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Climate change in Metropolitan Sydney

Climate change in Metropolitan Sydney

Key points

  • The Metropolitan Sydney region is home to about 5 million people, making it Australia’s largest city. The region is a hub of diverse economic and cultural activity, which contributes significantly to the city, state, nation and the world. 
  • Climate change is affecting the region, particularly through sea level rise along the coast, flooding in river catchments, bushfires in forested areas and increased temperatures causing more heatwaves and urban heat islands.  
  • Understanding the region’s vulnerability to climate change is key to adaptation and resilience. The NSW Government, along with local councils, have taken several steps to assessing and planning for climate risk and adaptation across the region.
  • The NSW Government’s Integrated Regional Vulnerability Assessment (IRVA) work helped identify some of the region’s key vulnerabilities to climate change. The knowledge and partnerships gained through this work will continue to build the resilience of vulnerable aspects of the region, and create a more sustainable, productive and equitable future for all Metropolitan Sydney residents. 

Importance of the Metropolitan Sydney region

The Metropolitan Sydney region includes major cities, towns and regions, such as Wollondilly, Campbelltown and Sutherland to the South, Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury, and Hornsby and Northern Beaches to the north. To the east the region is bordered by the Tasman Sea. 

The region has a wide range of landscapes, ranging from coastal areas with popular beaches, to the rugged ranges of the Blue Mountains in the Great Dividing Range, to the Illawarra Escarpment to the south. The lower-lying Sydney basin is characterised by wide landscapes with low, undulating hills and river systems. The region includes stunning natural assets including national parks which have cultural and world heritage significance.  

As Australia’s largest city, Sydney is the main gateway to Australia from the rest of the world. Metropolitan Sydney contains a culturally diverse population of about 5 million people – or around 1 in 5 Australians.  

The region is a hub of diverse economic and cultural activity, which contributes significantly to the city, state, nation and the world. Hospitality and food services employ more than 20% of  the population. Other significant industries include professional, scientific, and technical services. Public and private infrastructure supports the values of the region, connecting people to places and services, and supporting businesses and lifestyles.   

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 Metropolitan Sydney region, particularly through increased temperatures and more extreme weather events. The impacts of these changes can be seen through the widespread bushfires of 2019–2020, increased coastal erosion and severe flood events. 

How Metropolitan Sydney is affected by climate change

Metro Sydney climate change projections and regional impacts infographic

Based on long-term (1910–2013) observations, temperatures in the Metropolitan Sydney 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 with recent years (1990–2009). The warming is projected to be on average about 0.7°C in the near future, increasing to about 1.9°C in the far future. Inland, away from the coast, the number of high temperature days is projected to increase. Fewer cold nights are projected in inland areas and the Blue Mountains.  

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 region is expected to experience an increase in all temperature variables (average, maximum and minimum) for the near future and the far future. The greatest increase in the number of hot days is projected for Western Sydney and the Hawkesbury with an additional 5–10 days in the near future, increasing to over 10–20 additional hot days per year by 2070. 

Rainfall is projected to increase in autumn, while the region is expected to experience an increase in average and severe fire weather in the near future and the far future. The increases are projected mainly in summer and spring in the far future. 

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

Adapting to changes in the Metropolitan Sydney region

To help the Metropolitan Sydney region adapt to the impacts of climate change, state and local government stakeholders were brought together in 2014 as part of the NSW Government’s Towards a Resilient Sydney (TARS) project.   

The project aimed to: 

  • develop improved information of climate risks for the Metropolitan Sydney region 
  • assess vulnerability to climate risks 
  • identify responses and opportunities to help local communities to improve resilience and reduce impacts. 

This work also included an assessment of some of the regions key values which have been identified as being vulnerable to climate change. These vulnerabilities will be reviewed and updated to ensure they continue to reflect climate trends, key vulnerabilities and community values. Full details are provided in the Integrated Regional Vulnerability Assessment: Metropolitan Sydney – Volume 1: Regional vulnerabilities report.  

With the knowledge and partnerships gained through the Towards a Resilient Sydney project, there is an opportunity for council, government and communities to show leadership and consider this work in the plans to respond to climate change.

How we’ve been adapting so far

Some actions are already being taken by government, community, households and business, to help the Metropolitan Sydney region adapt to the impacts of climate change and build a sustainable, productive and equitable future.

Examples of action include the Resilient Sydney project and the Western Sydney IPC Program.

  • The Resilient Sydney project – a partnership between all councils in the Metropolitan Sydney region. The project outlined 5 directions for the city to take to make it more resilient in the future. The project was hosted by City of Sydney 100 resilient cities network.
  • The Western Sydney PIC Program, led by the Greater Sydney Commission. The program is focused on planning and assessing climate risk assessment for all of Western Sydney.

The Increasing Resilience to Climate Change community grants program provided $600,000 in the first round of grants. Projects for Sydney included:

  • Building Responsiveness to Climate Change in Migrant and Refugee Settlement Communities Metro Assist. The project delivered resources in different languages to help people understand the impacts of climate change.
  • Cool River City. This project taught Western Sydney’s culturally diverse population ways to respond to climate change.
  • Western Sydney Heat and Social Housing. This project focused on improving people’s resilience to heat and heatwave events by developing resources in plain English and other languages.
  • Learn, Prepare, Prevent: Action for a Resilient Hawkesbury. This was a community education, engagement and empowerment initiative to help households, villages and the Hawkesbury region to respond to climate change impacts.

The Towards a Resilient Sydney work has helped inform the development District Plans for the Metropolitan Sydney region. These 20-year plans help connect regional and local planning to inform local environmental plans, community strategic plans and the assessment of planning proposals. District Plans also help councils to plan and deliver for growth and change, including increasing resilience to climate change impacts.

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.