§  stress, social disruption

§  residential

§  emergency services

§  local government

§  transport

§  people living in older housing (in exposed areas)

§  properties that have not been adequately prepared

§  low income households

No. of very high and extreme forest fire risk days (~ 9-12 days current) ↑ 1 – 2 ↑ 2 – 7
No. of very high and extreme grass fire risk days (~ 95 days current) ↑ 7 – 15 ↑ 9 – 30
Average and extreme temperatures 

(Chapter 6)

2030 2070 §  entire population, especially 70,600 elderly and 38,700 infants §  most roads

§  most railways lines

§  some building materials

§  buildings or services that require cooling

§  inland areas (particularly urban)

§  areas with high concentrations of elderly and

§  increased mortality and morbidity in vulnerable groups

§  increased infrastructure maintenance costs

§  disruptions to transport networks

§  increased risk of food and water born disease outbreaks

§  increased summer peak demand

§  increased cooling costs

§  transport

§  construction

§  local government services such as child care, environmental health

§  elderly

§  infants

§  residents in low quality housing (e.g. rental) or low income households

Average annual temperature ↑ 0.5-1.3°C ↑ 1-3.5°C
Days per yr > 30 °C (30 current) ↑ 2 – 5 ↑ 14 – 17
Days per yr > 35 °C (7 current) ↑ 1 – 3 ↑ 3 – 7
Days per yr > 40 °C (1 current) ↑ 1 – 2 ↑ 2 – 5
Runs of 3-5 days > 30 °C

(3 current)

↑ 1 – 2 ↑ 2 – 4
Average rainfall

(Chapter 7)

2030 2070 §  entire population §  municipal parks and gardens

§  playing fields

§  water & wastewater infrastructure

§  other infrastructure on clay soils

§  areas not connected to mains supply

§  high water requirement sites

§  wetlands, heritage gardens and other reserves

§  increased water prices

§  increased reliance on non-traditional supply sources

§  access to water for some activities (possibly)

§  viability of some water dependent businesses and activities

§  increased maintenance costs, some infrastructure

§  nurseries, garden services, etc

§  local government services such as parks, recreation

§  water suppliers and retailers


§  households not connected to mains supply

§  low income households (possibly)

Average annual ↓ 0-8 % ↓ 0-23 %
Catchment stream flows (worst case) ↓ 25 % ↓ >50 %
Droughts ↑ frequency & severity


* Key to climate changes: ↑ increase; ↓ decrease; ↔ no significant change.  Absence of number next to arrow indicates magnitude of change has not been quantified.

** Based on current (2006) population and projected changes to 2070.  *** Subject to considerable uncertainty.