Climate change will have severe consequences that will intensify in the
coming years and decades. However, these developments are not all in the
distant future. For example, as recent summers in Australia have shown, hot
days and heatwaves are already more frequent and more severe.
This inquiry has clearly established that climate change is putting
substantial numbers of Australia's buildings and infrastructure assets at risk.
Damage and disruption to these assets will have significant implications for
the liveability of our communities and cities, and for our economy.
Need for mitigation
The Australian Greens have developed a range of recommendations focused
on how the Australian Government can guide the built environment sector and
infrastructure owners to become more climate-resilient, taking into account the
various interdependencies that are key features of critical infrastructure
However, without strong global action being taken urgently to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions there is an appreciable risk of catastrophic consequences to
which we will be unable to adapt. While adaptation is critical, there are clear
dangers in assuming that all climate scenarios of capable of being adapted to.
The existential risk to society as we know it, both in Australia and globally,
is real and must be faced. Therefore, the Australian, state and territory
governments must ensure that both effective mitigation and adaptation measures
Accordingly, the Australian Greens urge the Australian Government to:
- commit to Australia reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by
- adopt additional negative emissions goals to drawdown greenhouse
gas emissions; and
- implement effective policy measures to achieve the net zero
target and negative emissions goals.
A national target for reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions would
follow the examples set by states such as New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland
That the Australian Government commit to a target of net zero greenhouse
gas emissions for Australia by 2040 and the actions necessary to achieve this
Informing better decision-making
To enable communities, business and governments to make informed
decisions about climate change adaptation, it is of critical importance for
up-to-date assessments of climate risks to infrastructure to be available,
including estimates of the value of the assets at risk. Current figures
relating to risk from sea level rise are from 2011 and based on 2008
values—this is not adequate for decision-making today.
Accordingly, the Australian Government should fund the preparation of a
National Climate Change Risk Assessment, which would be updated at regular
intervals. The newly established ARC Centre for Excellence for Climate Extremes
could support the development of the risk assessment. Furthermore,
Infrastructure Australia would be well placed to undertake a national audit of
In undertaking a climate risk assessment, however, it is essential to
consider extreme risks and worst-case scenarios. There is a consistent pattern
of projections underestimating climate risks. Fundamentally, it is better for
adaptation measures to be capable of withstanding the gravest scenarios rather
than risking that the measures will be insufficient. To provide clear guidance
to decision-makers, planners and policymakers that they should ensure their
adaptation measures are capable of being resilient in the worst of the possible
foreseeable circumstances, the Australian Government should acknowledge that IPCC
scientific assessments are conservative and might underestimate the extent and
of climate risks. As a related matter, Australian Government policies and
actions relating to climate change should reflect the possibility that current
projections might not account for the speed or extent of climate change.
Finally, the Australian Greens urge the Australian Government to review
the allocation of funding providing for climate change research, with a view to
providing ongoing support to the NCCARF and increasing funding to key agencies
such as CSIRO for research into climate extremes.
That the Australian Government fund the preparation of a National
Climate Change Risk Assessment that includes assessments of extreme risks and
worst-case scenarios for Australia's built environment. This assessment should be
updated regularly, such as every five years.
That the Australian Government commission and fund Infrastructure
Australia to lead a national audit of at-risk infrastructure including, but not
limited to, the following areas:
road and rail networks;
- ports and airports;
- water, stormwater and irrigation infrastructure;
- electricity generation, transmission and distribution
housing and building infrastructure, including the policies and
standards underpinning the planning, development and construction of buildings
and communities; and
- coastal defences.
That the Australian Government provide:
- ongoing funding to support the National Climate Change Adaptation
Research Facility; and
additional funding to CSIRO and other relevant Commonwealth
agencies to support further research into climate extremes.
Urban and coastal planning
In considering the evidence received about urban and coastal planning, it
is clear that taking measures to adapt to climate change in the near-term will
ultimately be fairer and more cost effective than delaying action. All levels
of government can promote this by developing planning strategies and taking
planning decisions that are appropriate given the known risks of climate
change. The Australian, state and territory governments should also ensure that
statutory frameworks governing planning decisions require climate change to be
Evidence received during this inquiry strongly supports the development
of nationally consistent and authoritative benchmarks and guidelines regarding
key climate change risks, such as sea level rise, rainfall and the management
of flood-risk. Regional variations will be required and nationally consistent
guidance should not impede effective local responses. However, key stakeholders
presented a compelling argument that a more consistent approach to these issues
would encourage more effective planning and adaptation.
Furthermore, the Australian Greens question some of the current
assumptions used in planning, particularly the projected sea level rise of 0.8
metres by 2100. Assumptions such as this appear inadequate for risk management.
As discussed above, for climate change adaptation to be effective there is a
need for governments and other decision-makers to plan for extreme or worst
case scenarios. The current approach taken in Australia is in contrast to the
scenarios used to inform planning elsewhere, such as the US Army Corps of
Engineers' recommendation that a global mean sea level rise scenario of 1.5
metres by 2100 be used for planners, with a 2.0 metre rise being a 'credible
That the Australian Government lead the development of nationally consistent
benchmarks and guidelines on climate risks, particularly sea level rise, for
use as part of state and local government planning decisions.
The benchmarks and guidelines should be based on comprehensive scientific
assessments and include consideration of worst-case scenarios and climate
That an overarching objective regarding the need to effectively plan for
climate change be included in all state and territory planning legislation.
Including specific references to climate change in planning legislation
should encourage better outcomes in a range of matters; however, there is also
a need for governments to take specific actions regarding land-use planning and
climate risks in the urban environment.
There is a range of options available to governments that can be taken
immediately, including planting trees to reduce urban heat, setting targets for
cities to reuse rainwater, and considering innovative approaches such as the
use of lighter coloured building and road surface materials. State, territory
and local governments are taking such actions—the Australian Greens urge
governments to continue pursuing successful urban design features such as these
and that successful programs be replicated across the country. The Australian
Government should support improved outcomes in this area by funding research to
identify and quantify the benefits associated with measures to address urban
That the Australian Government commission research to enhance the
information available to policymakers regarding the full range of social and
economic costs associated with heat stress.
In particular, the Australian Government should commission research to
estimate the potential health system savings and other economic benefits that
could be realised by taking measures to reduce the severity of the urban heat
Finally, it is necessary to address retreat as a means to manage key
climate risks, particularly sea level rise. Managed retreat, such as requiring
new development to occur further away from the shore, is an effective form of
adaptation to minimise the costs that will ultimately be incurred. It is
acknowledged that the concept of retreat is a difficult subject for local and
state governments to consider. However, it would be negligent of these
governments not to contemplate and plan for this contingency.
The Australian Government also has an interest in ensuring that managed
retreat strategies are developed. In particular, this is due to the financial
support it provides as part of the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery
Arrangements—it follows that there is an incentive for the Australian
Government to ensure that natural hazard risks are minimised. In addition, the Australian
Government can support decisions in this policy area by involving national
scientific institutions such as CSIRO. Accordingly, the Australian Government
should initiate discussions with state, territory and local governments about
planning for managed retreat (it is noted that some jurisdictions, such as
Western Australia, have published strategies addressing this issue).
That the Australian Government request state and territory governments
to ensure effective coastal retreat strategies are developed in their
jurisdictions. To inform the development of these strategies, the Australian
Government should ensure that the state and territory governments have ready
access to expert advice from relevant Australian Government departments and
As this report has established, climate change presents an array of
risks to the structural integrity of dwellings and commercial buildings in
Australia. Extreme heat events and other natural hazards linked to climate
change also risk the health of building occupants. Although minimum building
requirements have been enhanced at various times for new buildings, it is clear
that the overwhelming majority of dwellings in Australia could be more resilient
to climate risks. Taking effective action to address these issues now is
necessary for the health and safety of building occupants, as well as to
minimise the extent of change that will inevitably be required in future.
Heatwave events are of particular concern. Policymakers and homeowners
take measures to reduce risks associated with extreme events such as bushfires,
flooding and cyclones. However, heatwaves are Australia's deadliest natural
hazard and the number of deaths from heatwaves (such as the 374 deaths
associated with the 2009 Melbourne heatwave) is not widely recognised.
Similarly, inadequate attention appears to be given to how the internal
temperatures in many buildings can reach unsafe levels for sustained periods.
Australians are fortunate to have a robust framework for ensuring that
new buildings and new building work on existing buildings are subject to
appropriate minimum requirements. To help guide effective climate change
adaption, the Australian Greens have developed recommendations intended to
assist the development of appropriate enhancements to building standards. In
particular, additional research should be commissioned urgently to better
understand the connections between heat stress and building design to inform
evidence-based policy development.
That the Australian Government request that the Australian Building
Codes Board develop minimum requirements for the National Construction Code
that are specifically designed to address heat stress risks associated with
To facilitate the development of amendments to the National Construction
Code, it is further recommended that the Australian Government provide funding
for research into:
- how overheating in highly rated energy efficient dwellings can be
created where there can be inadequate ventilation; and
- the behaviour of building occupants during heatwave periods.
As part of the research into the full range of social and economic costs
associated with heat stress called for in recommendation 7, estimates should be
developed of the potential health system savings and other benefits that could
be realised through enhanced building standards. In particular, the research
should consider the benefits associated with retrofitting low efficiency
dwellings to keep internal temperatures within safe ranges during extreme heat
Governments have a key role in ensuring adequate information is
available to assist informed decision-making by homeowners and tenants. This
includes developing programs to encourage retrofitting of existing dwellings.
For the jurisdictions that already have such programs, given the scale of the
challenge climate change presents for Australia's dwelling stock, further work
could be undertaken to encourage greater participation in them.
In addition, governments should ensure that prospective owners of
dwelling and tenants are provided with information to assist them to understand
and compare the energy efficiency of different buildings. Disclosure of such
information is already required in the Australian Capital Territory and should be
mandatory across Australia.
That all state and territory governments develop educational resources and
introduce or expand existing financial incentive programs designed to encourage
homeowners to undertake cost‑effective retrofitting of existing
That all state and territory governments legislate to require that an
energy rating measuring passive energy performance must be disclosed to
prospective buyers and tenants when a residential property is offered for sale or
is available to rent.
The Australian Greens have also considered whether governments should
identify a target date by which all existing dwellings would be required to be
of a suitable standard for addressing any significant heat risks associated
with their local climate. Given the projections available about the increased
frequency of heatwave events in Australia's major urban centres, such a
response would be appropriate for ensuring adaptation efforts keep pace with
the changing climate.
The preceding recommendations about building standards, research and
education should be implemented as a starting point. As a next step,
policymakers should then identify an appropriate measurement of heat stress in
residential buildings and how comparisons about heat stress can easily be made,
either through existing building rating systems or as part of a new system.
Following this, an appropriate deadline for building owners and the building
industry to reach an identified minimum rating could be developed, with
exemptions potentially available for certain types of buildings such as heritage
buildings. Given that governments know that millions of homes across Australia
are not suitable for extreme heat events, it would be irresponsible for those
governments not to take all reasonable actions to ensure their citizens' living
spaces are safe in a warming climate.
That state and territory governments consider whether to set a deadline
by which all residential properties for sale or rent in their jurisdiction must
meet a prescribed energy rating.
Finally, government should lead by example. For example,
governments can contribute to climate change adaptation through procurement
decisions, such as by requiring new office space to meet higher standards than
the minimum required under the National Built Environment Rating System. Other
buildings managed by the government should also be retrofitted to make them
more resilient to climate risks. There is a particular need to assist people in
public housing who rely on governments to provide safe living conditions.
That the Australian, state and territory governments require that new
office space used in the public sector meet high standards of climate
resilience and sustainability, including higher energy efficiency standards
than the minimum required under the National Built Environment Rating System.
That state and territory governments invest in measures to improve
energy efficiency and to reduce heat stress risk in public housing.
Transport and utilities
Decisions about transportation and utilities infrastructure involve all
levels of government. Given the long economic lives intended for these assets,
and the recovery of costs from customers, decisions about these types of
infrastructure have implications for generations of Australians. Accordingly,
these decisions need to be taken with care, following best practice approaches
and informed by the most up-to-date scientific information available about
climate change projections.
As discussed above, a key role for the Australian Government is ensuring
that reliable information about climate risks is available to inform
decision-making. However, the Australian Government could also perform a
leadership role in promoting a best practice approach to infrastructure
projects. In particular, the Australian Government should engage with key
organisations in the built environment sector to encourage effective
post-project reviews to be conducted in order to learn from decisions made
about climate-related risks.
That the Australian Government work with organisations representing the
built environment sector to identify options for ensuring that robust
post-project reviews of infrastructure projects are conducted.
Given the significant amounts of funding provided by the Australian
Government for transportation projects, the Government is well placed to guide
the development of climate resilient transportation networks throughout
Australia. As a first step, the Australian Government should develop a national
transportation plan to guide a transition to net zero emissions transportation.
This would also support recommendation 1 regarding net zero emissions by 2040
for all sectors of the economy.
Although examples such as the Brisbane Airport Parallel Runway Project
are encouraging, other evidence received during this inquiry suggests that
climate risks are generally not well accounted for as part of transportation
projects. Developing a national transportation plan would provide an
opportunity to ensure best practice decision-making around climate risks occurs
for all transportation projects. Ideas for how the climate risks that existing
assets face could be managed more effectively could also be progressed as part
of the development of the plan.
That the Australian Government develop a national plan for passenger and
freight transport that:
- outlines a transition to net zero emissions transport; and
- ensures decision-making and planning processes for transportation
infrastructure projects are appropriate in the face of climate change.
It is acknowledged that state and territory governments have given
attention to the need to secure climate resilient water supplies. It is also
recognised that water infrastructure in Australia generally provides a reliable
and suitable service. Nevertheless, climate change will present further
challenges that state and territory governments will need to address. With
ageing water infrastructure assets in many cities and the need to build and
maintain infrastructure assets to service a growing population, it is
timely to consider these issues.
Growing urban populations and the expectation of more intense rainfall
events due to climate change will require a different approach to planning water
infrastructure assets and systems. In particular, it is no longer appropriate
to rely on historical rainfall events when designing water infrastructure.
Future climate projections need to influence asset design requirements.
State and territory governments should also ensure that state‑owned
water corporations and local governments have the resources necessary to
undertake effective maintenance of existing water, sewage and stormwater
assets. In addition, state governments should develop an overarching plan
to ensure that adequate renewal of these assets occurs.
To support state governments to achieve better outcomes in the water
sector, there is also a role for the Australian Government, through agencies
such as CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, to ensure state governments and
entities designing water sector assets have access to reliable climate-related
information to inform infrastructure design.
That state and territory governments:
- require the design of new water supply, sewerage, sewage
treatment and stormwater assets to be informed by reliable climate projections
as well as historical data; and
- ensure state-owned water corporations and local governments have
the resources and support necessary to undertake effective maintenance of water
supply, sewerage, sewage treatment and stormwater assets.
That the Australian Government support state governments to ensure that
water sector assets are climate resilient by offering ongoing access to advice
from Commonwealth scientific agencies on relevant climate risks.
It is clear that a transformation has been underway for some time in the
electricity sector with the growth of renewable energy. The implications of
climate change are also easier to imagine in this sector compared to
others—heatwaves and bushfires already cause significant disruption and
pressure governments to act. Consequently, the implications of climate change
for the energy market have received significant attention. Government policy,
however, has not been consistent—this lack of policy certainty has
understandably attracted criticism.
The electricity sector is undergoing fundamental change through the
growth of renewable energy generation and the successful introduction of
supporting technologies such as large-scale energy storage. Although clean
energy and reform of the electricity sector is essential for addressing climate
change and reducing electricity costs, it is also a necessary response to the
matters examined by this inquiry. For example, a more decentralised
electricity network would help overcome many of the climate change-related
risks to existing electricity infrastructure, such as how extreme weather
events can damage key transmission or distribution assets and cause widespread
outages. It is critical that regulatory arrangements are updated to facilitate
the development of a clean energy system, including by facilitating
As a first step, the National Electricity Objective contained in the National
Electricity Law should be amended to progress the transition of the energy
market to clean energy and to support Australia's obligations under the Paris
Agreement. At present, the Objective focuses on the long-term interests of
electricity consumers regarding price, quality, safety, reliability and
security of supply. It is, however, also in the long-term interests of energy consumers that the
electricity sector responds effectively to climate change in a way that
guarantees a secure and affordable supply of electricity.
Referring to clean energy in the National Electricity Objective would
provide a clear statement of the Australian, state and territory governments'
intentions for the electricity sector to support the reduction of Australia's
emissions. This would provide the sector with the long-term certainty needed to
inform business investment decisions. The Australian Greens believe that the
Objective should be amended to require the sector to transition to net zero
emissions by 2030, with this revised Objective supported by strategies to
encourage a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy across Australia.
The Australian Greens also consider that an overarching national
transition plan for Australia's electricity system is also urgently required. The
Government should prioritise the development of a national transition plan that
includes consideration of innovative approaches to support renewable energy and
the decentralisation of the electricity networks, such as local energy trading.
That the Australian Government pursue, through the Council of Australian
Governments Energy Council, amending the National Electricity Objective to
require the electricity sector to reach net zero emissions by 2030.
That the Australian Government develop a comprehensive energy transition
plan that includes:
reform of the National Electricity Market rules and revised
tariffs to support the growth of renewable energy and ensure networks are
prepared to efficiently respond to changes in the energy market;
- a mechanism for the orderly retirement of coal fired power
- innovative approaches to enable peer-to-peer energy trading.
That the Australian Government:
- continue and expand the Renewable Energy Target beyond 2020 and
consider adopting renewable energy reverse auctions, such as those adopted by
the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria, to bring more new generation
into the National Electricity Market;
- adopt a National Energy Storage Target of 20 gigawatts of
multi-hour storage by 2030;
ensure regulatory arrangements support the continuing deployment
of grid level battery storage and household solar and battery storage
- commit to not providing any direct funding, subsidies or other
support for the construction of new coal fired power stations in Australia.
Health, education and public recreation
Many of the preceding recommendations are relevant to addressing the
issues discussed in this chapter. In particular:
- addressing fundamental issues with building design and urban
planning will relieve some of the climate-related adaptation pressures that the
health, education and other sectors face;
- the research called for in recommendation 7 to enhance the
information available to policymakers regarding the full range of social and
economic costs associated with heat stress should include an assessment of the
potential savings to the health system; and
- actions to address the urban heat island effect would also be
beneficial for public health.
In addition, there is a need for an overarching national strategy for
managing the implications of climate change for human health. The strategy
should support planning to enable the health system to adapt and meet the increasing
demands it will face due to climate change. As part of this strategy,
particular consideration should be given to ensuring that health services are
resilient to extreme events, and to the resources the health care sector will
require to cope with extreme heat events.
That the Australian Government work with the state and territory
governments to develop a national climate change and health strategy.
The Australian Greens have also developed recommendations relating to
health, education and public recreation infrastructure for state and territory
governments to consider. The first is straightforward—state and territory
governments should require that new health and education facilities not be
built in at-risk areas and that the new buildings are highly resilient to
climate risks such as extreme temperatures. Similarly, when existing facilities
in at-risk areas require replacement, they should be relocated.
State and territory governments also should develop dedicated programs
to ensure that vulnerable populations with specific health needs live in
dwellings that can provide safe internal temperatures. In addition to
supporting better health outcomes for residents, such programs could reduce the
costs incurred in the health system. The Victorian Government's Healthy
Homes Program potentially provides a useful model that could be expanded on and
That state and territory governments require proposals for new health
and education facilities to be subject to rigorous assessment of
climate-related risks, including the risks associated with the proposed
location and building design.
It is further recommended that state and territory governments commence
planning to ensure that facilities in high-risk locations that are nearing the
end of their useful life are replaced with new facilities in more suitable
- the Victorian Government's Healthy Homes Program be expanded to
cover all of Victoria; and
- other state governments introduce programs similar to the Healthy
Homes Program to reduce the climate-related health risks faced by low-income
individuals with complex healthcare needs.
That state and territory governments work with local governments and
water authorities to increase the use of rainwater, stormwater, recycled water
and other water sources to maintain the green infrastructure used for public
Government decision-making frameworks
As this report has established, climate change presents significant and
inevitable risks for many buildings and infrastructure assets in Australia.
It is incumbent on the Australian, state and territory governments to ensure
that legislation relating to environmental and planning decisions is
appropriate to account for the inevitable consequences of climate change.
Furthermore, effective strategies and policy measures need to be in place to
facilitate successful mitigation and adaptation.
Some state and territory governments have developed comprehensive
responses to climate change through legislation, strategies, planning policies
and grants programs. Nevertheless, there is much more work to be done. Both
state government strategies and many submissions to this inquiry have
identified the same areas of concern. This suggests that action taken to date
is insufficient. In particular, as discussed above, changes to planning
frameworks will be required, including the need for planning decisions to
account for worst-case scenarios rather than conservative projections. Ensuring
that state and territory government actions are effective will also require
ongoing commitment by these governments and regular critical assessment of
Regrettably, the approach taken at the Commonwealth level has clearly
been inadequate for meeting the challenge that climate change presents.
Successive Australian governments have varied significantly in their approach
to climate change. Ratification of the Paris Agreement is a promising
development, but overall it appears we are in a lost decade of national climate
policy. Most notably, the repeal of the price on carbon pollution and the
abolition of the independent Climate Commission by the Abbott Government are
standout examples of the Australian Government failing to secure a safe, clean
future for future generations.
There is an urgent need for the Australian Government to provide strong,
consistent leadership on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Actions by
state and local governments, business and communities are impeded by the lack
of a comprehensive national response.
In particular, the Australian Government can provide much-needed
leadership by replacing the ineffective National Climate Resilience and
Adaptation Strategy with a comprehensive and ambitious national strategy. To
ensure the new strategy is developed effectively, the Department of the Prime
Minister and Cabinet should lead a whole-of-government approach to its
preparation. In many respects, this process would be akin to that underway to
develop Australia's first Voluntary National Review on the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
National leadership and coordinated action on climate change across all
areas of government policy and the economy could also be facilitated by
establishing a COAG Council on climate change. A permanent multijurisdictional
body is needed to coordinate action by all Australian governments. As climate
change is an issue of critical national importance, it is appropriate for this
body to be part of the COAG framework.
Other initial steps that the Australian Government should take include:
- reinstating an independent and adequately funded climate change
commission to ensure decision-makers have access to authoritative advice on how
to effectively adapt to climate change;
committing funding to research activities needed to inform
effective climate change adaptation; and
- ensuring that Commonwealth programs and payments such as those
for natural disaster recovery build community resilience rather than simply
restoring infrastructure to its previous standard.
That the Australian Government replace the National Climate Resilience
and Adaptation Strategy with a comprehensive and ambitious national climate
change mitigation and adaptation strategy.
This new whole-of-government strategy should contain sector-based
national targets and timeframes for emissions reductions against which
performance can be measured. The strategy should also incorporate strategies
relating to transport (recommendation 17), energy (recommendation 21) and
health (recommendation 23).
That, in addition to recommendation 6 on state and territory planning
legislation, the Australian, state and territory governments review all environmental
legislation to ensure that adequate consideration of the effects of climate
change is expressly required as part of assessment and decision-making
In particular, the introduction of a greenhouse trigger should be a key
issue for consideration as part of the upcoming independent review of the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
That the Australian Government pursue the creation of a COAG Climate
That the Australian Government establish an independent statutory
- provide Australians with an independent and reliable source of
information about climate change science; and
- assist stakeholders to understand and implement effective
adaptation techniques, including by acting as a 'one stop shop' that can direct
stakeholders to relevant Commonwealth departments and agencies.
That the Australian Government's National Resilience Taskforce develop
recommendations for the Government to consider that would facilitate more
frequent betterment of assets that need to be reconstructed or repaired
following natural hazards.
The Australian Greens are grateful to the local governments that
participated in this inquiry for the valuable evidence they provided. This
evidence has greatly informed our recommendations and emphasises the need for
all governments to ensure climate risks to buildings and infrastructure are
As local governments are at the frontline of responding to climate
change, it is essential that they have the resources and knowledge necessary to
carry out effective planning and adaptation activities. Certain local
governments, such as the City of Melbourne, have developed comprehensive
strategies and are taking a range of actions to improve the climate resilience
of their jurisdiction. Generally, however, local governments do not have the
financial resources and ready access to expert evidence needed to address
climate risks. They can also face realistic threats of legal action by those
dissatisfied with their decisions regarding climate risks. Furthermore, local
governments are in the unenviable position of needing to consider the
short-term and long-term interests of their current constituents and future
Many of the above recommendations are intended to assist local
governments to develop successful climate change adaptation measures. However,
questions regarding funding and liability are primarily matters for state
governments to address. Under New South Wales legislation, exemptions for
liability exist regarding decisions made by councils in good faith regarding flood
liable land, land that might be affected by a coastline hazard and land that is
subject to the risk of bushfire. Other state governments should introduce
similar exemptions for their local governments.
Finally, the provision of sufficient financial resources for local
governments to act on climate risks is of vital importance for enabling timely
and least-cost adaptation. Local governments face practical and statutory
restrictions on the revenue they can raise to pay for their activities. State
governments must ensure local governments have adequate financial resources to
address the threat of climate change. In addition, the Australian Government
should provide specific purpose payments to the states to support local
governments to adequately maintain and build climate resilient infrastructure.
The new COAG Climate Change Council recommended above could consider an
intergovernmental agreement to provide policy and operational guidance on the
That state governments provide local governments with exemption from
liability for decisions made in good faith relating to the use of land that is
subject to climate change risks, such as flooding, coastal hazards and
That the Australian Government provide specific purpose payments to the
states to assist local governments to improve the resilience of infrastructure
assets most at risk to climate change.
Unmitigated climate change will radically alter life in Australia, so it
is vital that we prepare effectively and avoid a too-little-too-late response.
Without strong global action being taken urgently to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions, there is an appreciable risk of catastrophic consequences to
which we will be unable to adapt. While adaptation is critical, there are clear
dangers in assuming that all climate scenarios are capable of being adapted to.
The existential risk to society, both in Australia and globally, is real and
must be faced.
Accordingly, it is essential that the Australian Government commit to
stronger climate change mitigation. The current commitment to reduce emissions
by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 is inadequate. Strong
mitigation is essential, as there are limits to the extent of climate change to
which we can adapt, and many natural systems will not be able to evolve or
adapt at the rate that would be required.
In addition to being ambitious in reducing emissions, we must ensure
that our houses, communities, cities and infrastructure are more resilient to
It is easy to envisage decision-makers falling into the trap of not
prioritising adaptation because they are overwhelmed by, or have formed a
fatalistic attitude towards, climate risks. Others might pursue limited
measures based on conservative projections of climate risk. Both of these
courses of action are irresponsible and unacceptable. Thoroughly planning for
climate risks, particularly those that will be most severe in decades to come,
is difficult when governments, businesses and individuals face other immediate
pressures—but doing so is vital. Delaying action simply shifts the burden on to
future generations, who will be forced to pursue more dramatic and costly
The built environment sector, local governments and civil society have
taken actions in response to climate risks. Several state and territory
governments have also developed targets and strategies. It is time for the
Australian Government to assist these efforts by providing greater leadership
on how to adapt to climate change.
This inquiry has demonstrated the need for urgent action. With what is known
about climate change, governments across Australia have a responsibility to
their citizens to take effective action now. Business as usual is not
Senator Janet Rice
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