Australia in retreat and denial on climate adaptation

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Climate Institute report says Australian governments and business are going backwards in their management of climate risk.

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Australia’s state and federal climate change policies are “patchy, poorly coordinated, and not up to the scale and urgency of the task,” says The Climate Institute (TCI), in a report contrasting likely climate risks for Australia with recent government action and inaction.

“Despite the overwhelming case for adaptation, many in government, as well business, are walking backwards into the 21st century, presuming the future climate will be like the past or that adapting to a world warmed by 2°C, 3°C, and 4°C will be straightforward and simple,” says a TCI media brief issued today.

The warning shot fired by TCI comes ahead of the scheduled Monday release of the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which assesses the impacts of climate change and the need for adaptive strategies to minimise costs to society.

In anticipation of the IPCC report’s findings, TCI outlines some of the likely consequences for Australia from unchecked climate change and highlights how, in contrast to governments elsewhere and some Australian municipalities, state and federal governments seem to be “in retreat from good risk management.”

“Even with the unprecedented level of action that is occurring to limit pollution and drive renewable energy investments the world is currently on track to 4°C warming or more. This is the potential world we must be prepared for,” says the TCI report.

“In Australia, investment in adaptation is uneven, at best. Current efforts are weak, poorly co-ordinated, and piecemeal, where they exist at all.”

TCI predicts a key message of the IPCC report will be to warn nations of the climate threat to agriculture; to coastal systems and low-lying areas; to human health; to national security; and to natural environments and ecosystems like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

“For example, the IPCC projects a sea-level rise of 1.1 metres by 2100,” says the media release. “This would put assets worth around $226 billion today at risk of inundation and storm damage. Disappointingly, New South Wales and Queensland have weakened or withdrawn planning policies to help coastal councils manage risks from sea-level rise. We expect the IPCC to highlight these government decisions.”

TCI also points to the findings of the Garnaut Review, which conservatively estimated climate costs to Australian infrastructure alone would be worth $9 billion annually by 2020.

And it says that while other countries are moving on climate change – with the undertaking of risk assessments, the establishment of public agencies required to report on climate risk and devise management plans, and the commitment of  multi-billion-dollar funds to build economic resilience.

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