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Climate change in the Illawarra

Climate change in the Illawarra

Key points

  • The Illawarra region has thriving industries including hospitality, tourism, education, manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries and international shipping trade.
  • Climate change is affecting the Illawarra region, particularly through increasing temperatures. Projections show temperatures are expected to keep rising, sea levels will rise, rainfall patterns will change and fire weather will increase.
  • The NSW Government is helping the Illawarra 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 Illawarra region that are vulnerable to climate impacts, along with challenges and opportunities to adapt.

Importance of the Illawarra region

The Illawarra region covers an area of 7,000 km2 south of Sydney. It is home to regional cities, commercial hubs and settlements, including Wollongong, Nowra, Kiama, Jamberoo, Hyams Beach and Calderwood.

The region contains unique natural features. The coastline stretches 200 km from the Royal National Park south of Sydney, down to Durras Lake. The Illawarra Range escarpment is 120 km long and separates the coastal plains in the east from the rolling hills of the Southern Tablelands in the west. The geography of the area affects local weather conditions, which together have led to a range of unique and important ecosystems.

The Illawarra region is a popular destination for tourists, offering many natural attractions, particularly around the Shoalhaven River and Jervis Bay. The region has strong heritage values including Aboriginal culture, timber cutting, mining and farming. This history lives on today, with many important cultural locations across the region, and thriving industries including the steelworks, construction, manufacturing, hospitality, tourism, education, fisheries agriculture, international trade and steel production.

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 Illawarra region. The impacts of this can be seen through the widespread bushfires of 2019–2020 and the floods that followed across the region.

How the Illawarra region is affected by climate change

Illawarra climate change projections and regional impacts infographic

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

The region is projected to continue to warm in 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 0.6°C in the near future, increasing to about 1.9°C in the far future. The number of hot days is projected to increase, with fewer potential frost days expected in parts of the region. 

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

Spring will experience the greatest changes in maximum temperatures with maximum temperatures increasing by 2.2°C in the far future. Increased maximum temperatures are known to impact human health through heat stress and increasing the numbers of heatwave events.

Rainfall is projected to decrease in spring and to increase in autumn. The region is projected to experience an increase in average and severe fire weather in the near future and the far future.

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

Adapting to changes in the Illawarra region

To help the Illawarra region adapt to the impacts of climate change, over 60 state and local government stakeholders were brought together in 2017 as part of the NSW Government’s Enabling Regional Adaptation work.

These participants collaboratively identified how different economic, sociocultural 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 Shoalhaven and Illawarra region 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 potential 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 Shoalhaven and Illawarra 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.

Satellite settlements


Communities in isolated satellite settlements, such as Jamberoo, Hyams Beach and Calderwood are less vulnerable to extreme climate events, by having a sustainable built environment, integrated transport options and diversified employment. These communities are highly responsive and resilient to natural disasters and supported by access to real-time emergency service information. Communities are supported to value and protect their environmental, social and economic assets.

Opportunities for action

  • Create and support community-driven solutions that promote resilience in social infrastructure, food, water, energy and transport.
  • Encourage improved planning, design and development that is resilient, maximises natural capital and preserves biodiversity.
  • Develop new business models for small to medium enterprises and local services to match seasonal tourism demand.
  • Introduce improved public transport options such as cooperatives and autonomous vehicles to support an ageing population.


The transport system supports the socio-economic development of local communities and tourist destinations by using and improving access to a central rail network and alternative transport options. Effective planning and access reduce the need to travel for work. The transport system is sustainable and creates new styles of employment with reduced carbon emissions.

Opportunities for action

  • Develop ‘live-work-play’ villages through improved land-use planning to reduce the need for long-distance commuting.
  • Improve coordination of transport options to well-serviced hubs, for example by providing adequatecapacity trains, parking options and communal vehicles.
  • Identify and explore options to strengthen critical transport pathways and include new urban development in forward planning for transport.
  • Develop innovative technologies to reduce transport emissions. 
  • Promote and support alternative transport options such as autonomous bus services, Albion Park air services and local sea transport.


The water system supports and secures water for human use, biodiversity, recreational activities and industries. Water infrastructure is resilient and meets future demands in the region. The stormwater system integrates water re-use by industry, and the system is equipped to deal with extreme climate events.

Opportunities for action

  • Create incentives for water sensitive urban design and to manage demand, to improve the efficiency of the water system and reduce the need for future changes.
  • Create plans for the protection, relocation and renewal of sewer and stormwater infrastructure to suit changing climate conditions.
  • Improve weather predictions, monitoring and communication to support early responses to extreme weather events.
  • Promote and support the use of green infrastructure as an alternative to hard engineered systems.
Industrial transformation


The region’s industry is competitive, underpinned by advanced manufacturing and local knowledge services, and employs a local, skilled workforce. Port Kembla is the centre of a vibrant marine tourism sector and is a major international hub for commodities and containers supported by road and rail infrastructure that is resilient to climate impacts. The region’s industry and port are viable over the long term.

Opportunities for action

  • Develop and prove a business case for improved rail infrastructure to improve freight and passenger access to the port.
  • Work with industry to develop strategies for net zero emissions, reduced energy costs and access to energy demand management revenue.
  • Develop and implement a strategy for marine tourism in the region.
  • Develop formal training to build the skills base needed for industrial transformation.


The energy system has transitioned successfully from its current centralised system to a system where energy is reliable, sustainable and resilient to climate change impacts. Energy is supplied through a super-intelligent grid to communities in an equitable way.

Opportunities for action

  • Establish community renewable energy and battery storage (domestic and regional) to meet peak energy demand.
  • Incorporate BASIX+ into early planning and development control plans for new subdivisions.
  • Establish an energy dashboard for local government, showing joint bulk buying, community and household renewable energy levels and joint council energy generation.
  • Encourage and invest in research and development of innovative energy solutions.


Local food production, agriculture and food businesses are supported to provide access to healthy, nutritious food produced with a small ecological footprint.The food system supports local production through the protection of agricultural lands, environmental values and planning policies. Local economies diversify through food and farm tourism enterprises, and support for agriculture increases through an active social enterprise supported by government.

Opportunities for action

  • Implement land-use planning mechanisms to protect food security, ecosystem services, productive agricultural land and livelihoods.
  • Support local food businesses through education, pilot programs, partnerships and promotion of local food production.
  • Support climate-adapted food production by matching agriculture practices with land capability.
  • Develop new technologies and training options to increase the region’s food industry and related employment.
  • Encourage and support policies and incentives to increase efficiency in water, energy, nutrients and waste in the food system.
Emergency management


The emergency management system protects communities by identifying risks, ensuring emergency service access, and supporting preparation and self-reliance. The system also protects communities by limiting development in at-risk locations and helps communities to be prepared for extreme events by providing access to realtime, trustworthy information to enable better decisionmaking. The vital workforce of volunteers is secured through recognition and incentives, and government funding is adequate for disaster prevention and renewal of infrastructure after a disaster.

Opportunities for action

  • Develop and support programs that build community disaster resilience to reduce reliance on emergency services.
  • Develop a new funding model supported by economic analysis that prioritises investment in mitigation (90%) over recovery (10%).
  • Promote open and transparent decision-making that is consistent with formal emergency management arrangements.
  • Create plans for recovery that consider the full costs of disaster clean-up.
  • Review community planning and policies to ensure currency and consistency of advice across hazards and infrastructure types.

How we’ve been adapting so far

With the knowledge and partnerships gained through the Shoalhaven and Illawarra Enabling Regional Adaptation work, there is an opportunity for council, government and communities to show leadership and consider the Enabling Regional Adaptation outcomes 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 Illawarra region adapt to the impacts of climate change and build a sustainable, productive and equitable future.

One example of action being taken is the Greening Jerry Bailey Oval for the future project by the Lions Club of Shoalhaven Heads Inc. This project involves planting established native trees and installing water-efficient systems to provide naturally cooled outdoor areas for the community.

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 Illawarra through the Illawarra Shoalhaven Regional Plan 2041. Incorporating this work into regional and state plans ensures climate change risks specific to the Illawarra region 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.