Climate disaster and adaptation

Responding and adapting to climate disasters
Multi-disciplinary research to build community resilience to disasters and climate change.

Climate-induced disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity, posing growing threats to communities and ecosystems. Traditional mitigation and resilience measures are inadequate, necessitating adaptation and transformative responses. This theme focuses on disaster response and adaptation planning involving diverse stakeholders such as communities, businesses, governments, and NGOs. It aims to foster multidisciplinary collaborations among researchers to develop effective, just solutions to climate change impacts, prioritising community engagement in the process.

 We aim to:

  • Partner with communities to redesign disaster preparedness and decision-making by understanding their experiences and responses during and post-disasters.

  • Design equitable, community-led approaches for disaster preparation, response, and reparations.

  • Develop long-term, just climate adaptation strategies, moving beyond resilience. Expertise includes social cohesion, heat adaptation, nature-based solutions, climate-induced displacement and migration, and the impacts of climate disasters on biodiversity and communities’ physical and mental health.

How to be involved

The Climate Disaster and Adaptation (CDA) research theme comprises of 150 researchers across all USYD Faculties. The theme builds multidisciplinary research collaborations and secures funding from key external agencies such as the NSW Reconstruction Authority and Natural Hazards Research Australia. We offer members monthly updates, collaboration invitations, and access to a diverse network addressing climate disaster impacts and adaptation strategies.

University of Sydney researchers wishing to join the CDA research theme, please complete the SEI Membership form, and note your interest in joining. For more information, contact Scott Webster (Research Administration Officer).

Featured research projects

All current research projects

This project examines climate buffer infrastructure in the Philippines.

Researchers examine the costs, benefits, decision-making processes, and business risks linked to infrastructure such as seawalls, wetlands, and mangroves as a means of climate adaptation, and consider their implications for justice.

This project is supported by SEI’s 2024 Collaborative Grants Scheme.

Contributors: Dr Justin See, Dr Sophie Webber, Dr Aaron Opdyke, Dr Sandra Alday, Ginbert Cuaton, Pearly Joy Peja

This project collects data on formal disaster response systems.

Building on Sydney Environment Institute research on informal, community-led responses to disaster, the new project will produce a social network map of connections between formal and informal responses to the catastrophic 2022 floods in Lismore.

This project is supported by SEI’s 2024 Collaborative Grants Scheme.

Contributors: Dr Jo Longman, Emma Pittaway, Associate Professor Petr MatousAssociate Professor Ken ChungProfessor Amanda Howard, Associate Professor Margot Rawsthorne

This project focuses on the organisation of spontaneous community networks of support in the wake of shock climate events. Working with partner organisations in the Northern Rivers, Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury regions, the project will examine the community groups who coordinated information, labour, and funding in response to the floods.

Critically, the project addresses two large risks which can undermine this type of spontaneous community response to disasters in the future. The first is the loss or lack of use of community knowledge in the immediate aftermath of disasters, or in preparation for future shock events, and the second risk is the loss of community faith and support for local and state institutions.

The community anger at the federal and state governments after both the Black Summer bushfires and many flood events shows both the potential risk of that breakdown of trust in, and legitimacy of, official responses. This project seeks to investigate whether local council and state support for the work of what was spontaneous community organising, may lower both the immediate risks of future disaster events and the longer-term risk of delegitimised formal institutions.

Contributors: Contributors: Professor David Schlosberg, Dr Jodie Bailie, Professor Danielle Celermajer, Zachary Gillies-Palmer, Professor Amanda Howard, Associate Professor Kurt Iveson, Dr Pam Joseph, Dr Jo Longman, Professor Rosemary Lyster, Associate Professor Petr Matous, Dr Nader Naderpajouh, Emma Pittaway, Associate Professor Margot Rawsthorne, Professor Jakelin Troy, Dr Blanche Verlie, Dr Gemma Viney, Dr Scott Webster

Read more about the research project

This project focuses on the development, dissemination and pilot testing in Western Sydney of a new publicly available Heat Stress Scale (HSS), similar to a UV index.

Information will be delivered on a personalised app and on public-facing displays in order to enhance community resilience to heatwave disasters and avoid the risk of heat-related health problems.

The HSS will provide a simple interpretation of the current and forecasted heat stress risk by integrating not only temperature (typically used by the public to assess risk), but also humidity, solar radiation and wind speed. Using user-defined health (e.g., age, medical conditions, medication) and housing data, an adjusted personalised HSS rating for current/forecasted conditions will also be generated. Associated with each HSS category will be evidence-based strategies to optimally mitigate heat stress risk – this information will be personalised where individual information is available.

In collaboration with key stakeholders in government, health and the community, the HSS tool display and interactive features will be co-designed in a series of public workshops, organised with NGO and public health partners, in August-September 2022. Several different HSS formats will then be tested in Summer 2022-23 by delivering the HSS tool to target heat-vulnerable groups on different platforms (e.g., smartphone app, online calculator, public screens, text messages, radio, TV).

The study will be conducted in a purpose-built climate chamber in University's Susan Wakil Health Building. The chamber allows for environmental parameters to be precisely controlled for research related to heat and health.  

Contributors: Professor Ollie Jay, Professor David Schlosberg, Dr James Smallcombe 

Project partners

-        Heat and Health Research Incubator

-        NSW Reconstruction Authority

Conducting a risk assessment is a fundamental first step in emergency management planning. While significant advancements have taken place to forecast and map hazard exposure, combining this with meaningful vulnerability data that is localised and up to date remains a significant challenge.

Phase one (this project) will review current risk assessment processes, challenges and needs across the emergency services sector, including insights from other relevant sectors such as defence. The outcomes from phase one will be utilised for the development of a new multi-hazard risk assessment process for the New South Wales State Emergency Service (phase two).

The objective of this project is to improve the understanding of risk assessment by better consideration of both social and physical factors driving vulnerability to disasters in local communities. Researchers are working to understand the practices within the New South Wales State Emergency Service, before evaluating current literature on community risk assessment approaches.

Researchers will then map and compare community risk assessment practices globally. Finally, this project will present options for developing community risk assessment systems— with a special focus on dynamic and localised community vulnerability, capability, and capacity data. 

The main outcome of the project is an improved knowledge base of community risk assessment approaches, enhanced by explicit consideration of social and physical dimensions of local community vulnerabilities to disasters.

Contributors: Dr Nader NaderpajouhDr Aaron OpdykeDr Ali HadighehProfessor Amanda HowardProfessor David SchlosbergAssociate Professor Floris Van Ogtrop, Associate Professor Hao Zhang, Dr Jodie BailieProfessor Mary CrockAssociate Professor Petr MatousProfessor Willem Vervoort

Funder: Natural Hazards Research Australia

The concept of climate resilient development is gaining traction in science and policy domains as the world attempts to transition away from carbon-intensive and highly inequitable development pathways. However, climate resilient development pathways continue to be framed and understood based on ‘Global North’ or Eurocentric paradigms, marginalising the perspectives and lived experiences of communities in the ‘Global South’.

This project aims to create spaces for local and grassroots perspectives to emerge by reviewing oral histories and digital narratives, and complementing these with a series of participatory activities such as storytelling and collaborative workshops with community members in the Philippines to understand how people’s aspirations of ‘a good life’ can inform climate resilient development pathways.

Contributors: Dr. Angela Minas, Dr. Justin See, Ginbert Permejo Cuaton, Dakila Kim Yee

Funder: The British Academy ODA International Interdisciplinary Research Project 2024

Project Partners

  • Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
  • Sydney Environment Institute
  • Lingnan University
  • University of the Philippines
  • Visayas Tacloban College

The overall objective of this project seeks to support local governments in urban communities in the Philippines and Indonesia to incorporate climate change into flood risk assessments and mobilise knowledge to realise resilient and sustainable development.

As a result of better understanding the influence of climate change on flood risk, local governments and communities can make more informed decisions on their development pathways. Increased access to flood risk assessments that forecast future changes will serve to not only reduce risk, but also prevent the creation of new risk – a growing concern.

The research will partner closely with local governments to ensure policy action. An action research component will help understand how local knowledge is legitimised to enhance risk reduction strategy adoption. 

Learn more about the project here.

Contributors: Dr Aaron OpdykeMs Emily NabongMr Isaac Besarra, Ms Zoe Latham, and Ms Grace Barrett-Lennard. 

Funded by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research.

Theme lead

David Schlosberg

Theme lead

Rosemary Lyster

Theme lead

Dale Dominey-Howes