Sustainable and resilient territory

A sustainable Canberra is a net zero emissions city that is resilient to the future impacts of climate change.

To make sure we reduce emissions and adapt to climate change impacts, we will need to improve city design and infrastructure, minimise waste, promote efficient use of our resources, including land, and protect and maintain the health of ecosystems and waterways. We will also need to reduce the impacts of our travel by using active travel and public transport to minimise emissions.

Sustainability can be defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable cities are planned, designed, constructed and maintained with consideration for social, economic and environmental outcomes.

We are committed to consolidating Canberra's position as a world-leading sustainable city. We have committed to having a 100% renewable electricity supply by 2020, are implementing our Adaptation Strategy and undertaking a range of other related actions.

We can achieve a more sustainable city by reducing our emissions, continuing our shift to renewable energy sources, and enhancing the resilience of our people, our city, our natural environment and our economy through effective adaptation measures.

As Canberra grows and evolves to become a compact city, it will be important to protect and improve our living infrastructure (plants, soils, waterways, parks and open spaces) to maintain the legacy of our city in the landscape and strengthen resilience to climate change.

The ACT Government has updated the ACT's emissions reduction targets and set a new goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2045. Achieving this target by 2045 or earlier will require long-term commitment and a stepped approach to reducing emissions and shifting to a net zero emissions economy. To make sure that the ACT is on track to achieve these targets, we have also adopted a series of interim emission reduction targets (based on 1990 emissions):

Direction 3.1 - Transition to a net zero emissions city

Transitioning to a net zero emissions city through the uptake of renewable energy, improved building design and transport initiatives.

From 2020, transport and natural gas use in buildings will represent the largest sources of emissions in the ACT. There are many ways to support a net zero emissions future in the way that we plan for the future of our city. Early consideration of sustainability in the planning and design process may significantly improve the energy efficiency and thermal performance of our buildings. Environmentally sustainable development, including energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, can help deliver cost-effective environmental outcomes, emissions reductions, improvements to health and comfort, and support a lower cost of living for residents.

The ACT is on track to be powered by 100% renewable electricity by 2020. Reducing grid electricity demand through increased efficiency and small-scale solar with batteries will continue to be important in maintaining this target. We have invested in solar and wind generation and committed to of the roll-out of battery storage technology.

We are committed to reducing emissions from the transport sector by working to improve our transport network. This includes building a light rail system, improving public transport and providing infrastructure to support active travel such as walking and cycling. Encouraging new development in locations with strong transport accessibility and supporting new low emissions transport technologies can help us to make this transition to a net zero emissions city.


3.1.1 Investigate appropriate planning policy and statutory mechanisms to encourage the development of net zero emissions buildings, precincts and suburbs, including objectives to:

  • support the transition to net zero emissions energy supplies in the built environment, and facilitate the uptake of renewable energy technologies and battery storage
  • improve the energy efficiency and thermal performance of new buildings through improved sustainability requirements
  • provide infrastructure to support active travel such as walking and cycling. Encouraging new development in locations with strong transport accessibility and supporting new low emissions transport technologies
Direction 3.2 - Reduce vulnerability to natural hazard events and adapt to climate change

Reduce vulnerability to natural hazard events and adapt to climate change.

People, the environment and the city's infrastructure must be prepared for the impacts of climate change. By working together, we can build our resilience to acute shocks and stressors, ensuring that our community, natural systems and built environments have the capacity to adapt and respond to change.

We will support continued progress in the integration of emergency management considerations with strategic land-use planning to reduce the likelihood, effect and consequences of natural hazards, such as increased heat stress and periods of drought. Major infrastructure projects must be designed and constructed so that they can withstand a range of major shocks.


3.2.1 Review planning policy and statutory mechanisms to incorporate climate change adaptation considerations and resilience criteria into urban planning and design processes, including objectives to:

  • incorporate climate change risk considerations into planning and design processes for the delivery of major infrastructure projects
  • incorporate climate change adaptation objectives into planning and design processes for new estate and subdivision guidelines
  • provide climate-wise building and estate guidelines as a resource for built environment professionals, trades people, educators and the community to improve planning, design and construction of buildings and estates
  • implement bushfire prone area declarations within parts of the urban area of Canberra to reduce the risk from bushfires; this includes reviewing the Territory Plan's Bushfire Mitigation General Code for bushfire risk exposed parts of Canberra
  • maintain publicly available flood mapping for major waterways in urban areas
  • improve planning information and regulation for flood management.
Direction 3.3 - Integrate living infrastructure and sustainable design

Integrate living infrastructure and sustainable design to make Canberra a resilient city within the landscape.

The urban heat-island effect is created by the built environment absorbing, trapping and then releasing heat. Canberra has been found to have a surface urban heat island at night in built-up areas that is around 8°C warmer in summer than surrounding rural areas.

Effective steps will need to be taken to manage the heat-island effect in urban intensification areas. Land surface temperatures in summer are significantly higher in urban areas that lack tree cover (Map 10).

Providing living infrastructure in the city can provide cooling benefits and increase the community's resilience to extreme heat events.

At a broad scale living infrastructure refers to all of the interconnected ecosystems within an urban catchment. Living infrastructure includes the 'green infrastructure' of trees, gardens, green walls and roofs, parks, reserves and open spaces, and the 'blue infrastructure' of our waterbodies including lakes, wetlands and waterways13.

Integrating living infrastructure in the urban environment provides important ecosystem service benefits. These include protecting against excessive heat or flooding, improving air, soil and water quality, and increasing public amenity.

To mitigate the impacts of increased average temperatures, Canberra will maintain and enhance its urban forest of trees and vegetation on properties, lining transport corridors, on public lands and, where possible, on roofs, facades and walls (Map 11). Residential development provisions will be updated to mitigate against the loss of tree canopy cover and permeable surfaces as a result of urban intensification (Map 6).

Other methods of cooling the city include the use of climate-wise design and heat-reflective materials in our built environment and public realm to reduce the amount of heat absorbed.


3.3.1 Support the implementation of a living infrastructure plan for the ACT through the review of planning policy and planning mechanisms to support the maintenance and enhancement of the urban forest in precinct, estate and district level planning processes, and relevant development and design guidelines.

3.3.2 Support the implementation of climate-wise design and materials in statutory planning provisions, precinct and estate planning processes, and relevant development and design guidelines.

Direction 3.4 - Plan for integrated water cycle management

Plan for integrated water cycle management to support healthy waterways and a liveable city.

The Strategy supports the ACT Water Strategy 2014-44 by protecting water assets and influencing how development occurs across new and established urban areas. Updates to the ACT's Water Sensitive Urban Design Code consider the whole water cycle early in the planning and design of new urban areas to improve the water performance of new buildings and places.

The earlier integrated water management is considered in urban planning, the better the outcomes for the environment and communities. Retaining stormwater in the landscape through water sensitive urban design and stormwater harvesting is necessary to secure the health of our waterways while also reducing flood risks, improving landscapes and amenity, and creating a greener city.


3.4.1 Implement the revised Water Sensitive Urban Design Code General Code and integrate consideration of water sensitive urban design into precinct and estate and suburb planning and design processes.

3.4.2 Evaluate and implement cost-effective opportunities for stormwater irrigation of living infrastructure and priority public open space areas as part of integrated water cycle planning in precinct, and estate and suburb planning and design processes.

Direction 3.5 - Protect biodiversity and enhance habitat connectivity

Protect biodiversity and enhance habitat connectivity to improve landscape resilience.

Canberra's urban forest and network of nature reserves and green spaces provide important areas of habitat for conservation of biodiversity, as well as opportunities for people to enjoy frequent contact with nature close to our urban environments.

As our city grows, habitat loss can pose a significant threat to native flora and fauna populations. As habitat becomes smaller and more fragmented through development, wildlife can face increased threats, such as lack of habitat, and reduced habitat connectivity to allow movement and dispersal.

The ACT has well-established priorities for integrating biodiversity protection into planning and urban development. To protect our habitats and ecosystems from the future effects of climate change, we will continue to maintain biodiversity assets and improve habitat connections to improve landscape connectivity and resilience.


3.5.1 Identify and establish environmental offset areas within planning processes to mitigate any unavoidable impacts of development on ecosystems and biodiversity of national significance and other protected matters.

3.5.2 Incorporate consideration of natural habitat and conservation areas into urban planning and design processes to promote habitat connectivity and support the establishment of biodiversity refuges.

Map 10: Canberra urban heat. Click for larger view.
Map depicting areas of urban heat gain in the ACT at a high level. Districts of the ACT are marked. Canberra’s surface heat mapping was taken on the 9 February 2017. The legend indicates a range of coloured circles to represent the amount of heat represented on the map ranging from 23 degrees Celsius to 45 degrees Celsius.

Map 11: Canberra tree canopy cover. Click for larger view.
Map of the ACT depicting Canberra tree canopy cover. Map indicating a fine network of the trees and vegetation equal or higher than 3 metres in the ACT. Canberra’s tree canopy cover map is based on 2015 LIDAR Data. LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, which is a remote sensing method used to examine the surface of the Earth. This technology was used to map the ACT tree canopy.

Direction 3.6 - Reduce waste, improve resource efficiency and decrease our ecological footprint

Reduce waste, improve resource efficiency and decrease our ecological footprint.

The ACT State of the Environment Report (2015) showed that our ecological footprint was approximately 8.9 global hectares per person. This is about 3.5 times the global per person average and above the average per person ecological footprint of other Australians (8.2 gha/person). Contributors to our ecological footprint include our use of resources such as land and the generation of waste. The ACT needs to reduce the amount of waste it produces by avoiding, re-using and recycling waste.

Patterns of waste generation are changing as the city's urban form moves from lower to higher density patterns of living. An increasing percentage of people will be living in dwellings other than detached houses. Higher density developments are associated with lower recycling rates as lower car ownership in these areas means residents have less ability to self-transport bulky and hazardous wastes to collection points. Furthermore, most high-rise residential and mixed-use developments, and some medium-density residential developments, lack appropriate waste and resource recovery infrastructure and services. This often means all collected waste goes to landfill.

As Canberra's metropolitan area continues to expand with new greenfield development, the capacity, location and sustainability of existing waste facilities will need to be reassessed. Waste and resource recovery infrastructure planning will need to be effectively integrated with infrastructure planning to provide long-term certainty and to manage potential conflicts with incompatible nearby land uses.


3.6.1 Investigate appropriate requirements under the Territory Plan for the provision of a resource recovery infrastructure and waste service requirements in planning provisions for medium and higher density residential and mixed-use developments.

3.6.2 Encourage reduced waste and improved resource efficiency in new development, and support continued reduction of the ACT's ecological footprint.

13. Canberra's Living Infrastructure Information Paper 2018. | Return to content.

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