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Climate change impacts on our infrastructure

Climate change impacts on our infrastructure

Key points 

  • NSW’s infrastructure is vital for the safety and wellbeing of its people, and to support delivery of public services. 
  • The NSW Government is responsible for more than $300 billion of critical infrastructure. We need to adapt our infrastructure to withstand the impacts of climate change, so we can avoid risks such as economic loss and disruption of services to NSW people.  
  • Major climate change impacts on NSW infrastructure include increasing temperatures and sea level rise, and more extreme weather events such as flood, drought, bushfire and storms. 
  • The NSW government is reducing the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on our infrastructure by adapting our current infrastructure and developing plans and policies to consider climate change in future developments.

The importance of infrastructure in NSW 

NSW’s infrastructure is vital for the safety, wellbeing, and economic growth of the state, our businesses and residents.  

Everyone in NSW relies on infrastructure for: 

  • travel by road, rail, air and water  
  • access to essential services like reliable electricity, gas and clean water 
  • recreation, through facilities including sporting grounds and parks 
  • safely removing waste and sewage 
  • telecommunication services such as phone, radio and internet 
  • access to social services such as health care, hospitals, schools and community wellbeing. 

The NSW Government manages a total infrastructure portfolio that is worth more than $300 billion

Most NSW infrastructure is connected and relies on each of the parts working together to function effectively. For example, urban trains rely on both tracks and electricity that may be supplied by an energy company. If the tracks or the electricity supply is disrupted, trains won’t operate and the passengers will be affected. Also, damage to one aspect can have severe flow-on impacts – for example, roads cut off by flood, bushfire, erosion or sea level rise can affect critical supply chains. 

How our infrastructure is affected by climate change in NSW 

Climate change will alter how often damaging events such as floods and fires occur, and how severe they are. This is likely to increase damage and disruption to NSW infrastructure. Damages to NSW infrastructure affect people, communities and the economy, through direct damages and flow-on (indirect) impacts such as disruptions to businesses, productivity and our way of life. 

Existing infrastructure has commonly been designed to suit historic climates and may not withstand future climate conditions. Owners of infrastructure need to factor the future climate conditions into their planning and management of infrastructure to reduce the potential for loss from damage and disruption to their organisations and communities. 

Increased temperatures and urban heat

Climate change is increasing average temperatures across NSW, causing more heatwave events and hot weather for longer periods of time. Higher temperatures increase energy demands as homes, businesses and services use more power to run cooling systems. This can create pressure on power services than then become at risk of failure – for example, heatwaves in 2017 caused power failures across NSW, Queensland and South Australia. 

These outages disrupt the operations of businesses and services and affect individuals directly. This has flow-on impacts for the rest of NSW’s population, services, productivity and economy. For citizens, communities and businesses this can result in: 

  • power outages 
  • loss of productivity 
  • lack of comfort 
  • heat-related health impacts. 
Increased drought and bushfire risk

Rising temperatures and more variable rainfall increases the risk of drought and bushfire. These events can directly damage infrastructure and also have flow-on effects that affect the delivery of services. For example: 

  • drying water resources reduces the amount available for urban, rural and farm water supplies 
  • drought leads to soil cracking, which can damage the foundation of buildings  
  • bushfire events can destroy infrastructure, cut off services and block transport. 
Coastal extreme weather events and sea level rise 

Climate projections for NSW indicate that NSW is likely to experience more extreme weather events such as storms and floods, due to more variable rainfall and the likelihood of tropical cyclones to track further south. Combined with sea level rise, this will affect more Australian people and infrastructure through erosion and flooding. 

Coastal infrastructure will be affected by sea level rise. A 1 metre rise in sea level – which is plausible by 2100 – will put $226 billion worth of NSW’s coastal infrastructure at risk of flooding. A major storm event on top of this sea level rise will affect around 74,700 properties and many kilometres of roads and other infrastructure

Adapting to the impacts of climate change on our infrastructure in NSW 

NSW is implementing many of the policy and process changes needed to address these challenges. NSW is adapting to the impacts that climate change is having on its infrastructure by: 

Existing infrastructure

We can reduce the impact of climate change on our existing infrastructure by: 

  • adopting holistic and precinct-wide solutions that protect and benefit a wide range of stakeholders. These include management options outlined in the NSW Coastal and Floodplain Management programs.
  • retrofitting existing assets and infrastructure to make them more resilient, such as reinforcing buildings to withstand the impacts of more severe weather and upgrading electrical systems to withstand higher temperature extremes 
  • developing clear procedures and policies for governments and communities to respond to the impacts of climate change, such as creating disaster management plans. 

The NSW Government’s Cross-Dependency Initiative (XDI) NSW platform helps NSW government agencies and councils understand the impacts climate change may have on infrastructure, so they can develop appropriate plans to reduce risks. This platform also helps councils and NSW Government agencies to collaborate and work together where risks may be shared. 

NSW governments develop and manage infrastructure in ways which reduce the risk of climate change impacts. This is outlined in the NSW Asset Management Policy for the NSW Public Sector

Planning future infrastructure developments 

Infrastructure owners and managers can reduce the impact of climate change on NSW infrastructure by: 

  • planning designs and structures to be resilient to climate change impacts such as flooding, bushfire, drought, increased temperatures, sea level rise and extreme weather events 
  • conducting risk assessments for the impacts of climate change 
  • developing asset management plans or adaptation plans to manage ongoing climate risks such as heatwaves, bushfires, drought, flood and extreme weather events 
  • using training and resources to help inform their plans 
  • working across sectors and agencies to address flow-on risks in NSW’s connected infrastructure systems. 

Resilient infrastructure should be considered when planning infrastructure. Resilience can be improved by working with natural systems, and this applies to the built environment and infrastructure as well. This includes: 

Aboriginal people’s knowledge and culture should also be considered when planning for infrastructure. 

Reducing and offsetting emissions 

NSW infrastructure can be designed as low-emission systems or designed to be easily transitioned to low-emissions systems in future. This will work toward NSW’s net-zero emissions target

Transport is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in NSW. These emissions can be reduced by reducing the use of fossil fuel-powered transport, and creating more green infrastructure.