Managing Disasters and Adapting to Climate Change: What's the Difference?

Presentation at Research Forum of the 2012 Bushfire CRC and AFAC Annual Conference.

The politicization of climate change globally has meant that politicians and policy-makers are increasingly seeking for ways to market it in a more palatable form for their stakeholders. Terms such as ‘climate risk', ‘climate variability' and ‘natural hazards' are increasingly used.

Is this a reasonable and practical approach? Will we, by protecting ourselves against natural disasters, also adapt ourselves to climate change? To some extent, the answer is yes. However, such reasoning falls down at one fundamental point - we don't necessarily take the same actions to protect ourselves if we think the climate is stable in the long-term, compared to if we think it is changing. This is true across all climate-related hazards – examples in Australia would include drought assistance for farmers, which would be managed differently depending on whether or not the assumption is that drought is becoming more frequent, and planning decisions around development in the peri-urban fringe, which will depend on assumptions about the long-term occurrence of bushfire.

This talk seeks to address these questions. It looks at the latest science on the occurrence of climatic extremes, as set out in the recent IPCC SREX report. It considers whether we have sufficient information about the present and future climate of Australia to act on the assumption of a changing climate. Finally, it considers the potential for maladaptation if we fail to act on this assumption.