Local government perceptions of climate change impacts and coastal adaptation preferences in South Australia

Dr Nicole Pelton1, Associate Professor Beverley  Clarke1

1Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia


Australia’s coastal communities face significant challenges due to the impacts of climate change. While local government has key responsibilities in land use planning and management, local adaptation planning can be complicated by uncertainty about future coastal impacts of climate change, varying perceptions of risk, and climate change skepticism.

Perceptions and attitudes towards the impacts of climate change are important predictors of adaptation response. Researchers have noted that public risk perceptions can drive

development of policy or prevent the implementation of policy as much as scientific evidence. However, the relationship between perceptions of risk and adaptation option preferences at the local government level is rarely explored.

Since coastal council staff and elected members can influence, promote or impede adaptation responses at the local government level, this study aimed to understand the relationship between perceptions of coastal council stakeholders regarding climate change and vulnerability and their preferred coastal adaptation options.

An online survey canvassed the opinions of mayors and local government staff from South Australia’s 34 coastal councils. This paper presents the results of this survey, including 1) stakeholder perceptions of coastal risk, 2) preferences regarding broad categories of adaptation responses (i.e. Avoid, Accommodate, Protect or Retreat), 3) preferences regarding more specific approaches (i.e. ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ protection measures, planning measures), and 4) opinions on the roles and responsibilities of coastal landowners and spheres of government in relation to adaptation responses to climate change at the coast.

These insights will inform our understanding of the challenges to and opportunities for effective coastal climate change adaptation planning at the local government level.


Nicole completed a PhD in 2016 on Integrated Coastal Management and Australian Federalism. Nicole’s main research interests include coastal governance, federalism and intergovernmental relations, vertical integration, financing coastal management and climate change adaptation, and local, state and federal government perspectives on all of the above.