Adaptation involves a range of broad, cross-sectoral challenges.
The National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy operates across four domains – natural, built, social and economic – to drive forward adaptation.
There are many connections between and across the domains. Some climate impacts may affect more than one domain.
- Natural Domain: The landscapes, seascapes, ecosystems, agricultural lands, and diverse plant and animal life within Australia and its ocean territory.
- Built Domain: Surroundings, structures and infrastructure made using materials and human resources to facilitate life, health, work and play.
- Social Domain: People, their communities, their culture, institutions, support systems and their interactions.
- Economic Domain: The production and consumption of goods. Productivity, financial systems, and the economy.
The natural domain includes our plants and animals, our ecosystems, landscapes, seascapes and waterways, and the industries that rely on them.
Ensuring our natural environment and agricultural industries can adapt to the changing climate will preserve our natural capital, improve productivity, and protect heritage.
Australia’s biodiversity and ecosystems are some of the most diverse on Earth. However, there are limits to the capacity of natural systems to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Climate change impacts species health and distribution and exacerbates the impacts of other environmental pressures.
The Australian Government’s new ten-year Threatened Species Strategy (2021–2031), includes a focus on climate change adaptation and resilience. The Threatened Species Strategy identifies actions that are needed to assist threatened species adapt to climate change - taking into account interactions with other threats - including risk-based conservation planning and identifying and conserving places that will be refuges for threatened species.
Australia’s coasts, oceans and water resources hold enormous economic, cultural, social and environmental significance.
The $100 million Australian Government Oceans Leadership Package includes action to restore blue carbon ecosystems like seagrass and mangroves that play a key role improving the health of coastal environments and protecting native species and habitat.
Our environment provides critical services for primary industries, including agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Australian farmers, fishers, foresters and local communities are active stewards of the environment, and the Australian Government is committed to supporting them in this role.
For example, both the Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Package and Future Drought Fund support on-ground work and natural resource management activities to strengthen sustainability and build drought preparedness and resilience.
Additionally, programs such as the Rural Research and Development Corporation Climate Initiative provide an important contribution to achieving the agricultural sector’s goal to exceed $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030.
Indigenous Australians have cared for Country for thousands of years and, in implementing traditional and innovative land management practices, demonstrate how the natural environment can be better prepared for the future climate.
For example, in Victoria, Traditional Owners are working with land and fire management agencies to reintroduce the proactive burning of small areas at different points in the year.
The Australian Government will continue to facilitate partnerships to incorporate Traditional Knowledge and western science. There are opportunities to make better use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ ecological knowledge to improve the health of ecosystems.
Australia’s economy and communities are dependent on our natural capital. Healthy ecosystems provide critical services such as fresh water, regulation of regional water cycles, soil fertility and crop pollination, carbon storage, recreation, and buffering from the impacts of hazards.
These services, along with industries such as tourism, agriculture and fisheries that depend on natural resources and assets, are vital for both our prosperity and wellbeing. A changing climate highlights the need to address increasing risks to these ecosystem services.
The Australian finance and banking sectors are increasingly looking to invest in conserving and restoring our natural capital. In 2020, G7 Finance Ministers endorsed the market-led Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. The Taskforce aims to deliver by 2023 a disclosure framework to assist companies identify nature-related risks and opportunities, including from climate change.
The Government is supporting these efforts through the development of natural capital metrics, environmental economic accounts and market-based approaches to provide incentives to invest in environmental management and protection.
The Australian Government is implementing the National Strategy for Environmental Economic Accounting which provides a consistent approach to linking environmental with social and economic data.
Australia’s built environment is more than our buildings. It includes green and urban spaces, cities and towns, and the networks of roads, transport, energy, water and telecommunications infrastructure that connect them.
Adapting the built environment to a changing climate provides resilient, safe, and liveable spaces for Australians to live, work, play, and innovate.
In cities, the effects of rising temperatures can be exacerbated because of the urban heat island effect. This effect is caused by the prevalence of heat-absorbing materials such as dark-coloured pavements and roofs, concrete, urban canyons trapping hot air, and a lack of shade and green space.
Gradual impacts like sea level and temperature rise, and extreme events like floods, heatwaves and bushfires, can also affect the liveability of our urban environments and pose challenges for ageing publicly and privately owned assets and infrastructure systems that were not designed and built with climate change in mind.
Australian governments, experts, industry, and communities continue to develop standards and practices to improve the resilience of the built environment to climate change.
For example, the Darwin Living Lab, a collaborative project between the CSIRO, the Australian Government, Northern Territory Government, and the City of Darwin is testing and evaluating heat mitigation measures to inform tropical urban design by using real world experiments. A key element of this initiative is the development of green infrastructure strategies for Darwin, redesigning green spaces in the city to be useable, attractive, cooling, and beneficial to residents.
Other innovative ideas will support Australia to adapt to rising temperatures and increased frequency of heatwaves. For example, different materials have been trialled in Adelaide to reduce road surface temperatures in order to cool surrounding areas and combat the urban heat island effect.
Recognising the increasingly complex role infrastructure plays in supporting resilience, Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure NSW partnered on the research project Pathway to Infrastructure Resilience. The project aims to increase resilience by identifying opportunities to improve how infrastructure is planned. This included collaboration with 600 experts across Australia from government, industry, peak bodies, academia, and civil society organisations. A Pathway to Infrastructure Resilience recommends a whole-of-system, all-hazards approach to resilience planning that focuses on strengthening an infrastructure asset, network, and sector, as well as the place, precinct, city, and region where the infrastructure operates.
The Australian Government is investing in adaptation and resilience building. The Preparing Australia Program will invest $600 million to deliver long term risk reduction and resilience outcomes for Australian communities to ensure they are better prepared for future disasters. The Australian Climate Service is supporting the design of the program.
The program will focus on initiatives which will reduce the impact of future large-scale disaster events and will invest in the built, natural, social and economic domains. The program aims to make Australia stronger in the face of natural hazards like bushfires, floods and tropical cyclones, and reduce the cost of recovery support as we adapt to climate change.
The social domain includes our people, our communities, culture, institutions, support systems, and the interactions between them. This includes families, health and education systems and services, social services and emergency management services.
Action taken now to increase the adaptive capacity of society will position Australian communities to thrive into the future, despite a harsher climate.
There are strong relationships between the quality of the environment – of air, water, and food systems – and physical and mental health and wellbeing. These relationships need attention as climate change challenges the health and wellbeing of Australians and the capacity of its health and social support systems, now and in the future.
As we adapt in the social domain, particular attention should be given to how vulnerable communities experience the impacts of climate change.
Adaptation must be inclusive and account for the underlying factors that contribute to vulnerability, such as issues related to geography, culture, age, gender, diversity, disability and other socioeconomic status.
For example, rural communities can be particularly vulnerable to increasing droughts, bushfires and heatwaves. Heatwaves can also disproportionately impact the elderly, children, outdoor workers, and those already suffering from chronic disease.
Around Australia, many local governments now have heatwave plans that clarify responsibilities and outline measures that can enhance long term community resilience.
The Australian Government’s consideration of adaptation will include a focus on improving equality and fairness for vulnerable communities. Australia’s efforts to adapt to climate change are supported by strong social institutions and assets. These include high levels of education, a strong public health system, and leading climate and health research.
Research to date has underpinned robust action to address chronic diseases and environmental health threats. In response to the catastrophic bushfires of 2019-2020, the Australian Government, through the Medical Research Future Fund, is investing in research into the physical and mental health impacts of bushfire smoke.
The National Health and Medical Research Council has also established a special initiative to strengthen the Australian health system’s resilience, preparedness, and responsiveness to changing environmental conditions and extreme weather events.
There are many other initiatives currently being implemented to improve the resilience and adaptive capacity of Australia’s social domain.
For example, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government has developed a Wellbeing Framework, and reports on the factors that impact on the wellbeing of Canberrans. The ACT Government is also helping those who rent housing to adapt their homes to climate extremes, including through workshops, factsheets, assessment tools and guides, and free advice on how to reduce energy costs.
Australia has a strong economy that is projected to continue growing over the next 40 years positioning Australia to respond to future challenges and seize opportunities.
Climate change has the potential to impact our economy in many different ways. Some of our most important industries and biggest employers depend on the climate, such as the agriculture and tourism industries. Climate change could impact the productivity and competitiveness of certain industries, the nature of work in those industries, future occupations, and structure of our economy.
Better understanding and proactively managing climate change impacts will help Australian businesses to continue to prosper, and our people to continue to have access to secure and meaningful jobs and opportunities in our future climate.
Making efficient and well-targeted investments in adaptation now can reduce risks and avoid significant costs in the long term, while taking advantage of opportunities.
For example, increasing the climate resilience of our agriculture industry will allow us to remain competitive in global markets, providing employment for Australians and potentially attracting further investment – boosting our capacity and productivity.
Similarly, investing in climate resilient infrastructure will help to avoid locking in climate risk and future costs to repair, upgrade or replace the infrastructure which could reduce future economic growth and productivity.
Australia’s financial sector will continue to play an important role in shaping how we plan for and adapt to climate change:
- Banks and lenders are considering the impacts that climate change could have on borrowers and capital markets.
- More businesses are seeking to understand, manage and disclose climate risks, as parts of efforts to strengthen corporate governance and maintain investor confidence.
- Financial regulators are providing guidance to businesses to ensure climate risks are being appropriately managed and consumers are protected.
Insurance can also be an important risk management tool for individuals and businesses that exposed to climate-related risks.
As the climate changes and natural disaster and extreme weather risks increase, it is likely that the cost and availability of insurance will be affected. Some individuals and businesses may find that purchasing or amending insurance policies helps to transfer some risks at a fair cost. Others may find that actions to reduce their exposure to risks, and therefore their reliance on insurance, are more effective. Consumers will need to carefully consider their own circumstances when making decisions on the costs, benefits and risks of different insurance options.
The Australian Government has announced its intention to establish a reinsurance pool covering the risk of property damage caused by cyclones and cyclone-related floods. The pool will seek to improve the accessibility and affordability of insurance for households, strata and small businesses in cyclone-prone areas, which are mainly located in northern Australia. This work complements other efforts in place to address underlying risks such as the Preparing Australia Program.
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