An Assessment of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation for the Torres Strait Islands, Australia
Adaptive practices are taking place in a range of sectors and regions in Australia in response to existing climate impacts, and in anticipation of future unavoidable impacts. For a rich economy such as Australia’s, the majority of human systems have considerable adaptive capacity. However, the impacts on human systems at the intra-nation level are not homogenous due to their differing levels of exposure, sensitivity and capacity to adapt to climate change. Despite past resilience to changing climates, many Indigenous communities located in remote areas are currently identified as highly vulnerable to climate impacts due to their high level of exposure and sensitivity, but low capacity to adapt. In particular, communities located on low-lying islands have particular vulnerability to sea level rise and increasingly intense storm surges caused by more extreme weather. Several Torres Strait Island community leaders have been increasingly concerned about these issues, and the ongoing risks to these communities’ health and well-being posed by direct and indirect climate impacts. A government agency is beginning to develop short-term and long-term adaptation plans for the region. This work, however, is being developed without adequate scientific assessment of likely ‘climate changed futures.’ This is because the role that anthropogenic climate change has played, or will play, on extreme weather events for this region is not currently clear. This paper draws together regional climate data to enable a more accurate assessment of the islands’ exposure to climate impacts. Understanding the level of exposure and uncertainty around specific impacts is vital to gauge the nature of these islands’ vulnerability, in so doing, to inform decisions about how best to develop anticipatory adaptation strategies over various time horizons, and to address islanders’ concerns about the likely resilience and viability of their communities in the longer term.