- The ACT contains Australia’s capital city – Canberra, which is home to nearly 400,000 people. Canberra also serves as a regional hub for smaller regional cities, towns and villages in the surrounding areas of NSW. The ACT’s landscape is varied, which results in a range of climatic conditions. The average climate gets cooler and wetter the further south you go.
- Climate change is affecting the ACT region, particularly through increased temperatures. Projections show temperatures are expected to keep rising, rainfall patterns will change, there will be more hot days and heatwaves, and fire weather will increase.
- The ACT is now powered by 100% renewable energy. The ACT Government’s Climate Change Strategy 2019–2025 outlines the next steps that the community, business and ACT Government will take to reduce emissions by 50–60% (below 1990 levels) by 2025 and establish a pathway for achieving net-zero emissions by 2045.
- Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan: Cooling the City sets out the ACT Government’s commitment to protect and enhance nature in the city to address the urban heat island effect. It includes targets such as achieving 30% canopy cover (or equivalent) and 30% surface permeability across Canberra’s urban footprint by 2045.
The ACT region
The ACT is a self-governing territory in the south east of Australia, containing Australia’s capital city – Canberra, which is home to nearly 400,000 people. Canberra also serves as a regional hub for smaller regional cities, towns and villages in the surrounding areas of NSW.
The ACT is surrounded by the NSW South East and Tablelands region and the Murray Murrumbidgee region.
The ACT is situated within the upper Murrumbidgee River catchment, in the Murray–Darling Basin. The total area of the ACT is about 2352 km2, and around 60% of this area is hilly or mountainous. Despite the small size of the ACT, it is home to a variety of habitats including open grasslands, low open woodlands and tall wet forests. The region also contains important sub-alpine heathlands and wetlands.
The ACT employs almost 200,000 workers from the region and surrounding areas of NSW. Some of the main industries include public services, health care, defence, social assistance, education and training.
Climate change is already affecting the ACT region and its environmental, cultural and economic values. The impacts of this can be seen through the widespread bushfires of 2019–2020, which included the Orroral Valley fire that burned around 86,562 hectares.
How the ACT is affected by climate change
Based on long-term (1910–2011) observations, temperatures in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have been increasing since about 1950, with higher temperatures experienced in recent decades.
The ACT is projected to continue to warm during the near future (2020–2039) and far future (2060–2079), compared to recent years (1990–2009). Average temperatures are projected to increase about 0.7°C in the near future, increasing to about 2°C in the far future. The number of hot days is projected to increase, with fewer cold nights.
The warming trend projected for the ACT is large compared to natural variability in temperature and is similar to the rate of warming projected for NSW.
The ACT is expected to experience an increase in all temperature variables (average, maximum and minimum) for the near future and the far future. Spring will experience the greatest changes in maximum temperatures, increasing by 2.5°C in the far future.
Rainfall is projected to decrease in spring and increase in autumn. The ACT is projected to experience an increase in average and severe Forest Fire Danger Index in the near future (2020–2039) and the far future (2060–2079). The increases in average fire weather are projected to occur mainly in summer and spring.
Adapting to changes in the ACT
To help the ACT adapt to the impacts of climate change, the ACT Government has developed two key strategies:
The ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019–2025 has been developed alongside other key plans and strategies, including the ACT Planning Strategy 2018, ACT Housing Strategy 2018 and ACT Transport Strategy 2020.
The strategy outlines steps that the community, business and ACT Government can take to reduce emissions by 50–60% below 1990 levels by 2025. It also establishes a pathway for achieving net-zero emissions by 2045. Some of the key actions from the strategy include:
- review planning regulations and identify opportunities to require sustainable, climate-wise built environment including through developing a climate-wise code
- reflect climate change projections and risk vulnerabilities in disaster and emergency prevention, preparedness, response and recovery, particularly for extreme heat, bushfire and flash flooding
- encourage community preparedness for climate risks through targeted Emergency Services Agency outreach and the Actsmart sustainability programs
- identify opportunities to increase resilience of terrestrial and aquatic habitats at risk from climate change and implement land management changes and relevant on-ground works with delivery partners
- ensure action plans for threatened species and communities consider the impact of climate change
- encourage sustainable farming practices which are fit for the current and future climate and enhance soil and water quality, and work with farmers to identify opportunities for net zero emissions farming and innovation to increase resilience
- design, and commit to a timeframe for implementing, higher minimum energy performance and climate resilience standards for new buildings that will deliver efficient, zero emissions buildings.
Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan: Cooling the City sets the direction for maintaining and enhancing trees, soils and waterways to keep our city cool, healthy and liveable in a changing climate.
The Plan identifies fifteen actions, including measures to:
- achieve 30% tree canopy cover (or equivalent) and 30% permeable surfaces in urban areas by 2045
- develop an Urban Forest Strategy - this was released on 30 March 2021
- introduce landscape planning requirements for multi-dwelling, mixed-use and commercial developments
- support community efforts to incorporate climate-wise landscaping principles and sustainability outcomes.
More information is on the ACT Government’s website on climate change adaptation.
How we’ve adapted so far
Across the ACT, government, industry and community are taking action to reduce emissions and manage the impacts of climate change, Examples of climate change adaptation projects in the ACT are:
- Living infrastructure at Campbell 5 Precinct
- Recycled road resurfacing materials
- Biggest rain garden in the Southern Hemisphere
- Better tree growth with soil cells and permeable pavers
- Light rail plant species trial
- Luminescent paths.
If you have an example of how a community group, business or local government is adapting to climate change, email AdaptNSW so we can share your story.