Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Role of Local Institutions in Formulating Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for a Low Water Future: A Public Policy Perspective

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Role of Local Institutions in Formulating Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for a Low Water Future: A Public Policy Perspective

Article excerpt


Adaptation is pivotal in the Australian water sector as it is highly vulnerable to adverse climate change impacts. The water sector characterises hierarchical institutional and policy frameworks, long-term capital investments and political economy issues. Understanding how climate variability impacts on both urban and rural water sectors is critical when formulating policies at the regional and local government level. Recently, significant investments have been made to understand and adapt to a low water future. For example, Water for the future project, the single largest climate change adaptation investment undertaken in Australia (A$12.9 billion), focused on four national priorities: taking action on climate change, using water wisely, securing water supplies, and supporting healthy rivers and wetlands (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010).

Numerous adaptation initiatives at the local level have been implemented in the water sector. For instance, there are programs in place to promote the use of water efficiency appliances, storm water harvesting, water efficient urban design and household standards, water efficient garden planting and watering, supplementing supplies with recycled water, watering restrictions, and appropriate pricing mechanisms (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, 2010). In addition, local government bodies play a role in enhancing community education and engagement in relation to water-related adaptation issues. Unlike mitigation, the public policy response to climate change adaptation is far less obvious. In particular, guidance on formulating adaptation strategies that maximise social welfare has received less attention.

Adaptation to climate change is inevitably a local phenomenon. It is important to understand how the local institutions can effectively respond to adaptation with appropriate institutional mechanisms and incentive structures, driving the behavioural change (Agrawal, 2008). Within each Australian state and territory, the Local Government Act provides the regulatory powers to formulate policy on climate change adaptation action. For example, in Victoria, the Environment and Planning Act 1987 sets forth planning provisions for adaptation policy at the local level (Vasey-Ellis, 2009). Over the years, the local government bodies have been given increasing powers in this regard providing flexibility to respond to a myriad of local needs. However, the primary approach has been that of risk management. There are guidelines for local councils to identify risks and appropriate adaptation responses. For example, the framework for the assessment of risks associated with climate change is based on the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4360 Risk Management (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, 2010). Local councils and water authorities may be liable if they cannot show that they have taken preventive action against any threat to the health, safety and welfare of their communities. Therefore, local governments and water agencies consider it a priority to identify threats and implement strategies to prevent these threats.

This paper uses a normative economic framework to analyse adaptation actions at the local level. The framework explores incentives for action and distinguishes between adaptation investments by private and public agents. In particular, the role of local government institutions in shaping adaptation action in the water sector is examined. The paper is mainly based on secondary literature and a series of research reports from a climate change adaptation project conducted in North East Victoria. The paper highlights some of the challenges in formulating climate change adaptation plans at a local or regional level. Whilst it deals with the water sector in particular, the core findings are relevant to other sectors as well.

The paper is organised as follows. The following section 2 outlines a theoretical framework that can be used to understand the rationale and motivations behind adaptation action. …

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