Green cities

Climate-resilient green cities

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Woman charging her electric car
Electric vehicle charging station, Eastern Harbour City
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A 20-year vision: Our sustainable and climate-proofed cities, transport, homes and businesses run on clean, renewable energy. A circular economy has transformed our urban systems and how we use resources. Our emissions have more than halved, and we play a leadership role in the global region in the transition to a net zero economy.

We are actively and effectively managing climate vulnerability, proactive climate proofing, urban heat and planning, and designing our built environments to withstand flooding, bushfires and coastal erosion.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face. It impacts our natural environment and ecosystems, our economy, our infrastructure, and our way of life. As we plan for the future, we must ensure that we achieve sustainability for the long term, transforming to meet the challenge of realising net zero emissions, while ensuring our cities are resilient and adaptable in the face of the escalating climate change impacts we are already experiencing. 

Reducing our emissions and transforming our cities and economy as part of a net zero state will be central to our future planning. The NSW Government’s Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020-2030 creates a pathway to a low-carbon state by 2050. This will build on the integrated approaches set out in the 2018 Region Plan, increasing the sustainability of our region by expanding its green infrastructure and protecting our natural environment, which should be valued and managed for its intrinsic value and contribution to improved quality of life.

A successful net zero emissions region will mean a rapid build-out of renewable energy and electrification of our cities, transport, homes and industry.
Meg McDonald - Environment Commissioner

To accelerate our transition to renewable energy and a net zero emissions economy, we need to transform how we build our cities, our transport and urban systems and how we do business across our region. Improving the way we manage waste, recycle and reuse will also be integral to achieving net-zero emissions. Our future planning will be consistent with best practice planning principles including sustainable development, and particularly climate change mitigation and adaptation, and enhanced resilience. 

As we grow, we must ensure our region strengthens its resilience in the face of the increasing climate-related risks and natural hazards of drought, bushfire, floods, and extreme heat and overexposure to UV radiation that are already impacting our communities. This is embodied in the objectives and priority actions set out in the NSW Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.

Picture of Cronulla beach
North Cronulla Beach, coastal erosion

Accelerating the shift to renewable energy 

Substantial growth in renewable energy and electrification of transport, homes and industry and businesses is key to the Six Cities Region becoming a net zero emissions region. Approximately 59 per cent of the region’s emissions are from electricity use. 

Emissions from transport have been increasing and will continue to rise without major intervention. Passenger transport accounted for 22.1 per cent of Greater Sydney’s emissions in 2019-20. Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 will require a major shift towards private, public and heavy electric vehicles and more trips by public transport, walking and cycling.

The Future Transport Strategy highlights how low and zero emission vehicles will be key to the transition to clean and quiet mobility. Accelerating availability and affordability of electric vehicles and charging points will be critical. Transport for NSW is transitioning the state’s bus fleet to zero-emission buses and renewable energy for electric trains and light rail. 

Progressing this Region Shaper

6.1 The Region Plan and City Plans will embed pathways to accelerate the achievement of net zero under the NSW Net Zero Plan, including:

a. emissions reduction targets

b. targets for electric and zero-emissions vehicles

c. accelerated electrification of public transport

d. strategies for increasing active transport.

6.2 The Commission will embed decarbonisation and electrification measures into the globally significant innovation districts in the six cities, with a target to achieve net zero in those innovation districts by 2030.

Transitioning to a circular economy  

Waste is a significant and increasing contributor to emissions. Moving to a circular economy will reduce emissions and improve sustainability of our cities and infrastructure. This will require major changes to waste management, recycling, and reuse across the six cities.

A circular built environment could save 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year across Australia and deliver $29 billion in direct economic benefits to NSW per year by 2040.

Infrastructure and construction projects can make greater use of recycled materials, reducing waste volumes overall, as construction and demolition waste accounted for 51 per cent of all waste in NSW (by volume) in 2019-20.

Increasing the separation of household food and organic waste can generate renewable energy and reduce emissions. This may require innovative solutions in higher-density areas where fewer households have access to their own garden, including through the development of community-led ‘maker spaces’ or ‘circular economy hubs’.

Two girls in a community garden
Cross Park, Lower MacDonald, Western Parkland City. Credit: Destination NSW

The precinct planning for the Aerotropolis in the Western Parkland City already provides for the potential inclusion of a ‘circular economy hub’ as a community asset, and circular economy design will be embedded in key innovation districts.

Diagram showing the circular economy between: Produce, Consume, Collect and Recycle
Credit: NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy
Progressing this Region Shaper

6.3 The Commission will embed circular economy design into the globally significant innovation districts in the six cities, with a target of net zero waste in those innovation districts.

6.4 City Plans will target at least one circular economy hub in each of the six cities.

Resilient cities 

Extreme climate events are increasingly impacting the Six Cities Region. Challenges for the region include a changing climate, growing urbanisation, and changing patterns of economic and social vulnerability. 

The 2019-2020 bushfires across eastern Australia caused loss of life, property, infrastructure and devastating impact on communities, vegetation, wildlife and ecosystems across our region. There were additional health and economic impacts from the thick smoke blanketing the region for months. 

In early 2020, major flooding impacted parts of Greater Sydney, the Central Coast City and the Illawarra-Shoalhaven City. Floods returned to parts of the region in late 2020, 2021 and in early 2022, causing more devastation, disruption and landslips. 

Heat is a major problem across the cities, with local communities experiencing excessive temperatures during heatwaves. 2019 was the driest and hottest year in more than a century. Such extreme temperatures have significant impacts on comfort, peak electricity demand, productivity and human health. 

We have to take steps to effectively manage climate vulnerability. We need a more resilient built environment so it can withstand urban heat, flooding, bushfires and coastal erosion.
Meg McDonald - Environment Commissioner

While the region has always been exposed to, and responded to, natural hazards, we must build resilience and readiness to respond to more intense, frequent and severe impacts. Land use planning will play a key role in reflecting and responding to the escalating risks that current and future communities face. The Region Plan and City Plans will identify areas in each city that are exposed and vulnerable to various climate-related risks, reflecting and responding to the objectives and priority actions set out in the NSW Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. Improving access to information on climate-related risks will help communities, businesses and governments make better decisions on how to mitigate these impacts. 

Green infrastructure

Research supports the multiple benefits of greater investment in green infrastructure, such as the urban tree canopy, parks and waterways. Increasing green cover and retaining water in the urban landscape reduces the urban heat island effect, strengthens local resilience to climate-related risks, helps capture and store carbon emissions, reduces air pollution, improves liveability and makes our local centres and neighbourhoods more attractive. 

Even though the Six Cities Region has a variety of local green infrastructure, it still has a high level of urban heat compared to other major city regions. It is important to ensure that investment in green infrastructure is equitably distributed across the Six Cities Region so that everyone can benefit. 

Kids fishing at the Yarramundi reserve
Yarramundi reserve, Western Parkland City. Credit: Destination NSW
Man and woman sitting on a rock, watching the horizon
Macquarie Pass, Illawarra-Shoalhaven City

Water resource management  

Recycled water, including recycled stormwater, can help mitigate urban heat in a way that is less reliant on rainfall and drinking water supplies. Currently, only seven per cent of wastewater in Greater Sydney is recycled. Making greater use of recycled water, and water conservation measures will be critical to keeping our communities cool and green. 

The NSW Water Strategy outlines how water resource management can be supported by the most contemporary data and risks to water resources. We will continue to draw on current data and modelling to improve our understanding of past and future climate risks.

Progressing this Region Shaper 

6.5 The Region and City Plans will take learnings from recent events and be informed by integrated data, including the priority actions set out in the NSW Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and the 2022 NSW Floods Inquiry, to reflect and respond to exposure and vulnerability to climate-related risks, particularly urban heat, bushfire, and flooding. 

6.6 The City Plans will develop tree canopy investment strategies and set place-based targets for canopy cover. 

6.7 The Region and City Plans will reflect the NSW Water Strategy and consider recycled water infrastructure. 

Sustainable homes and buildings 

As heatwaves and extreme heat days continue to increase, we also must address what this means for our homes and the wider built environment. 

Lifting BASIX building standards will make our cities and homes more comfortable, sustainable and climate-resilient. It will result in greater energy and water efficiency, which in turn reduces emissions and lowers costs. We must also prioritise increasing electrification using renewable energy and restricting the use of gas in new developments from 2025. 

Impression of the future Atlassian building in Sydney, Australia
Atlassian Central, hybrid timber tower, Eastern Harbour City
Aerial view of houses with solar panels
Glenwood, Western Parkland City

Urban heat can also be mitigated effectively by using cooler and lighter-coloured building and paving materials, ensuring street orientation responds to local climate conditions, retaining more water in the landscape and retaining more tree canopy and green ground cover. 

Our global innovation districts – Tech Central, Westmead and the Aerotropolis – will showcase leading-edge sustainable buildings as they move towards a net zero target for 2030. Their role in the global economy is outlined in greater detail in Region Shaper Five, Powering local jobs and economies

Progressing this Region Shaper 

6.8 The Region Plan will include actions needed to strengthen resilience to urban heat, including updates to urban design guidelines, planning and building. 

6.9 The Region Plan will set targets for low embodied emissions in construction materials and support more climate-resilient, energy and water efficient infrastructure and buildings, including updated BASIX standards.