Benefit or Burden? How to leave a positive legacy in local climate change adaptation - City of Mandurah

Key climate change issues faced
Mandurah's adaptive journey
Sharing lessons learned
References and further reading  

“The decisions we are making now are for buildings that will last 50-100 years. Our decisions will either benefit or burden the future Council and community, and that is something we have to be conscious of now. What legacy will we be leaving future generations?” City of Mandurah Mayor Paddi Creevey

The City of Mandurah is now in its fifth year in an adaptive journey to help the community better understand and manage the potential impacts of climate change on its coastline and estuary. Mandurah is now recognised as one of the most adaptive local governments in Australia. So how did this come about?

The Council of the City of Mandurah stresses that focused, shared leadership at the highest levels within the organisation has been the critical success factor in the Council’s adaptive journey. This, along with extensive national and international support networks, and unanimous Council support, has meant the City now recognises the risks of climate change while balancing both the short and long term needs of the community.

Key climate change issues faced

At the City, we have an overwhelming desire to prepare our community as best we can for the future.”John Gabrielson, Manager Natural and Built Environment

Mandurah has one of the fastest population growths in Australia. Coupled with this, a significant percentage of the population growth is located in the coastal zone and extensive canal estates. In a study by the Federal Government, the City was identified as one of four local government areas in Western Australia most vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, 2009). Key climate change impacts for the area were identified as rising sea levels, changes in precipitation and runoff, changes in ocean circulation patterns, higher ocean temperatures, and changes in the passage of storms as well as their frequency and intensity. For the City itself, impacts on existing coastal infrastructure have been identified as the highest risk, which means that future infrastructure design, as well as land use planning, will need to take these risks into account (Coastal Zone Management Pty Ltd, 2009).

Mandurah’s adaptive journey

“…we have created a dedicated climate change section within the Council. As far as I know, we were the first Local Government in Australia to do this. A key impact was the release of Federal Government report showing Mandurah was one of the most vulnerable areas in Australia to the impacts of climate change.” John Gabrielson, Manager Natural and Built Environment

In the late 1990s climate change started to become an issue for the City of Mandurah, initially from the perspective of energy use and waste reduction, or climate change mitigation. One of the key turning points in the move towards adaptation was the ICLEI Accelerating Now! Conference, held in 2007 in Melbourne. Mayor Paddi Creevey attended the conference and returned home with a renewed sense of urgency for the need for climate change adaptation. “I remember coming back from Melbourne…and thinking we really have to do something about climate change. And it can’t be at mid officer level, it has to be from Council and senior management, otherwise there is not going to be any real change,“ said Mayor Creevey.

Shortly afterwards, Mayor Creevey drafted the wording for a resolution on supporting leadership in climate change, which was unanimously endorsed by Council (on 20 November 2007). This resolution became a positive platform to meet with adaptation practitioners and researchers, who encouraged the Council to continue working on the issue. Importantly, it contained actions and commitments for Council senior staff to display leadership on climate change matters, and financial commitment from Council to conduct a risk assessment.

The next turning point for the Council was a community and stakeholder conference in 2007. Organised by the City of Mandurah (and supported by various partners), the Climate Change and the Coast Conference brought together a range of stakeholders and community members. The initial driver for the conference was the City’s strong relationship with local researchers and consultants, who supported the City’s desire to explore the climate change concerns facing its community. All these multiple drivers provided the impetus for the City to undergo a climate change risk assessment (Coastal Zone Management Pty Ltd, 2009).

During this time, the City formed a dedicated climate change team within Council. The climate change team was instrumental in driving work in the City around adaptation and, in 2011, Mandurah drafted and adopted a climate change response plan. The plan is a key document in moving forward with work at the Council and, in particular, the integration of climate change adaptation into business plans.  Implementation of the response plan is monitored through the Council’s staff performance management system, so that business unit managers acknowledge and ensure that climate change adaptation is integral to their daily work.

Sharing lessons learned

Overall, the City of Mandurah identified four key success factors in their adaptive journey: 

  1. Establishing strong networks and linking with what is going on nationally;
  2. Having excellent staff, particularly senior officers who have championed the cause;
  3. Having unanimous Council support on the issue of climate change, which provides direction and impetus to senior officers;
  4. Keeping connected with the community to both share the outcomes of studies and ensure that Council takes action in line with community needs.

Mayor Paddi Creevey strongly underlines the importance of working with others and developing support networks: “The one piece of advice that I would give to other local governments is, don't try and do this on your own. We have to try and do things in a united way. Local issues need to be linked to what’s happening at the state and federal levels”. Creating these networks requires substantial time commitment and may be a challenge for local government leaders with many other responsibilities. 

Federal Government support has been instrumental in success, both through the networks Mandurah developed, and access to adaptation funding opportunities. For example, Mandurah successfully applied for and received Local Adaptation Pathways Project, Round II  (LAPP II) funding, and more recently, funding from the Coastal Adaptation Pathways (CAP) project. Funding to ensure ongoing work and keeping up to date with the science has meant the City has solid evidence on which to base decision making.

The integration of risk assessment outcomes into business processes is already visible within the Council. Since the City-wide climate change risk assessment was undertaken, the Council has requested four developers to conduct individual climate change risk assessments to ensure their development plans have considered future climate change. Despite positive early signs, the Council acknowledges there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure climate change is sustainably integrated within core Council business processes. 

The strong leadership evident in the City has been recognised through Mandurah’s nomination on the Federal Coasts Climate Change Council . The Council submitted its final report to Minister Combet (Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) in 2011, with a series of recommendations to the Federal Government advocating enhanced efforts to support coastal communities to move forward with climate change adaptation.

Leading climate change adaptation at the local level has highlighted a number of key challenges, of which one of the greatest is the challenge of engagement across the different levels of government. John Gabrielson, Manager, Natural and Built Environment, City of Mandurah commented “We spent years lobbying the State to play a more significant role in helping Council with our adaptation challenges. We simply cannot support our community to adapt effectively without a coordinated response from local, state and federal Governments.  For Council to lead adaptation at the local level, we need to see similar leadership commitments from the other levels of government – especially the State given that in Western Australia, unlike other States many land use planning controls are at the State level”. 

There are also challenges to the Council’s financial and technical resources The Council has always found that gaining financial support for climate change related work, including vulnerability studies and acquiring base data, has been difficult, especially with significant attention being placed at the national and State levels to mitigation activities. In addition, building up capacity and expertise within Council on climate change-related activities has required significant resources. 

Throughout the City’s adaptive journey, Mandurah has maintained an open, proactive attitude, and worked closely with research organisations, universities, Federal and State Government bodies. Having access to the best scientific information and national best-practice means the Council is able to make appropriate adaptive decisions. Mandurah’s example also highlights that continued leadership at senior levels within an organisation is an essential prerequisite for positive change. Only with these requirements in place can the Council lead the community to ensure a positive legacy for its future.

References & further reading

Department of Climate Change (2009) Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coast  Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Available online: 

Coastal Zone Management Pty Ltd (2009) Coastal Zone Climate Change Risk Assessment and Adaptation Plan Coastal Zone Management Pty Ltd. Available online: 

Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (2011) Coasts and Climate Change Council Report to Minister Combet Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Available online: 

This case story has been prepared by Adaptive Futures for NCCARF. Photo by Akeii