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How to talk about climate change without talking about climate change

12 April 2016
Adapting to climate change a politically fraught process

Policymakers' inability to openly discuss climate change is leaving many local councils across Australia unprepared for its impacts, analysis by a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney has found.

Lisette Collins from the Department of Government and International Relations has compiled the first ever database of climate change adaptation plans (CCAPS) developed by local councils nationwide.

Her research reveals vast gaps in the level of detail between plans, with some councils only accounting for physical risks like extreme weather events while omitting other socio-economic impacts, such as how climate change will affect the homeless and elderly.

"Our inability to be able to talk openly about climate change in a rational and constructive way has negative implications for the development of successful adaptation policy in the future," said Collins.

"'Climate change' is a highly politicised term in Australia and one of the most ubiquitous terms of the 21st century. It has been questioned, co-opted, pleaded, adopted, misunderstood, misrepresented, and denigrated at varying times by politicians, the media, academics, scientists, and the public."

While many local councils currently have climate adaptation plans in place, political narratives around climate change have affected public perceptions and awareness of these plans, according to Collins.

It is no coincidence that most Australians don't know what a climate change adaptation plan is or whether their local council has one
Lisette Collins

"Councils are on the frontline of adapting to the impacts of climate change. We need to take a closer look at how adaptation is occurring at this local level if we are to be prepared for the future."

Collins examined 107 CCAPS from across Australia covering over 180 local councils, as well as 20 high-level interviews with local government representatives. The smallest population covered in the plans was 181 people (Belyuen, Northern Territory).

She then categorised these CCAPS into groups based on whether they contained biophysical vulnerabilities – planning for droughts, bushfires and rising sea levels – or socio-political inclusive plans, which refer to vulnerable groups and the mental health impacts of climate change.

It is hoped the database will be used as a tool to assist local governments as they create or update their future adaptation plans.

Collins will share her findings into climate change adaptation policy at a free public panel at the University of Sydney on Wednesday 13 April. Joining the panel is award-winning journalist Dr Maria Taylor and host Tina Perinotto, Publisher and Editor of The Fifth Estate.

The panel is co-presented by the Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney Ideas at the University of Sydney.

Event details

What: 'How to talk about climate change without talking about climate change' panel
When: Wednesday 13 April, 6.00 to 7.30pm
Where: Law School Foyer, Level 2, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney
Cost: Free, registration requested

Emily Cook

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