Is is possible for humans to adapt to global warming? Probably not; however, we must try. Australia is leading the way.
It is important that Australia reduce its carbon pollution to minimise the severity of climate change. However, because some greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for about 100 years after they are first emitted, there will be some changes that cannot be avoided due to past and inevitable future global emissions.
The Australian Government’s position paper, Adapting to Climate Change in Australia, sets out the government’s vision for adapting to the impacts of climate change and proposes practical steps to realise that vision.
It outlines the Australian Government’s role in adaptation, which includes building community resilience and establishing the right conditions for people to adapt; taking climate change into account in the management of Commonwealth assets and programs; providing sound scientific information; and leading national reform.
The position paper identifies six national priority areas for action: water, coasts, infrastructure, natural ecosystems, natural disaster management, and agriculture.
Barriers to adaptation
The Australian Government’s vision for adaptation policy laid out in the position paper is developed further in a submission by the department to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Barriers to Effective Climate Change Adaptation. The submission documents market and regulatory barriers to climate change adaptation identified by the Australian Government through the $126 million National Adaptation Framework agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in April 2007.
Exploring the barriers working against adaptation suggests ways in which government intervention can improve adaptation.
Managing the risks for Australia
Scientists tell us that the carbon pollution we have already put in the atmosphere is causing unavoidable changes in our climate. These changes will have consequences in Australia such as more frequent and more extreme weather events including heatwaves, storms, cyclones and bushfires; a continued decline in rainfall in southern Australia; and higher temperatures leading to decreases in water supplies. Australia must take action now to prepare for these impacts. This includes changing the way buildings and infrastructure are designed, diversifying the water supplies in our cities and improving our water use, rethinking the way we develop vulnerable coastal areas, or planting more drought-tolerant crops.
The decisions governments make today about infrastructure, health, water management, agriculture, biodiversity and housing will have lasting consequences for our children and future generations. By considering the future climate when making these decisions Australia will be in a better position to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate changes.
Making informed decisions
Quality scientific research into climate change is helping Australia gain more detailed information on the causes, nature and consequences of climate change. It is helping governments, businesses and communities develop effective strategies to reduce emissions and adapt to changes in our climate. Research will give Australia the knowledge to make the right decisions for our new low-carbon economy. Australian scientists are making an important contribution to building global understanding of the causes of climate change and its impacts.
The Australian Government is supporting a broad range of climate change science research activities through the $31 million Australian Climate Change Science Program. The research is helping us to better understand global and regional climate change and its potential impact on Australia’s natural and managed systems.
The government is adopting a new National Framework for Climate Change Science to set climate change research priorities over the next decade and identify the people and infrastructure Australia needs to meet our future science requirements. We are also investing $387 million to further enhance our research in marine and climate science through the Marine and Climate Super Science Initiative, by funding high performance computing, new observing systems, and replacing key facilities.
Helping Australia adapt
With funding of up to $126 million, the Australian Government’s Climate Change Adaptation Program is helping Australians to better understand and manage risks linked to the carbon pollution already in our atmosphere and to take advantage of potential opportunities.
A National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and associated research networks are generating the information Australians need to manage climate change risks in critical areas such as water resources, health, emergency management and primary industries.
The Australian Government is also:
- Helping to build the professional skills Australians need to plan for and respond to climate change risks.
- Investing $12.9 billion to secure Australia’s water supply in the single largest investment in climate change adaptation: Water for the Future.
Scientists predict climate change will reduce the amount of rainfall in parts of Australia—particularly in southern areas. Water for the Future focuses on four national priorities: taking action on climate change, using water wisely, securing our water supplies, and supporting healthy rivers and wetlands. Part of the funding is being provided for alternative water supplies in our major cities and to improve irrigation efficiency in areas such as the Murray Darling Basin.
- Supporting Australian farmers as they adapt to climate change through Australia’s Farming Futures program, which will improve the ability of primary producers to respond to climate change and manage their emissions.
The Australian Government recognises the coastal zone as a priority area for adaptation action. The Caring for our Coasts commitment is supporting our coastal communities prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, including the national coastal risk assessment.
The first pass assessment, Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coasts, outlines the extent of the risk to coastal ecosystems, infrastructure and settlements. Recognising the risks to coastal lands and assets are large and will substantially increase into the future. The Australian Government hosted the National Climate Change Forum: Adaptation Priorities for Australia’s Coast in early 2010 that identified key issues in developing a national coastal adaptation agenda.
A Coasts and Climate Change Council was established in late 2009 to engage with communities and stakeholders and to advise the Australian Government on key issues. The Council has released its advice to Minister Combet.
Helping vulnerable countries adapt
The Australian Government’s International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative aims to support vulnerable countries, particularly in our region, to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
The International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative totals $328.2 million over five years (2008 to 2013), and a significant proportion of this funding is allocated to the Pacific.
Under the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, the department manages the $12 million Pacific Adaptation Strategy Assistance Program and the $20 million Pacific Climate Change Science Program. Under the second phase of the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative ($178.2 million, 2011 to 2013), the department also manages the new Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning program ($32 million, 2011 to 2013). Other regional and bilateral programs are managed by AusAID.