One of the four main goalsThe COP26 climate talks were held in Glasgow. It was about how the world adapts for the protection of communities and habitats. And in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s policy hand luggage is a new adaptation plan for Australia.
Adaptation is how we prepare for the consequences of climate change. It can. range fromFlood defences can be built to set up early warning systems for cyclones, and switch to drought-resistant crops.
Resilience refers the ability to deal with and emerge stronger after climate-related effects like natural disasters. It is less tangible than adaptation, and tends to refer investment in strengthening communities and systems such as the health system or ecosystems.
Australia’s first National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, released in 2015, was nice sentiment which largely gathered dust as the world roared on.
The new version promises more concrete gains – in particular, through national leadership and regular check-ins on how we’re progressing. However, there are many details to be worked out and it is uncertain if there will ever be funding for real-world action.
I was one of many stakeholders and researchers who were consulted during the development of the strategy. While some will feel it doesn’t go far enough, I believe it’s a good start.
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What’s in the plan?
The new strategy lists three goals. Each goal reflects the role the federal government sees themselves playing.
1. Collaboration is a way to drive investment and take action
In the past decade, Australia’s states and territories have produced many of their own adaptation policies, plans and legislation. Many observers felt that national leadership was lacking.
This time, there’s a concrete proposal to deliver national leadership and collaboration via a newly established National Adaptation Policy Office. The office will coordinate all government work on climate resilience, adaptation, and serve as a central point for businesses and communities.
It will also oversee the strategy’s implementation and report on Australia’s adaptation progress.
How would it actually work in practice? Although there isn’t much information available, we can hope that this new office will:
Invest in well-funded actions
Broker relationships between research-based and actual action
Provide a sounding board for local governments, land managers, and businesses dealing with the real-world impacts of climate change.
It could also be more bureaucracy, which is a less generous prospect. It’s too soon to say.
2. Improve climate information and services
This second objective can be achieved largely through recent investmentIn the Australian Climate Service. This government agency was created in the wake bushfire royal commissionThis helps emergency managers better understand the changing climate and how it affects hazards.
This objective lists funding that is heavily geared towards climate science. However, more funding is needed to support research on other aspects of climate change adaptation.
This includes which plant and animal species to invest more in conserving, how to protect coastlines and how to make difficult decisions on what to save as the climate changes – and what to let go.
3. Keep track of your progress and make improvements over time
The strategy’s third objective brings, in my view, the real substance. This objective requires that the federal government conducts five-yearly assessments of national climate impact and adaptation progress.
This assessment will be co-designed with business, professional groups, and researchers.
It would allow Australia to be closer to the practice in other jurisdictions that involves regular cycles of monitoring, risk assessment, and action.
Australian states and territories already have regional or state-wide risk assessments. This gives the Australian government a solid foundation.
It needn’t be a lengthy process. New ZealandIt took them nine months to complete their risk assessment. We can afford this time to get Australia on the right page.
We can direct investment by measuring progress and highlighting areas of risk.
You might use these simple progress indicators to track your progress:
Measurement of green space in urban areas that cools
Assessing how many houses in flood-prone areas have been retrofitted by flood protection measures
Monitoring changes in irrigation demand.
What’s missing from the strategy?
While the overall results are encouraging, there are some notable omissions. The first is to enshrine the strategy in legislation.
The United KingdomIt is required by law to carry out adaptation monitoring and assessment. Other jurisdictions have laws that provide for risk assessments and action plans.
Australia’s adaptation strategy can still succeed without legislative muscle. However, any policy that is not enshrined by law can be easily overturned if the government changes.
The second is a lack of a detailed commitment to an actions plan. This is a bigger concern. The policy is a high level document. During the consultations that led to the plan, there was a clear desire for concrete action. It will be a great pleasure to see the details of the National Adaptation Policy Office when it opens.
Federal adaptation funding has so far been used to fund research and information. National action and investment are crucial. The sea level rise challenge, for instance, is much more than what individual communities or councils can manage.
The strategy does not clearly define the role of Indigenous peoples in building and monitoring resilience and adaptation. Australia’s First Nations people should be meaningfully engaged in framing how a well-adapted Australia could look.
This was key to the New Zealand approachThis could be a priority for the new agency.
It is vital to adapt
The 2019-20 bushfires taught us a valuable lesson: Reduce and avoid disasters before they happen.
It’s a good social and financial decision to not leave the fate and lives of people and face costly recovery operations when climate-related disasters happen.
Adaptation is just as important as reducing emission. The new strategy outlines part of the plan needed to get us there – but some opportunities have been missed.
If research, policy, and practice continue to cooperate, I believe we can build Australia that can adapt to climate change.
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