Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability Promoting an Efficient Adaptation Response In Australia
This report was commissioned by the Australian Greenhouse Office, which is now part of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, as the first step in identifying priorities for the National Climate Change Adaptation Programme.
Whereas climate change has been recognised as an important challenge since at least 1987, it was only with the publication, in 2001, of the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the need to plan for adaptation to climate change received broad recognition. This prompted initial work by the Australian Government on adaptation, particularly through the Australian Climate Change Science Programme to gain a better understanding of likely impacts in Australia. Given the novelty of the issue, regional variation and uncertainty in likely impacts of climate change and the breadth of interests potentially affected, work on adaptation remains at an early stage all around the world.
The National Climate Change Adaptation Programme, announced in the May 2004 Budget is an initiative of the Australian Government to commence preparing Australian governments and vulnerable industries and communities for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Consultations conducted in the course of preparing this report suggest that this national leadership will be generally welcomed.
The report takes a risk management approach to identifying the sectors and regions that might have the highest priority for adaptation planning. It is important to consider how effectively key systems will respond to climate change in coming years, and the development of policies that align the direction and extent of adaptation actions with social objectives and values.
While effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions requires a coordinated global response, in which Australia will play its part, adaptation can be effectively advanced at a local scale. Adaptation and mitigation are related, because our success in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions will determine the magnitude (and possibly the nature) of changes to which we must adapt. Greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution make some climate change inevitable, but adaptation is likely to be a progressively imperfect substitute for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions because the more greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere rise, the greater the risk of ‘dangerous’ anthropogenic interference with the world’s climate system that cannot be readily absorbed or prepared for.
This report explores the risks to Australia from the impacts of climate change over the next 30 to 50 years. Within this, an analysis of comparative risks will be important for identifying priorities for adaptation action and planning.