Adaptation to global warming in Australia

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According to non-governmental organisations such as Greenpeace and global scientific organisations such as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the frequency and intensity of disasters brought about by greenhouse gas emissions and climate change will grow rapidly in the world. The risks are particularly severe in some regions of Australia, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Macquarie Marshes in New South Wales. The Department of Climate Change said in its Climate Change Impacts and Costs fact sheet: "...ecologically rich sites, such as the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland Wet Tropics, Kakadu Wetlands, Australian Alpine areas, south-western Australia and sub- Antarctic islands are all at risk, with significant loss of biodiversity projected to occur by 2020".[1] It also said: "Very conservatively, 90 Australian animal species have so far been identified at risk from climate change, including mammals, insects, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians from all parts of Australia." Australia is already the driest populated continent in the world.

Climate change is recognised as one of the largest global crises. The issue has gained traction around the world as the world becomes increasingly urbanised. This is because urbanisation brings irreversible changes in our patterns of resource/waste production and consumption. Therefore, how to plan, manage and live in cities in the light of global warming largely determines and depends on the progress of the climate change phenomenon.[2]

According to projections by the Department of Climate Change in Australia, it is expected that national average temperatures would increase by 0.4 to 2.0 °C [1]. Rainfall patterns and the degree of droughts and storms brought about by extreme weather conditions are likely to be affected.

Research has suggested that nearly three quarters of global energy consumption occur in cities, while emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming come from urban areas.[3] Nearly a third of these emissions are caused by the burning of fossil fuels used in urban transportation. Another third is formed from the energy used to regulate building temperature and to run personal appliances. The final third is contributed by the industrial sector. The main emitters of greenhouse gases are the construction, real estate, agriculture and metallurgical industries, the transportation sector, the industrial uses of fossil fuels and the burning of biomass.[4] Some examples of daily activities that contribute to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere include the use of carbon-based electricity in street lighting, driving motor vehicles, cooking, and the lighting, heating and cooling of housing.

If the policies of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries remain unchanged, specifically Australia and the United States, and also China and India, carbon dioxide emissions, which represents 72% of all greenhouse gas emissions, will increase by a third in the year 2020 instead of the 5% reduction as was approved in the Kyoto Protocol.[5]

With the current path of climate change, the world population is entering an era of growing urban vulnerability. The accelerated pace of urbanisation and the fact that a growing segment of the world's population now live in cities has significantly increased the vulnerability of urban areas as anthropogenic hazards and agents for climate change. It will become increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is caused by humans and what is natural because both risks are overlapping.

Five dangers of climate change

  • Rise in sea levels: According to various projections, it is expected that sea level would register a rise of between 20 and 90 centimetres during the 21st century, partly due to the mass loss of glaciers and ice caps.
  • Land mudslides: The increase in the intensity, scale and frequency of rainfall is caused by periodic flooding in low-lying areas and regions, as well as mudslides in geologically unstable areas that are usually identified with the location of vulnerable illegal settlements. The areas built near rivers or in areas in river beds will be subject to additional flooding.
  • Reduction of the quality and quantity of water: Flooding of urban areas tend to affect water treatment plants, wells, toilets and septic tanks. The water treatment systems and garbage will also be affected thereby contaminating drinking water resources.
  • Warming, cold waves and droughts: Urban systems are severely affected by intense episodes of thermal variability, such as hot and cold waves that impose extra energy consumption for the use of air conditioners and heaters, as well disrupting daily urban activities.
  • Hazards to health: The socio-economic impacts of climate change in urban areas include increasing effects of urban heat islands, an increase in pollutants, especially during the warm seasons, and investment in thermal stations during winter, causing an increase in disease and death.

Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases

Emissions of greenhouse gases emanating from urban areas can be mitigated through four types of action:

Urban Density

Demand for energy in high-rise buildings is lower than that of suburban housing properties. Infrastructure costs and emissions are lower if the costs for the consumption of land, transport and transfer times are lower. The number of people with cars in the city is much lower than in the suburbs, where public transport benefits from serious investments. The expansive urban growth should be avoided and discouraged at all costs.

Construction and energy efficiency

The operation and maintenance of residential buildings and offices are responsible for 38% of CO2. Much of this figure comes from the air conditioning. It is therefore necessary to reduce energy needs for heating, lighting and cooling of buildings, but also increase efficiency in the use of technologies to build and own cycle construction.

Administration of transport demand

The vigorous promotion of mass transportation systems, pedestrian areas, non-motorised transport and use of more fuel-efficient cars can drastically reduce the total volume of carbon dioxide.

Production of cleaner energy

The shift from coal to natural gas in power plants, and the promotion of the use of clean and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy to replace energy from fossil fuels present significant opportunities.


According to the IPCC's 2001 Assessment Report, no matter how much effort is put into mitigating climate change, some amount of climate change cannot be avoided. The report shared that adaptation should complement mitigation efforts.[6]

Adaptation is the approach that focuses on alleviating current problems brought about by global warming and climate change. It is the attempt to live with the changes in the environment and the economy that global warming has generated and will continue to generate. In short, it involves taking action to deal with the problems brought about by global warming and climate change. Examples include building better flood defences and avoiding the building of residential areas near low-lying, flood-prone areas.

In contrast, mitigation focuses on steps taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is the set of preventative measures taken to curb global warming and climate change. Examples would be investing in clean fuel and using renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

Although national governments and local authorities are taking stringent mitigation measures, the need for adaptation is in the interest of dealing with climate change because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for decades and is trapped in oceans for centuries, thereby resulting in a change in ocean chemistry and may adversely affect ocean life.[7] No matter how much humanity cuts greenhouse gas emissions now, the emissions released now will have an impact for decades. Therefore, adaptation is crucial for cities looking towards strengthening their resistance against the climate impact that past emissions have caused – to deal with the problems caused by greenhouse gas emissions pumped out years ago.

The determinants of adaptive capacity include the availability of financial resources, technology, specialised institutions and human resources, as well as access to information and existence of laws (both social and organisational) – attributes and resources that are usually scarce in developing countries and in small cities. In cities with a proven vulnerability to climate change, investment is likely to require the strengthening of urban infrastructure, including storm drain systems, water supply and treatment plants, and protection or relocation of solid waste management and power generation facilities.

Coastal regions are likely to need large investment in physical infrastructure projects, specifically projects related to the effects of rising sea levels. Projects such as the construction of protective barriers against rising sea levels, the building of dams to retain and manage water, the redesign and development of port facilities and the improvement of the defence systems at coastal areas should be carried out.

Another measure of adaptation is the construction of new cities on higher ground, withdrawing the population away from vulnerable floodplains. This withdrawal would probably be managed over time, and may require a public-private partnership consisting of a combination of market incentives such as the differential cost of insurance and re-insurance, and investment planning.

Internalising the limitations of climate change requires proper planning for land use and the adherence to building codes. Planning for land use should channel new residential developments and productive investment towards less vulnerable areas. The inhabitants of slums and informal housing should receive assistance to regularise their properties, enabling low-income groups such as themselves to buy, build or rent homes in secure locations.

As a basis for planning, local authorities need a reliable and well-informed assessment of the risks faced by urban cities. The dissemination of such information, and establishing early warning systems and evacuation plans including warning systems for emergencies, disaster response and improved urban environmental management is crucial for adapting to the dangers of climate change.

Projects concerning adaptation to climate change in Australia

The Australian Government has pledged to spend A$1.8 billion. The country's national, state and territory policy makers have supported a National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan that works to manage the impacts of climate change on wildlife. The nation is also interested to co-ordinate the management of its coasts and strives to lessen the effects of climate change on agriculture.

National Climate Change Adaptation Programme

The Department of Climate Change (Australia) has come up with the National Climate Change Adaptation Programme which aims to work with industries, scientific organisations, residents and other governments to create workable solutions. According to the programme brochure, "Guidelines, planning tools and information about climate change impacts form the basis of the Programme".[8] Some A$14 million over a period of four years (2008–2012) is to be spent on this initiative [2]. The programme has forged strong research links in at-risk areas such as the Great Barrier Reef. Research conducted in the Great Barrier Reef is focused on developing methods to deal with climate change to protect the reef. It is hoped that this work will create a universal model for sustainable, cost-effective reef development. According to the programme's brochure: "National greenhouse mitigation policies and programmes are projected to reduce emissions by 94 million tonnes by 2010 – the equivalent of removing every motor vehicle in Australia from the road! However, the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and the growing emissions from around the world will affect our climate. Adaptation to climate change will complement action to reduce greenhouse gases".[8]

Climate Adaptation Flagship

The Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) started the Climate Adaptation Flagship [3], with the aim of "enabling Australia to adapt more effectively to the impacts of climate change and variability and informing national planning, regulation and investment decisions". This is part of the National Research Flagships Program [4], designed to bring various stakeholders, i.e. research companies, industries, international connections, eminent scientists and CSIRO, together in hope of delivering practical solutions that address the pressing issues of Australia.

The Climate Adaptation Flagship project concerns both climate variability (or non-human causes, as defined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and climate change. The research budget for this Flagship for the year 2008–09 is close to A$30 million [5]. There are four research prongs to this project:

  1. Pathways to adaptation: Concerns studies on climate science, analyses of economic and social situations and choices of adaptation, understanding the values of various affected and involved parties, effects of implementing adaption options, and the hurdles limiting adaptation.
  2. Sustainable cities and costs: Concerns research into facilities design, development of urban systems, integration of socio-economic and environmental studies to help stakeholders adjust to the effects of climate change on a regional level, and the development of high-quality urban development projects that improve the available body of information related to climate adaptation with a focus on cohesive urban construction and development.
  3. Managing species and natural ecosystems: Concerns research into forecasting nature's response to climate change, and coming up with adaptation options to improve its hardiness; minimising the threats brought about by forest fires, habitat loss and invasive species; and connecting climate change adaptation strategies into environmental protection and natural resource administration policies.
  4. Adaptive primary industries, enterprises and communities: Concerns research into providing workable adaptation solutions that will maintain the way of life of rural communities and industries adversely affected by the prospect of climate change, the use of participatory engagement to integrate policies that address the management of uncertainties brought about by climate change into administrative policies of the industries, choices of adaptation and tools to aid decision-makers and industries in lessening the impacts of climate change and to allow them to benefit from new opportunities, and the development of new techniques and technologies to enable industries to properly and effectively manage climate change.

National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility

NCCARF is hosted by Griffith University in Queensland and "leads the research community in a national interdisciplinary effort to generate the information needed by decision-makers in government and in vulnerable sectors and communities to manage the risks of climate change impacts.".[9]

The key roles of NCCARF include:

  • developing National Adaptation Research Plans to identify critical gaps in the information available to decision-makers
  • synthesising existing and emerging national and international research on climate change impacts and adaptation and developing targeted communication products
  • undertaking a program of Integrative Research to address national priorities, and
  • establishing and maintaining Adaptation Research Networks to link together key researchers and assist them in focussing on national research priorities.

The Facility is a partnership between the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Griffith University, with a consortium of funding partners drawn from across the country:

  • Queensland Government
  • Griffith University
  • James Cook University
  • Macquarie University
  • Murdoch University
  • Queensland University of Technology
  • The University of Newcastle
  • University of Southern Queensland
  • University of the Sunshine Coast

The Facility is based at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus, but works in close partnership with the wider Australian climate change adaptation research community.

The Local Adaptations Pathway Program

The Australian Government is of the view that local government is critical in managing the impacts of climate change and seeks to assist local councils in studying and applying adaptation options.The programme is the Australian Government's initiative to enable councils to go through climate change risk assessments and come up with action plans to prepare for the impacts the phenomenon may have on local society. Up to A$50,000 will be released. A list of councils successful in procuring the funding is provided on the programme's website [6].

See also


  1. ^ Climate Change – Potential impacts and costs Archived 22 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2008-08-01
  2. ^ Global Warming Threatens Australia's Tropical Biodiversity Archived 29 January 2013 at Retrieved on 2008-07-29
  3. ^ Global Warming is a reality already with us Archived 20 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2008-07-29
  4. ^ Top Greenhouse Gas Emitters Not Disclosing, Acting of Financial Risks of Climate Change Retrieved on 2008-06-22
  5. ^ Ratification of the Convention on the OECD Retrieved on 2008-07-29
  6. ^ Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report Retrieved on 2008-07-30
  7. ^ Oceans Found to Absorb Half of All Man-Made Carbon Dioxide Retrieved on 2008-07-29
  8. ^ a b National Climate Change Adaptation Programme Retrieved on 2008-07-31
  9. ^ National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility Retrieved on 2011-07-06

External links

  • National Climate Change Adaptation Programme brochure
  • CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship Overview
  • CSIRO National Research Flagships
  • CSIRO media release
  • Climate Change projections
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