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Climate change in the Hunter

Key points

  • The Hunter region is one of the largest river valleys on the NSW coast, with biodiversity rich natural environments.
  • The Hunter is the leading regional economy in Australia and contains a range of industries and thriving communities.
  • Climate change is affecting the Hunter region, particularly through increasing temperatures. Projections show temperatures are expected to keep rising, sea level will rise, rainfall patterns will change and fire weather will increase.
  • The NSW Government is helping the Hunter region adapt to climate change through the Enabling Regional Adaptation work. This is being achieved by working with state and local government stakeholders to identify key aspects of the Hunter region that are vulnerable to climate impacts, along with challenges and opportunities to adapt.

Importance of the Hunter region

The Hunter region covers 26,100 km2 around the central NSW coast. The Hunter region includes the city of Newcastle and has a growing population as more people are attracted to the area for the lifestyles, natural spaces and jobs it offers.

The region is made up of many natural environments including large coastal areas and lakes, along with expansive bushland including the Barrington Tops and Wollemi national parks.

The Hunter region is the leading regional economy in Australia and contains a diverse range of industries including viticulture, agriculture, mining, shipping and tourism. 

These environmental, economic and cultural values are just some aspects of the region which have been identified as being highly vulnerable to climate change. Climate change is already affecting the Hunter, particularly through increased temperatures and sea level rise. The impacts of this can be seen through the widespread bushfires of 2019–2020, and increased coastal erosion.

How the Hunter region is affected by climate change

Hunter climate change projections and regional impacts infographic

Based on long-term (1910–2011) observations, temperatures in the Hunter region have been increasing since about 1960, with higher temperatures experienced in recent decades. 

The region is projected to continue to warm during the near future (2020–2039) and far future (2060–2079), compared to recent years (1990–2009). The warming is projected to be on average about 0.7°C in the near future, increasing to about 2°C in the far future. The number of high temperature days is projected to increase in parts of the region, with fewer potential frost nights expected. 

The warming trend projected for the region is large compared to natural variability in temperature and is similar to the rate of warming projected for other regions of NSW. 

The Hunter Valley currently experiences considerable rainfall variability across the region, seasons and from year-to-year and this variability is also reflected in the projections. However, most models agree that autumn rainfall will increase.

Detailed information on the projected climate changes for the Hunter region can be found in the Hunter Climate change snapshot or explored further through the interactive climate projections map.

Adapting to changes in the Hunter region

To help the Hunter region adapt to the impacts of climate change, 150 state and local government stakeholders were brought together in 2019 as part of the NSW Government’s Enabling Regional Adaptation work.

These participants collaboratively identified how different economic, socio-cultural and environmental aspects (also known as systems) in the region are vulnerable to climate change. For each of these systems, the vision for a climate-resilient future was identified, and opportunities for action were co-designed. These opportunities can be implemented by state and local government, businesses or community groups.

The Hunter and Central Coast Enabling Regional Adaptation report provides a resource for state and local government and regional communities to understand how climate change will continue to impact the region and our values. It also provides practical opportunities for governments, businesses and communities to adapt to climate change.

The following opportunities for action reflect potential options for state and local government, businesses or community groups to implement. This list has been summarised from the Hunter and Central Coast Enabling Regional Adaptation report. These opportunities provide a starting point for action, and will be reviewed and updated to ensure they continue to reflect climate trends, key vulnerabilities and community values.

Aboriginal cultural values

Vision

Aboriginal people lead the integration of their cultural knowledge and practice into a sustainable future for everyone. Aboriginal knowledge is used to heal country, increase the region’s resilience to climate change and take opportunities for land development and emerging markets.

Opportunities for action

  • Incorporate Aboriginal cultural knowledge into land and water management. 
  • Increase the engagement of Aboriginal communities in landuse decision-making. 
  • Attract and create opportunities for Aboriginal people to be employed in government.
  • Encourage and support cultural practice through sharing knowledge, teaching and access to land.
  • Listen to Aboriginal voices and facilitate self-determination in Aboriginal communities.
  • Support Aboriginal communities to plan for land developments and market opportunities.
  • Ensure development projects consider, value and protect Aboriginal heritage and cultural resourcing (e.g. effective resourcing).
  • Elect a local Aboriginal leadership group to advise on climate change.

Circular economy

Vision

Systems are re-designed to ensure land and resources are sustainably used and reused, to maximise efficiency and create jobs. Circular economy industries in the Hunter are established, increasing the efficient use of limited land and natural resources.  

Opportunities for action

  • Implement state legislation and incentives to support a circular economy, such as pricing on products and the waste levy.
  • Facilitate strong collaboration between government and industry to support innovation.
  • Encourage and support industries to adopt circular economy principles in land remediation.
  • Include circular economy principles in school curriculums and develop training programs to build the skills needed to increase the region’s circular economy capacity.
  • Embed circular economy principles and practice through government procurement.

Community resilience

Vision

The community has the capacity to prepare for, respond to and recover from natural disasters. Community resilience is achieved through diverse employment opportunities and people connected to place. The community is cohesive and self-reliant.

Opportunities for action

  • Embed equity, empathy and compassion as values in the community.
  • Support community leaders to collaborate with emergency management groups. 
  • Embed Aboriginal values in community resilience building.
  • Develop and incorporate new frameworks to guide government and business on matters relating to health and wellbeing.
  • Promote sustainable resources through circular economy principles, community-based renewable energy projects and sustainable transport.

Emergency management

Vision

Federal, state and local government work with the community to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster events. Communities are better prepared and more resilient with robust communication and strategic emergency management planning.

Opportunities for action

  • Establish a coordinated government structure that includes changes to legislation and state plans, and effective communication between government and communities.
  • Drive change in the culture of emergency management services to break down barriers between government and community responders.
  • Develop effective ways to share services across all emergency management precincts.
  • Develop protocols for agreed and approved data sharing and availability.
  • Create sustainable volunteering models through training and support.

Industry transformation

Vision 

The region has sustainable and diversified food and energy sectors. The impacts of climate change on food and energy production are decreased.

Opportunities for action

  • Adopt tourism strategies that focus on the Hunter’s unique local produce and ecotourism.
  • Implement innovative pathways to expand the region’s renewable energy capacity.
  • Invest in, research and develop farming practices that are sustainable for the future.
  • Develop education materials to encourage youth participation in new industries and community partnerships.
  • Invest in natural capital, circular economy, innovation and technology adoption, and renewable energy.

Planning

Vision

Planning supports community resilience by proactively embedding climate change in all decision-making. The effects of climate change, extreme weather events, population growth and changing demographics are planned for.  

Opportunities for action

  • Integrate regional adaptation priorities into the planning process.
  • Fund local councils to deliver climate change adaptation resilience projects in the community. 
  • Assess the climate vulnerability and risk regularly to inform local planning and strategy.
  • Implement state legislation and regulation so that councils must consider climate change during planning.
  • Develop objectivebased decision frameworks with adaptation options such as infrastructure improvement, appropriate construction materials, funding, property buybacks and rehousing.
  • Raise awareness on climate adaptation and resilience in the community.
  • Improve access to geospatial and landuse data and support open data sharing at a state level to support local council decisionmaking.
  • Implement state legislation and regulation so that councils must consider climate change during planning.

Protection of natural systems and environments

Vision

Natural ecosystems are protected and more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Appropriate community access to natural areas is encouraged, and the importance of the environment is recognised.

Opportunities for action

  • Create and implement effective ecosystem management and conservation plans which consider climate change.
  • Develop and deliver community programs that focus on environmental stewardship and the importance of Indigenous and other social and cultural ecosystem values.
  • Develop innovative approaches to funding and incentives to protect natural environments.
  • Develop and implement programs to support the migration and conservation of species that have limited ability to adapt; for example, designing and constructing wildlife refuges and corridors.

Transport and infrastructure

Vision

The Hunter’s transport and infrastructure system effectively and efficiently moves goods, people, energy and information via rail, road, air and water, and through wired and wireless networks. The industry has reduced its carbon footprint through diversification and a transition to lowcarbon products.

Opportunities for action

  • Provide integrated transport and infrastructure services that incorporate climate risk and smart landuse planning.
  • Improve the understanding of transport system interdependencies and alternatives to help build resilience.
  • Create and support localised economies, multipurpose facilities and infrastructure.
  • Identify ways to reuse redundant infrastructure.
  • Support innovative risk-based approaches and proactive planning to prioritise and design sustainable transport infrastructure.

Water and water security

Vision

Water quality and availability is secure across the region. Environmental flows are protected, water harvesting is appropriately managed, and recycled water is used. The impact of climate change on water demand within the Hunter region is managed.

Opportunities for action

  • Review and reform the assessment process for water and infrastructure projects to align with climate risks.
  • Develop and deliver community education programs to increase their involvement in wateruse planning and decisionmaking.
  • Develop a holistic approach to collaboration across governments to support better wateruse planning and asset management.
  • Support and develop locally specific innovations that account for climate risks.
  • Develop solutions that are catchment based and specific for the region.

How we’ve been adapting so far

With the knowledge and partnerships gained through the Hunter and Central Coast Enabling Regional Adaptation work, there is an opportunity for council, government and communities to show leadership and consider this work in their plans to respond to climate change.

Some opportunities for action are already being addressed by government, community, households and business, to help the Hunter region adapt to the impacts of climate change and build a sustainable, productive and equitable future.

One example of action being taken is the Hunter Joint Organisation which brings together the 10 councils in the region to provide a united and local voice for our communities, including on issues around climate change.

Other examples include the projects supported by the Building Resilience to Climate Change grants and Increasing Resilience to Climate Change grants.

The Enabling Regional Adaptation work has already been used to inform government planning in the Hunter, through the Hunter Regional Plan 2036. Incorporating this work into regional and state plans ensures climate change risks specific to the Hunter are included. 

If you have an example of how a community group, business of local government is adapting to climate change, email AdaptNSW so we can share your story.