A new report from the Climate Council and Cities Power Partnership has found climate-fuelled extreme weather is compounding costs for councils, which could reach as high as $54 million per year. 

The Neighbourhood issue: Climate costs and risks to councils report indicated more support and funding is needed to help local governments cope with the costs of climate change.

The bill for local governments to fix eroding beaches and protect beachside property or infrastructure commonly exceeds $1 million, with the number steadily increasing.

Report author and Climate Council spokesperson, Professor Lesley Hughes, said the risks and demands on local government will continue to increase as climate impacts worsen.

“Climate impacts cut across almost all areas of local government responsibility including the maintenance of critical assets and infrastructure and delivery of essential community services,” Professor Hughes said.

“As the closest tier of government to the community, councils are often at the forefront of disaster response.

“State and federal assistance is falling short of what’s required to help councils prepare for and respond to extreme weather. 

“However, while council responsibilities – including those related to climate change – are growing, their tax revenue has shrunk to the fourth lowest share among the 30 industrialised nations that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Effectively, councils are being asked to do more, with less. Without increased funding, guidance and support, I can’t imagine how they will continue to protect and provide for their communities.”

The key findings of the report are:

  • Climate change is an immense challenge for all levels of government, but its impacts are felt most acutely at the local level
  • Worsening extreme weather, driven by climate change, is compounding costs for councils. This includes mounting damage to council-owned assets, rising insurance premiums and increasing liability risks
  • 24 New South Wales councils impacted by floods in March 2021 also experienced floods or storms the previous year. Additionally, six of those local governments had more than 40 per cent of their region burned in the Black Summer bushfires
  • During Black Summer, one fifth of Towong Shire Council staff were personally affected and council resources were “effectively exhausted” within 72 hours
  • A growing number of Australians have no insurance or inadequate insurance coverage for their property, which increases pressure on councils and the broader community to provide financial support in the wake of climate-fuelled disasters. Rates of noninsurance range from 17 per cent in north Queensland (more than 62,000 properties) and as high as 40 per cent in north Western Australia (more than 10,000 properties)
  • A South Australian council reported over a third of total operating expenditure going to coastline management
  • Protecting communities from worsening extreme weather, and minimising the costs borne by them, requires climate leadership at all levels of government

Cities Power Partnership Director, Dr Portia Odell, said it was challenging for local government to prepare communities for worsening extreme weather and support them through such disasters.

“Spending public money on disaster preparation rather than disaster recovery is always money better spent, yet 97 per cent of all Australian disaster funding only comes in the wake of an event,” Dr Odell said.

“Many councils are leading on actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change by cutting emissions through switching to clean energy and building greener, more efficient communities. But more can be done.

“If we want to avoid catastrophic impacts and create a prosperous future for local communities,  all levels of government must ramp up their climate action.”

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