Climate Change

The Cairns climate is changing, presenting new challenges for the local environment, economy and our community. Council is working towards a safer climate future by:

  • saving energy and reducing emissions in Council's operations
  • unlocking opportunities in the global transition to a low carbon economy
  • reducing climate risks and helping the region adapt to impacts
  • supporting the community to embrace sustainability

More information about Council's journey so far can be found below and work is underway for an updated Climate Change Strategy, mapping our next actions until 2030.

Climate Information

Climate changes

In Far North Queensland, the region can generally expect:

  • higher temperatures
  • more intense downpours of rainfall
  • rising sea level and more frequent sea level extremes.
  • warmer and more acidic seas
  • hotter and more frequent hot days
  • less frequent but more intense tropical cyclones

More information about the projected changes for the Cairns Local Government Area under different scenarios of greenhouse gas pollution can be found on the Australian Government's website, Climate Change in Australia or the State Government's Queensland Future Climate Dashboard.

Local impacts

To find out more about the impacts these changes may have, please see the Queensland Government's Impact Summary for Far North Queensland.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Community emissions from residential, industry and commercial sectors for the Cairns Local Government Area can be understood using the snapshot report.

Adapting to a Changing Climate

Adaptation efforts deal with the consequences of climate change that cannot be avoided. It involves taking practical actions to manage risks from climate impacts, to protect communities and strengthen the resilience of the economy and environment.

Planning for coastal changes

Council is working with the Queensland Government as part of QCoast 2100 program to plan for and respond to current and future coastal changes from erosion, storm tide inundation and sea level rise.

In the Our Cairns Coast: Adapting for the future project, we are developing a strategy to address long-term climate-related coastal change for our community, businesses and infrastructure.

Disaster resilience

Council works closely with the Local Disaster management Group to help the region to prevent, plan, respond and recover from a range of natural disasters made worse by a changing climate.

Natural areas management

Ecosystem resilience to climate change pressures is supported by focusing Council's management efforts on pest management and revegetation of at-risk habitats and wildlife corridors.

Water security

Council is working to reduce water use and secure supply to meet a growing population in the face of a changing climate.

Managing heat
Reef resilience

Reducing Council's Emissions

Emissions reduction target

At the end of 2019/20, Council had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 47% on 2007/08 levels. We expect to meet our 50% emissions reduction target in the 2020/21 financial year. Our progress so far includes:

  • 30% reduction from landfill gas management
  • 15% reduction from wastewater treatment (reduced fugitive gas emissions)
  • 5% reduction from energy efficiency and solar power

We are now are working on new emissions targets as a part of our updated Climate Change Strategy 2030.

Renewable energy

Council has installed nearly 3 megawatts of solar power across its facilities. These systems generate over 4.5 gigawatt hours of renewable energy each year, saving over $700,000 and 3,600 tonnes of CO2e (greenhouse gas emissions) annually.

Northern WWTP*600Esplanade Lagoon30
Southern WWTP*600Stratford Plumbers Depot30
Marlin Coast WWTP*300Gordonvale Depot30
Edmonton WWTP*250Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre20
Edmonton Leisure Centre100Muddy's Cafe and Playground15
Martyn Street Depot100Pump TB110
Tobruk Memorial Pool100Edmonton WWTP*10
Cairns City Library80School of the Arts8
Portsmith MRF**60Esplanade BBQ shelters5
Gordonvale WWTP*60Gordonvale Community Hall4
Freshwater Creek Water Plant39Babinda Library4
Woree Disaster Centre39Hambledon House4
Sewage Depot30Gordonvale Library2

* Waste Water Treatment Plant

** Materials Recovery Facility

Energy management

Council tracks its energy use, costs and greenhouse gas emissions for electricity and vehicle use with monitoring software. This is important to identify areas for improvement and to track cost-savings from energy efficiency works and solar power generation.

Landfill gas management and fugitive emissions

‘Fugitive emissions’ are losses and leaks of greenhouse gases, typically methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides. Sources of these emissions include landfill, wastewater treatment plants and refrigerant gases used in HVAC systems.

Methane, which is generated through wastewater treatment, is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. In landfills, methane is generated by the breakdown of organic matter such as food scraps and garden waste. Methane from Cairns’ de-commissioned Portsmith Landfill has been captured and flared since 2012, delivering a 30% reduction in Council’s annual emissions.

Each year, an average of 5500 carbon credits are created for Council from landfill gas management at the Portsmith Landfill and other organic materials is commercially composted.

We are constantly looking for new ways to reduce the impact of Council operations on the environment, whether that be through increasing and promoting recycling options for the city, installing renewable energy sources to power infrastructure and managing the emissions generated by our community's waste and wastewater treatment. A sample of these activities is listed below but you can find a more comprehensive picture in our State of Environment reports.

Planning and Partnerships

Advocacy for a sustainable economy

With growing opportunities for  investment to deliver positive commercial, social and environmental returns, Council has endorsed a position paper, Cairns & FNQ – Becoming the capital of the Smart Green Economy in Australia.

Reef Guardian Council

We joined the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Reef Guardian Program in 2008. As a Reef Guardian Council, we have invested heavily in water quality improvements. Most notably, the $188 million Cleaner Seas upgrade of wastewater treatment plants has improved the quality of wastewater discharge by 80%. .

Cities Power Partnership

Council joined this growing coalition of more than 70 local governments (representing over one third of the Australian population) in late 2017.The Cities Power Partnership is a national program led by the Climate Council to accelerate and celebrate local government successes in achieving emission reductions and transitioning towards clean energy.

QCRC Councils, Q-CAT

TuD Lab

State of Environment Reports

Each year, Cairns Regional Council produces a State of the Environment Report to:

  • identify pressures on the natural environment
  • report on responses Council is undertaking to help address these pressures
  • monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of these responses.

With this knowledge, Council can allocate environmental management resources more effectively and strengthen our governance framework to help conserve and restore our natural environment.

State of Environment reporting is constantly being strengthened for increased readability and accuracy. The latest report records the most correct data as new knowledge becomes available. Data discrepancy between reports can be due to a range of factors including de-amalgamation with Douglas Shire, improved data collection, access to new information and changed procedures. Please refer to the latest report for the most up to date data.

The first Cairns Youth Climate Summit was held in late 2019 and was an opportunity for high school aged students to help shape climate actions for the region until 2030. Students developed a collective aspirational statement for Cairns and presented their key action ideas to industry and government representatives.

Last updated: 28 October 2020