Role and coordination of different levels of government


The 3 levels of government in Australia all contribute to the Australian community’s ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change. All levels are responsible for managing risks to public infrastructure and the environment, delivering government services, and creating the institutional, market and regulatory environment that supports and promotes resilience and action among individuals and groups. One of the most important roles of governments is to ensure that society has the information required to make informed decisions and adjust behaviours in response to climate risks.

As discussed previously, the Australian Government is responsible for an overarching policy implemented through a range of strategies and plans, and plays a major part in providing climate science and information. The government is responsible for maintaining a strong, flexible economy and well-targeted safety net to ensure that climate change does not disproportionately affect vulnerable groups. It works to ensure effective natural resource management across land, water, marine and coral reef systems, and considers the economy-wide implications of actions determined at local and regional levels (Australian Government 2015b).

Through planning laws and investments in public infrastructure, state and territory governments lead adaptation actions. They ensure that regulatory and market frameworks are in place that ensure accurate and regionally appropriate information, and delivery of adaptation responses within their jurisdiction. This includes delivery of essential services such as emergency services, environmental protection, and planning and transport. Table ATM2 lists examples of key climate change policies and strategies established at the state and territory level.

Local governments are at the forefront in responding to the impacts of climate change. They are well positioned to inform the state, territory and Australian governments about the on-ground needs of local and regional communities, to communicate directly with those communities, and to respond to local changes. They ensure that particular local circumstances are considered in the overall adaptation response and involve the local community directly in efforts to facilitate effective change.

Coordination between Australian, state and territory governments occurs though the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). In 2013, COAG articulated the roles and responsibilities of different levels of government for climate change adaptation (Australian Government 2013). Under the COAG Energy Council’s work program, the NEPP is an example of bringing together new and existing measures from across governments and industry to improve energy efficiency, and thus reduce emissions associated with energy production.

Collaboration between state, territory and local governments is also important to successful climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Victorian Government has signed a memorandum of understanding with 79 local councils to promote this collaboration. Council Connections is a peer-to-peer learning program for local government practitioners who are undertaking work in the adaptation field. In Queensland, the Coastal Hazards Adaptation Program (QCoast2100) supports coastal councils in identifying coastal hazards and climate change risks, and in the decision-making and implementation phases.

Climate change will have significant impacts on urban centres around the world, prompting the formation of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, of which Melbourne and Sydney metropolitan councils are members. C40 is a network of almost 90 of the world’s megacities that are taking action to reduce GHGs.

Table ATM2 State and territory policies and strategies


Policy or strategy

Australian Capital Territory

  • Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act 2010
  • Targets including zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, 40% reduction in 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% reduction by 2050
  • In 2013, addition of a renewable energy target of 90% by 2020
  • Energy Efficiency (Cost of Living) Improvement Act 2012
  • Action Plan 2 (2012)—the ACT’s second climate change strategy and action plan, which is a strategy to support the vision that, by 2060, Canberra will be a sustainable and carbon-neutral city. Reviewed in 2015, and a new action plan for 2017–20 is to be developed
  • ACT Planning Strategy, in which the urban structure is supported by public transport and active travel (e.g. walking and cycling)
  • Transport for Canberra and Light Rail Master Plan
  • ACT Nature Conservation Strategy 2013–23, which integrates and extends conservation efforts to provide the best chance for natural ecosystems to adapt to expected longer-term shifts in climate
  • ACT Water Strategy, which includes actions to improve water security and water quality
  • ACT Waste Management Strategy 2011–25, which aims to achieve full resource recovery and a carbon-neutral waste sector
  • Adapting to a changing climate: directions for the ACT (2014)—a directions paper

New South Wales

  • Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation—Knowledge Strategy 2013–17
  • NSW 2021, which sets goals and targets that support practical action to tackle climate change
  • NSW Renewable Energy Action Plan, which has as its target 20% renewable energy by 2020
  • NSW Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which aims for annual energy savings of 16,000 gigawatt hours by 2020 and for low-income households to reduce their energy use by up to 20% by June 2014
  • NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan, which aims to increase walking and cycling
  • Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney, which is a planning policy to encourage job growth in centres close to where people live and to provide access by public transport
  • NSW Climate Change Council, which provides independent, expert advice to the Office of Environment and Heritage on matters relevant to the NSW Government’s response to climate change
  • Energy Savings Scheme, which aims to reduces electricity consumption in NSW by creating financial incentives for organisations to invest in energy savings projects
Northern Territory
  • Northern Territory Climate Change Policy 2009
  • Roadmap to renewables report to be presented to government in 2017, which will set out how the 2030 target of 50% renewable energy will be met
  • City of Darwin's Climate Change Policy and subsequent Climate Change Action Plan 2011-2020, which outline goals for government and the community


  • A Solar Future, which sets targets, including:
    • 1 million solar rooftops by 2020
    • investigating a 50% renewable energy target for 2030
    • trialling a 40 megawatt renewable energy reverse auction
  • Queensland Climate Adaptation Strategy, which supports the development and implementation of the strategy with 29 partners from local government, business, industry, and community and environmental representatives
  • Coastal Hazards Adaptation Program, which supports coastal councils to identify coastal hazards and climate change risks, and in the decision-making and implementation phases

South Australia



Western Australia

  • Adapting to our changing climate in 2012, which outlines key climate change challenges and establishes a high-level strategic framework for agencies to develop responses to climate change adaptation for implementation in relevant sectors
  • Low Emissions Energy Development Fund, which supports innovative technology projects at the commercial demonstration, commercialisation and local adaptation stages in Western Australia
Keywood MD, Emmerson KM, Hibberd MF (2016). Climate: Role and coordination of different levels of government. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65c70bc372