August 20, 2012


CSIRO: Climate Science and Solutions

Risks and Opportunities

  • The less we reduce emissions, the more we will have to adapt …
    The most sensitive sectors … are:
    • water,
    • the natural environments,
    • cities and infrastructure,
    • the coastal zone, and
    • agriculture.
  • [Adaptation] presents significant challenges [and] great opportunities …
    [Early] action will maximise our ability to capture [those] opportunities.
  • Successful adaptation [depends] on
    • developing the knowledge and skills base in the industries and communities most affected [and]
    • enhancing the adaptive capacity of government agencies to provide the best policy context for adaptation.
  • [Some] climate change and consequent impacts are unavoidable due to
    • the greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere and
    • [increasing] future emissions … due to our slow mitigation response.

(p 59)

Heatwaves and Floods

  • With an expected increase in the incidence of heatwaves and heat-related deaths, adaptation options are required that may include,
    • developing early warning systems to reach all citizens,
    • {social network back-up for those most at risk}
    • preparation of the health system and hospital emergency departments,
    • encouragement of behavioural changes to reduce exposure to heat stress …
    • better designed [new] homes {[and] retrofitting of old houses with better insulation
    • development of emergency response plans for heatwaves in all regions.}
  • Australia’s built environment suffers from heatwaves on very hot days.
    Adaptation options include
    • applying ‘cool cities’ concepts to reducing urban heat islands,
    • increasing the resilience of cities to heat-related failures through upgraded engineering design standards,
    • the use of less heat-sensitive materials in key infrastructure,
    • better maintenance routines,
    • emergency response plans that foster adaptability through collaboration across agencies and scales, and
    • management of peak demand loading on the electricity grid. …
  • Options for adaptation to coastal flooding include
    • retrofitting existing developed areas or building beach defences,
    • changing building codes, planning and design standards to accommodate extreme and unpredictable conditions,
    • converting current land uses to those less sensitive to flooding,
    • encouraging house insurance rates that send a clear signal about the advisability of living in flood-prone areas, and
    • developing effective early warning systems and evacuation pathways for extreme events.

(p 73)


  • There is a national imperative to equip Australian agriculture to be prepared to adapt to climate change.
  • Some agricultural communities, industries, or regions will have a greater capacity to adapt than others: understanding their constraints and incentives is important in ensuring that they do so successfully.
  • An early part of adapting agriculture to climate change involves helping communities to understand why adaptation is a needed part of today’s vision of the future and therefore of their management strategies.
  • Successful adaptation to climate change will require flexible, risk-based approaches that deal with future uncertainty and provide strategies that are robust enough to cope with a range of possible local climate outcomes and variations.
  • Many climate adaptation options for agriculture are similar to existing ‘best practice’ and good natural resource management, and do not require farmers to make radical changes to their operations and industries in the near term.
    These options can, and should be, prioritised as part of a ‘no regrets’ or win–win strategy for agriculture because they will provide immediate and ongoing benefits as well as preparing the sector for climate change.

(p 85)


Risks and Opportunities
Heatwaves and Floods

Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation

  • Climate Change: Science and Solutions for Australia, CSIRO, 2011.
    Helen Cleugh, Mark Stafford Smith, Michael Battaglia and Paul Graham: Editors.

    Adaptation: Reducing Risk, Gaining Opportunity

    [Mark Stafford Smith and Andrew Ash: CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship.

    Adaptation in Australia

    [Our] entire history on this continent, both Aboriginal and European, is one of constantly adapting to its challenging climates, resources, and natural conditions …

    Just as early settlers progressively adapted European farming systems to Australian landscapes and conditions … so now we will need to change many of our society’s activities, systems, and habits to make allowance for warmer, more variable, and extreme climatic conditions [and] rising sea levels …

    [The] less we mitigate, the more we will be forced to adapt to inevitable changes in the climate, and the bigger the adaptations will have to be. …

    There is now wide scientific agreement that the world is heading for at least 2ºC warming, and possibly 4ºC, by 2070 …
    (p 60)

    Figure 5.1
    This figure … shows the aggregated relative vulnerability to climate change for key sectors … for the Australia and New Zealand region.
    The vertical axis shows increasing levels of global mean temperature rise from 0 to 7ºC …
    [The] colours show how much change the sector can cope with normally (green), how much it can adapt to autonomously (yellow), and when it becomes vulnerable (red).
    In Australia, water security, coastal communities, and natural ecosystems [are] particularly vulnerable to small temperature rises.
    (p 61)

    [Given] the extent of climate change that is now expected to occur by the latter part of the 21st century … no part of society, no industry, and no individual will remain untouched by it or be able to avoid it.
    [In fact] our natural ecosystems, water resources, farm sector, and coastal communities are already feeling the pinch.

    … Australians cannot avoid having to adapt. …
    [New] conditions may involve changes as far-reaching as the progressive relocation of farming industries to more favourable climatic regions, or the imposition of planning controls in coastal shires to prevent people building in areas at risk from flooding, storm surges, and shoreline erosion.
    However, not all of these adaptations need to happen at the same time or immediately:
    • many can be achieved progressively over time;
    • many will also lead to fresh opportunities, new markets, and more sustainable technologies.
    (p 62)

    Types of adaptation

    Domains that are emerging as priorities are:
    • urban areas, including homes, offices, industries, transportation, water and energy systems, and overall design of towns and cities themselves
    • coastal zones and estuaries and all areas at risk of sea-level rise, storm surges, and floods
    • agriculture, the food supply, and other primary production, including mining
    • our natural environment, including forests, woodlands, grasslands, lakes, rivers, and deserts and all the plant and animal species within them. …

    There is a risk that the combined weight of the adaptation challenges and uncertainties associated with climate change projections will paralyse decision making.
    However, not all uncertainties are equal and not all decisions are equally difficult. …
    Some decisions are relatively straightforward, and can be founded on secure knowledge of what has happened with the climate so far: an example is the almost universal adoption of water saving measures around Australia …
    (p 63)

    Adapted from Figure 5.2
    Adaptation options are available for a wide range of impacts on society

    1. Conservation:
      • actively manage longlived species;
      • enhance resilience of existing ecosystems

    2. Coastal erosion:
      • coastal defences;
      • protective mangroves and marshes;
      • changed recreation expectations

    3. Heatwaves:
      • support for elderly at risk;
      • heat-resilient transport systems;
      • urban greening to reduce heat stress

    4. Energy supply:
      • heat-tolerant transformers;
      • more resilient distributed energy systems;
      • reduced demand in extremes

    5. Fisheries:
      • reduce overfishing;
      • allow landward migration of intertidal zone

    6. Food production:
      • new drought tolerant and high CO2 cultivars;
      • changed planting practices;
      • relocation

    7. Coastal flooding:
      • flood-tolerant building designs;
      • movable infrastructure;
      • flood barriers

    8. Fire:
      • fireproof building designs;
      • better early warning systems;
      • avoiding building in risky places

    (p 64)

    Preparing for adaptation

    Some decisions … need to be taken as soon as possible …
    [Others] we need to start planning for now, even though action on the ground may come later …
    [Then there are those] we can consciously postpone while we monitor and assess what unfolds.

    [Choosing] which annual crop cultivar to plant this year or what colour to paint our roofs, are very short term and adjustable …
    [This is the] sort of decision [that] only needs to take account of climate change as it happens.
    By contrast, the engineering design of a large dam or the location of a new coastal suburb locks in infrastructure for many decades or even centuries.

    Figure 5.3
    Different types of decisions play out over different time periods (years, on x-axis) and therefore intersect with different degrees of likely climate change.
    (p 65)

    The types of decisions and technologies required for successful adaptation are … a mixture of incremental and transformational. …

    In its early stages, climate change will mostly require incremental change …
    [A] gradual process of adjustment. …

    [On the other hand] transformational [adaptation] might involve the relocation of an entire industry or community to avoid increasingly unfavourable conditions such as rising sea levels, floods, bushfires, or persistent drought.
    [Such profound change] demands careful planning with long lead times and [cooperation at] all levels of government …
    Such changes have been accomplished many times in our past – for example … when we built the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme and had to relocate the townships of Jindabyne and Adaminaby.
    [Preparing] the affected communities or industries well in advance and [engaging] them in the planning of their new future and the opportunities it affords [are critically important.]
    (p 66)

    Attitudes to adaptation

    … Organisations that rate climate change, adaptation, and mitigation as important – and those with greater knowledge about adaptation and mitigation – are more likely to have carried out a vulnerability assessment of their operations to climate change and to have begun planning to adapt.

    Adaptation was most notable in large organisations with longer planning horizons (such as water resource and energy system companies) and with strong links to expert organisations who can provide them with advice. …
    Encouraging businesses, government bodies, and communities to conduct vulnerability assessments as early as possible will greatly help them to … identify opportunities for win–win or ‘no regrets’ outcomes.

    [Many planners] are vexed with the imprecision and lack of certainty of climate projections. …
    Unfortunately, while climate change itself and its general direction are highly predictable, its extent and speed are uncertain, particularly over longer timeframes.
    [The political uncertainty as to] whether the global community [will control] its greenhouse gas emissions [is not] amenable to scientific modelling.
    [Adaptation] strategies must [therefore apply flexible and] well-established methods [of] risk management [which] encompass [the] probabilities of different climatic outcomes [including] worst-case scenarios.
    (p 67)

    Pathways to adaptation

    Figure 5.4
    A pathway for adaptation engagement with associated drivers and barriers.

    Three areas are critical to successful adaptation …

    1. decision making and how to go about it [e.g. evaluation, adaptation pathways, future scenarios, risk perception and management],
    2. the development of specific solutions [e.g. new cultivars, materials and farming systems, urban planning], and
    3. the analysis of barriers to the adoption of [these solutions (e.g. behaviours, incentives, adaptive capacity, vulnerabilities).]

    (p 68)

    [Successful adaptation also depends on leadership and coordination at] national, state, and local [government levels.]
    Often, what happens at local government level depends, in turn, on policies adopted by state and/or federal agencies.
    For example, effective coastal planning controls by local government may rely on higher levels of government indemnifying and supporting local authorities.
    [The] redevelopment of agriculture in the Murray–Darling Basin [also requires] a coordinated approach by all levels of government.
    (p 69)

    Opportunities for adaptation

    [Change] has been the chief driver in the advance of civilisation over millennia.
    Adapting to climate change [while sometimes inconvenient] will also offer us profound opportunities for enhancing our wellbeing, sustainability, and economic progress. …

    These include both
    • ‘no regrets’ measures – things we can do which make good sense anyway, like saving water [and]
    • ‘win–win’ activities [–] where adapting to climate change generates new industries, wealth, jobs, or other desirable outcomes.
    … Australia [has the potential] to reinvent itself as a global pioneer and exporter of green, effective, and successful adaptation strategies and technologies (as countries such as Denmark are already doing with wind power). …

    [Three examples]

    1. [The] core rules for systematic selection of conservation reserves – the so-called CAR (comprehensive, adequate, and representative) principles – remain the same under any future climate, because representing all environments in the reserve system is most likely to provide habitat for the maximum number of species …
    2. Australia has a long history of innovation in agriculture …
      [Earlier] planting of winter grain crops to take advantage of reduced frost incidence [can bring large benefits] if frost risk is explicitly factored into planting strategies.
      [Work] on improving drought tolerance of crops through breeding has been underway for some years …
      [Work] is also [progressing] to adapt crops to higher temperatures and [CO2 levels] to create a more system-wide approach to ‘climate ready crops’.
    3. In response to a very long drought and dam levels dropping to record low levels, [South-East Queensland’s] water authorities gradually began introducing water restrictions in May 2005 to reduce water consumption from the then 300 L/capita/day.

    (p 70)

      [A range of measures] led to the achievement of Target 140 by the middle of 2007.
      The true success of this adaptation strategy is that the water saving behaviors now seem embedded in the community …
      [Despite the increased rainfall in 2009-2010] water consumption remained at around the same levels as at the height of the crisis in 2007 and 2008, with average water consumption of approximately 145 L/capita/day across the region in the winter of 2010.


    Australians, with our long history of egalitarianism … and our willingness to share our knowledge and expertise with other people, are natural leaders when it comes to helping establish the ethics by which the world will adapt to the climates of tomorrow.

    Australia’s agriculture has to cope with large climatic variability, its cities are already exposed to heatwaves, and a large percentage of the population lives near a coastline vulnerable to flooding.

    As a consequence, we are well positioned to lead global adaptation efforts to these challenges …
    (p 72)

    Adapting to Heatwaves and Coastal Flooding

    Xiaoming Wang and Ryan RJ McAllister: CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship.

    Heatwaves and coastal flooding are … likely to be experienced by very large numbers of Australians during coming decades. …
    [Apart from climate change] rapid population growth [and the preference of many Australians to live on the coast in the tropics and subtropics mean that many] more people now live in flood-prone areas …
    [Our] cities, with fewer green areas, are also becoming hotter places [to live in] as they become more heavily built-up

    Our exposure to future heatwaves and floods is thus likely to arise from a convergence of climate change with strong population growth, personal preferences, and planning that fails to take account of these issues.


    A heatwave is an event where temperatures are so high they pose a serious risk to individual health, as well as to public and private infrastructure.
    [Heatwave conditions can be] defined as periods in which daytime maximum temperatures [exceed] 35ºC.

    Australia has already experienced five of its hottest years in the last decade. …
    [In] Melbourne, the number of days … above 35ºC is likely to more than double with a global temperature increase of 2ºC.
    (p 74)

    [Under] the IPCC’s high emission (or A1FI) scenario, which the world is tracking, the incidence of very hot days in major capital cities can be expected to increase substantially by 2030 and 2070.
    [The] residents of Adelaide and Melbourne may experience twice as many very hot days in 2070, while [those] of Darwin could find 35ºC days occurring for up to two-thirds of [the] year.
    (p 75)

    [The] southern Australian heatwave of 1938 is estimated to have claimed 438 lives, while that of January 2009 led to 374 deaths, even in the age of air-conditioning …
    The people most vulnerable to heat stress include
    • infants,
    • the aged,
    • people with chronic ill-health,
    • those who are overweight, and
    • the socially disadvantaged such as those on low incomes.

    [The] urban heat island effect [may also] increase mortality.
    However the time lag before heat stress affects the health of individuals makes accurate assessment of mortality difficult.
    During [a heatwave] health-care and emergency services can [become] overstretched.
    (p 76)

    Australia’s infrastructure also suffers from heatwaves on very hot days [e.g.] the failure of Victoria’s rail network due to buckled rails in 2009.

    {Entire communities and their infrastructure may find themselves at increased risk from bushfires.} …

    Poorly cooled or ventilated buildings may become temporarily uninhabitable without air-conditioning.
    [Conversely, massive] demand for air-conditioning [risks] failures in the electricity transmission network and blackouts.
    [Summertime peak load demand] may triple for residential housing as the Earth warms by 2ºC.
    A key adaptation will be the management of peak demand loading on the grid, as well as in the home and workplace, to avoid disruptions to supply.
    If peak demand is not reduced through the better design of buildings and suburbs, centralised energy supply systems will struggle to cope with the increased demands deriving from climate change.
    Renewable energy and storage may be used to reduce peak demand and dependence on grid electricity, but designing cooler buildings and cities is equally important.
    (p 77)

    Illness and transport disruptions cause loss of human productivity, while crop and horticulture damage reduces agricultural productivity.
    [Most] of the global warming that will occur in the next few decades is now built into the Earth’s system because of historical and current greenhouse gas emissions …
    [It] is largely unavoidable …
    [We will] face considerable [adaptive challenges] in how we build our homes, plan our cities, go about our work, and take care of our health.
    [All] of us will be exposed to the effects of increasing heatwaves.
    [It] is both sensible and economically far more cost-effective to start planning and to take action as soon as possible in order to minimise the effects.
    (p 78)

    Coastal Inundation

    Sea level is projected to rise by 20–80 cm [by 2100.]
    [However,] a study for the Netherlands Government [suggests] a high end value for sea-level rise of 110 cm by 2100. …
    Although rare [extreme flooding] events can lead to large loss of life, as … in 1899 when 400 people died as a result of a cyclonic storm surge in Bathurst Bay, Queensland.
    (p 79)

    [The] Climate change risks to Australia’s coasts [report] found that …
    • between 157 000 and 247 600 properties [would be at risk of] flooding with a sea-level rise of 1.1 m [and]
    • [a further] nearly 39 000 buildings located within 110 m of ‘soft’ shorelines would be at risk from accelerated erosion … and changing climate conditions.
    [Total replacement cost is] estimated at AU$41-63 billion.

    [Buildings at risk included:]
    • 258 police, fire and ambulance stations,
    • five power stations or sub stations,
    • 75 hospitals and health centres,
    • 41 landfill sites,
    • three water treatment plants, and
    • 11 emergency services facilities …
    (p 80)

    Adapated from Table 6.1

    Average recurrence interval (years) for inundation events in South-East Queensland
    Current0.8 m Sea Level Rise
    1-in-50 1-in-7
    (p 81)

    [Adaptation measures include:]
    • [retrofitting] existing developed areas with structures designed to reduce flood risk or enable water to subside quickly, [protecting] key infrastructure from minor flooding, and [building] beach defences where it is economic and advisable to do so …
    • [changing] design standards for new buildings within existing developed areas so they are more able to withstand periodic inundation, e.g. minimum floor heights above sea level, flood-tolerant lower floors, and demountable homes that are easily moved.
    • [encouraging] house insurance rates that send a clear signal about the advisability of living in flood-prone areas.
    • [introducing] building codes that allow for extreme events. …
    • [developing] nationally consistent planning principles that ensure higher levels of government support and build capacity in local government for protecting local communities. …
    • [developing] effective early warning systems and evacuation pathways for extreme events.
    (p 82)

    In the case of South-East Queensland
    • Preventing new at-risk developments would protect about 150 000 people and save AU$0.7 billion in a major storm event by 2030 [and]
    • Retrofitting or reclaiming flood-prone land … would protect [a further] 170 000 people and save [an additional] AU$0.9 billion …


    [Adaptation] can be either proactive or reactive.

    [Early] precautionary action will almost always involve significant benefits in lives saved and property protected, as well as fewer costs and sacrifices.
    [It also opens] up new opportunities, such as
    • [decreased] energy use for heating [in colder parts of Australia],
    • new industries, technologies, and jobs arising out of climate adaptation, and
    • a leadership role for Australia in global adaptation to heatwaves and coastal inundation.
    (p 83)

    Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change

    Chris Stokes and Mark Howden: CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship

    Adapting Australian agriculture

    Climate change is likely to [have] negative impacts on the amount, quality, and reliability of our food and fibre production …

    Higher temperatures may enhance production from horticulture and pastures in the continent’s cool regions and the positive effects of higher levels of CO2 on plant growth may partly offset the negative effects of higher evaporation or decreased rainfall. …

    [Adapting] to the expected changes in climate and population-driven food demand could significantly offset declines in Australia’s currently large wheat export surplus, reducing the risk of needing to import grain in some years.
    (p 86)

    Action at all scales

    [Agricultural adaptation] will be influenced by three key drivers:

    1. the policies adopted by government at various levels and the signals they send to farmers and others in the food chain
    2. the development and availability of effective adaptation choices
    3. the capacity and motivation of individuals and industries to implement the appropriate adaptations and obtain support for doing so.

    (p 88)

    Coping with uncertainty

    Successful adaptation to climate change will require flexible, risk-based approaches that deal with future uncertainty and provide strategies that are robust enough to cope with a range of possible local climate outcomes and variations.

    Every [sector] should …
    • develop a choice of alternative adaptations to suit the range of likely climates [and]
    • [build] the skills to evaluate, choose, and implement these as required.
    This is preferable to trying to second-guess actual climate outcomes in particular places and times and trying to adapt to something that may turn out differently.
    (p 89)

    Contributors to successful adaptation

    1. confidence among farmers and others that the climate really is changing and that inaction is not an option
    2. the motivation to change, to avoid negative impacts, or seize opportunities
    3. wide communication and demonstration of the benefits of new climate adaptations
    4. support for farmers as they make the transition to new systems, new land uses, or new forms of livelihood
    5. building capacity in farming communities to take up and implement adaptation strategies
    6. a rapidly evolving transport, market, and financial infrastructure to support the most climate-efficient forms of agriculture
    7. an effective system for monitoring climate change impacts and human adaptive responses, so that policy and management can develop ‘ahead of the game’.

    Adaptation priorities and opportunities

    Examples of likely adaptations include:
    • [Enhanced information] delivery
      • providing projections of management- and policy-relevant weather metrics (e.g. cold indices for stone fruit),
      • providing … information at scales relevant to the decisions being made, and
      • combining information on both climate variability and trends in seasonal and medium-term (decadal) forecasts.
    • Biotechnology and traditional plant and animal breeding have the potential to develop new ‘climate-ready’ varieties and new crops or pastures pre-adapted to future climates.
    • Plant nutrition can be adjusted by measures such as
      • precision fertiliser use,
      • legume rotations, and
      • varietal selection to maintain the quality of grain, fruit, fibre, and forage sources.
    (p 90)

    • Irrigation efficiency … can be assisted by
      • identifying less waterintensive production options,
      • by developing better water delivery technologies, and
      • by implementing water markets and water-sharing arrangements.
    • Soil and water conservation methods and new systems become even more important as climates fluctuate more and extreme events become more frequent.
    • Biosecurity, quarantine, monitoring, and control measures can be strengthened to control the spread of pests, weeds, and diseases under a warming climate.
    • Better [modelling] of agricultural systems can assess climate change impacts and more reliably explore and improve adaptation options.
    • Monitoring and evaluation systems are needed to track changes in climate, impacts on agriculture, and the effectiveness of adaptation measures, to help decide when to implement particular options and to refine them over time.
    • Policy and management decisions require timely inclusion of climate information as it becomes available, as well as closer collaboration between policy makers, managers, researchers, extension agencies, and farmers.
    (p 91)

    [Many] climate adaptation options are similar to existing ‘best practice’ and good natural resource management, and do not require farmers to make radical changes to their operations and industries in the near term.
    These options [should] be prioritised as … they will provide immediate and ongoing benefits, [in addition to] preparing the sector for climate change. …

    [In] the wheat industry alone, relatively straightforward adaptations … such as
    • the growing of new varieties,
    • adjustment of planting times, and
    • the practising of moisture conservation
    may [generate] between AU$100 million to AU$500 million per annum at the farm gate.

    Preparing for step-changes in adaptation

    The benefits obtained from each major type of [incremental] adaptation are likely to plateau as more extreme climate changes come into play over future decades …
    [At] some point, a step-change or transformational adaptation will be called for … such as
    • changes in land use,
    • the re-location of significant industries or
    • diversification into new activities, such as carbon sequestration or farming for energy provision
    (p 92)

    Areas of farming that are economically marginal today are among the most vulnerable …
    [It is here that climate] impacts are most likely to exceed the region’s adaptive capacity …
    Such areas include
    • outer wheatbelt zones subject to drying,
    • warmer dairying or fruit growing areas, or
    • irrigation communities whose water resources are in decline
    [It is in these] areas [—] where quite small changes in climate can have quite large economic and social consequences [‒ that] strong policy intervention [is required] so that the affected communities can be appropriately supported through the transition.
    (p 93)

    It is … important to investigate the adaptive capacity of local farmers, communities, and industry groups region by region, so as to identify and rectify factors that may hinder successful adaptation. …

    [The] scaling-back in state agricultural agencies and decline in support for activities such as Landcare over recent decades has made this task more difficult at regional and national scales, although the emergence of grower groups has partly offset this.
    Effectively, this means that there is less analytical capability in Australian agriculture and less advice and support available to farmers just at the time it is most needed.
    (p 94)


    As climate change unfolds … adaptation will [be] the pivotal response by Australia
    • to maintain its … food security and self-sufficiency,
    • to retain vibrant rural communities, and
    • to sustain globally important agricultural exports. …

    Early preparation to adapt is both sound practice and likely to confer national benefit and competitive advantage under almost any likely climatic outcome.
    [It is] likely that many of the adaptations developed in Australia will [help] other countries and societies to stabilise food production and to offset or avoid some of the more serious consequences of climate change.
    (p 95)

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