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. Communities and ecosystems are increasingly threatened, disrupted, and displaced. Mitigation and resilience are no longer sufficient and new climate realities require adaptation, and radical shifts in how diverse communities respond to disasters. 

This theme is focused on disaster response and adaptation planning with communities, businesses, governments and NGOs. The Climate Disaster and Adaptation Cluster has been established to build multidisciplinary collaborations between researchers across the University working on adaptation, disasters and resilience. The work of this cluster, and the theme more broadly, centres community-engagement in our approach to develop effective and just solutions to the growing experiences of climate change.

 We aim to:

  • Partner with communities to understand the experiences and responses in and after disasters with a view to redesigning disaster preparedness and decision-making in crises.
  • Explore and design community-led, just modalities of disaster preparation, response and reparations.
  • Rethink climate futures beyond resilience, through long-term, just climate adaptation strategies.

Featured research project


Self organising systems to minimise future disaster risk

Examining community responses to shock climate events

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: Professor David SchlosbergProfessor Danielle CelermajerProfessor Amanda HowardAssociate Professor Kurt IvesonDr Pam JosephDr Jo LongmanProfessor Rosemary LysterAssociate Professor Petr MatousDr Nader NaderpajouhAssociate Professor Margot RawsthorneProfessor Jakelin Troy, Dr Blanche Verlie, 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

Climate Disaster and Adaptation Cluster

138 researchers across 7 Faculties and Schools are members of SEI's Climate Disaster and Adaptation Cluster (CDAC). CDAC builds multidisciplinary research collaborations through workshops, meetings and communication, which have resulted in grants from NSW Reconstruction Authority/Resilient Sydney; Natural Hazards Research Australia; Medical Research Future Fund and the Australian Research Council.

As part of the cluster a  Researcher Contact List (RCL) has been developed for the  as a tool for academic staff across Faculties/Schools/Research Units to reach out to others for collaborative projects on adaptation, disasters and resilience. Each researcher profile includes their role, department, research area, research projects, links to any industry and or government partners, and Disaster/Adaptation focus areas most relevant to their research expertise and interests. The RCL is a living document and is accessible via MS Teams to all researchers in the CDAC.

For more information, contact Johanne Brady.

Researchers wishing to join who are not already a member of SEI should fill in the SEI member EOI form and note their interest in joining the CDAC.


Prof. Rosemary Lyster (Sydney Law School (Climate and Disaster Law))
Dr Arianna Brambilla (Architecture (Architectural Technologies))
Hon. Prof. Deborah Bunker (Sydney Business School (Information Systems))
Dr Emma Calgaro (School of Geosciences)
Dr Derwent Coshott (Sydney Law School)
Hannah Della Bosca (Sydney Environment Institute)
Assoc. Prof. Daniel Gozman (Sydney Business School (Engaged Research))
Assoc. Prof. Kurt Iveson (School of Geosciences)
Ms Patricia Lane (Sydney Law School)
Assoc. Prof. Murray Lee (Sydney Law School (Criminology))
Nicholas McKay (Faculty of Medicine and Health, Researcher Enterprise)
Dr Nader Naderpajouh (Faculty of Engineering (Project Management and Civil))
Prof. Luke Nottage (Law (Comparative and Transnational Business Law))
Prof. Susan Park (Department of Government and International Relations)
Prof. Rita Shackel (Sydney Law School (Criminology))
Anthony Sleigh (Sydney Business School (Geospatial Engineering))
Prof Gregory Tolhurst (Sydney Law School (Commercial Law))
Prof Jakelin Troy (DVCR Indigenous Research)
Assoc. Prof. Jing Yu (Sydney Business School (Finance))

Dr Jo Longman (University Centre for Rural Health)
Assoc. Prof. Ying Zhang (Sydney School of Public Health)
Dr Edward Jegasothy (Sydney School of Public Health)
Dr Kate Owens (Sydney Law School (Environmental Law))
Dr Danya Rose (Brain and Mind Centre)
Dr Scott Webster (Department of Gender & Cultural Studies)

Dr Aaron Opdyke (School of Civil Engineering)
Dr Fady Aoun (Sydney Law School)
Assoc. Prof. Penelope Crossley (Sydney Law School (Commercial Energy Law))
Dr Michael Davis (Sydney Law School)
Dr Eugenia Gasparri (Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning (Architectural Technologies))
Assoc. Prof. Nicole Graham (Sydney Law School (Property Law))
Prof. Melissa Haswell (DVC Indigenous Strategy and Services)
Dr Dagmar Reinhardt (School of Architecture, Design and Planning)
Dr Christine Winter (Department of Government and International Relations)

Prof. David Schlosberg (Sydney Environment Institute, Department of Government and International Relations)
Prof. Danielle Celermajer (Sydney Environment Institute, Department of Sociology and Social Policy)
Prof. Dale Dominey-Howes (School of Geosciences)
Assoc. Prof. Ed Couzens (Sydney Law School (Environmental Law))
Prof. Mary Crock (Sydney Law School (Public Law))
Prof. Roland Fletcher (Department of Archaeology)
Prof. Ollie Jay (Sydney School of Health Sciences, Heat and Health Research Centre)
Dr Pam Joseph (Sydney School of Education and Social Work)
Prof. Amanda Howard (Sydney School of Education and Social Work)
Assoc. Prof. Petr Matous (Faculty of Engineering (Project Management))
Prof. Phil McManus (School of Geosciences)
Liberty Pascua (Sydney School of Education and Social Work)
Assoc. Prof. Margot Rawsthorne (Sydney School of Education and Social Work)
Dr Blanche Verlie (Department of Sociology and Social Policy)

Theme lead

David Schlosberg

Theme lead

Rosemary Lyster

Theme lead

Dale Dominey-Howes