Monday, 16 November 2009

Adapting to climate change becoming more important


Over in the Department of Climate Change, established by the Labor Government as part of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, they have given themselves three tasks: reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions; adapting to the impacts of climate change we cannot avoid; helping to shape a global solution. As it becomes clearer and clearer that a global solution is still a long way off and reducing Australia’s emissions is pointless without other countries doing the same, the middle task must take on an increased importance. Planning what to do when (or “if” for those of a sceptical disposition) temperatures rise is the sensible thing to do.
So it was good to see at the end of last week that the Department has started seriously looking at such future options. The report it released —  Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coasts — is the first continental scale mapping of residential buildings at risk from climate change. It also details the risks to coastal infrastructure, services and industry in Australia as a result of climate change.

In the short term the timing of the release might help put some pressure on Liberal Senators to support the Government’s emissions trading legislation. The before and after pictures of what might happen to coastal towns and cities as sea levels rise was great fodder for Saturday’s papers and a reminder to people that there are potentially greater costs by not doing anything about climate change than there are by getting the world to take united action.
But the real importance will be in turning the minds of state and local government to the decisions needed to mitigate the impact from rising sea levels. As the report says in its executive summary: “Where possible, avoidance of future risk is the most cost-effective adaptation response, particularly where development has not yet occurred. While little analysis has been done to date, the application of planning and building regulations to constrain an increase in risk from climate change impacts will deliver considerable savings in damages avoided.”
This report is a sensible start to a debate where “detailed regional and local assessments under worse case scenarios are needed to inform decision-makers of future risks and enable climate change adaptation to be incorporated into planning approaches.”
We can but hope that Australia’s own three levels of government are quicker at reaching agreement on the
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