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Who should fund Australia’s adaptation to climate change?

If we haven’t heard much about carbon policy this election, we’ve heard even less about the other side of the climate equation - adaptation. We’re already seeing an increase in extreme weather, and climate…

We’re going to need more than sandbags to adapt to climate change. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

If we haven’t heard much about carbon policy this election, we’ve heard even less about the other side of the climate equation - adaptation. We’re already seeing an increase in extreme weather, and climate models predict we’ll see more in the future, costing us potentially billions of dollars. Adaptation attempts to answer how we will deal with the future.

In light of this, the shadow minister for climate change Greg Hunt announced A$9 million for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility in Queensland, or NCCARF.

NCCARF has come to the end of its first five years of funding without renewal, and has been running on a skeleton staff. The funding announced by the Coalition may give the facility a new lease on life, but when it comes to adapting to climate change, is this enough?

Let’s have a look at the policies on offer. The Greens, following a senate enquiry into extreme weather, announced they would increase risk mitigation funding from A$50 million to A$350 million per year supported by a A$2 levy per tonne on coal exports. They also pledged A$10 million per year to NCCARF, roughly the same amount of funding it has received since beginning in 2008.

The Coalition’s funding announcement, for A$9 million over three years, is the first positive step on adaptation in the current election campaign by either of the major parties. Given the current odds in the election campaign, it seems a pretty good bet that the coalition pledge will become a reality. But how should we view that A$9 million, at A$3 million a year, in the light of past funding and current and future needs?

The current state of adaptation policy, like the rest of climate policy, is highly uncertain. The refusal to refund NCCARF by the current government, presumably to help reduce the budget deficit, was seen by many as robbing Peter to pay Paul. Much like taking from tertiary education funds to increase secondary school funding.

There is also a view that the federal government should fund mitigation and the states fund adaptation. Some state governments have taken this to heart by dismantling renewable energy programs but have not necessarily invested in adaptation to the same extent.

Victoria is the most organised state, funding the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research supported by the state adaptation plan, with South Australia closely behind.

However, in Queensland, one of Campbell Newman’s first actions as premier was to close the Office of Climate Change. Programs continue in data preparation and delivery, and the Queensland Government says it is committed to responsibly and cost-effectively managing the impacts of climate change on our economy, communities, infrastructure and environmental assets, but gives little detail on how this is being done.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars of state and federal funds are being used to rebuild infrastructure after recent disasters, but much of it is being rebuilt to the same standards and in the same locations.

NCCARF spent the past two-and-a-half years researching adaptation measures, most of which were finalised and released this year. There are criticisms that can be levelled at the research:

  • The research produced has been of mixed quality.

  • It has been characterised as being too academic in approach and content for end users.

  • End users were not sufficiently involved in the research process to have a significant stake in its findings.

However, given NCCARF’s brief history, these are all lessons that can be remedied.

Another measure of success is how this work is seen internationally. Key researchers visiting Australia, especially researchers from the USA, are struck by how mature the conversations between researchers and stakeholders have become. Attendance at conferences here and overseas shows a significant Australian presence.

Adaptation research now needs to aim for action on the ground. Given the damage and loss currently being experienced from extreme climate events, adaptation is too important to be a political orphan, or a bargaining chip between the commonwealth and the states.

If climate mitigation programs continue to be dismantled at the current rate we’ll need all the adaptation we can get.

Join the conversation

17 Comments sorted by

    1. Roger Jones

      Professorial Research Fellow at Victoria University

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris, this was written before the latest announcements. The last couple of days we've heard a lot more about cuts, potential interference in research and goodness knows what else.

  1. Arthur James Egleton Robey

    Industrial Electrician

    I would have voted Labour, but they dropped the carbon tax.
    If the punter thinks that the carbon tax was outrageous, wait until they get their insurance bill.
    Besides, they could have lowered any of a number of taxes to ensure that the carbon tax was neutral.
    Seeing that I am no rocket scientist, I am sure that this must have been discussed over many a Walnut table.
    The reason for dropping the carbon tax is that it was too hard for the corporate welfare queens to dodge.
    Has anyone ever heard of the "Goldilocks Zone?"

    1. Arthur James Egleton Robey

      Industrial Electrician

      In reply to Arthur James Egleton Robey

      At least they have dropped the "Trickle Down" economy. I shudder at the thought of what was Trickling Down.

  2. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Who should fund Australia's adaption to climate change? We should, not the taxpayer.

    All we have to do is wait for the climate to change then we will change to suit the new climate. That is what every living organism has done since the Big Bang, and that is what we should do in the future.

    Taking tax dollars out of our schools and hospitals and roads and ammunition from our soldiers to pay for climate change research that is, 'of mixed quality or 'too academic in approach' is an abomination.

    Gerard Dean

  3. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    The article does not mention a sponsor of the research when referring to our American visitors, 'Key researchers visiting Australia, especially researchers from the USA'

    The sponsor - JetA1 of course.

    Gerard Dean

  4. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Speaking of JetA1, I can guarantee that none of the millions of dollars doled out to Australian climate change adaption researchers would have been spent on developing a practical and commercial alternative to our old friend who flies us to Europe for our holidays.

    If you spray millions and millions of taxpayer dollars at a problem and get zero, diddly squat, bugger all, zip or a big fat zero back from the investment, is it any wonder the politicians and the public pull the funding.

    Gerard Dean

    1. Roger Jones

      Professorial Research Fellow at Victoria University

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Gosh Gerard,

      your comments on JetA1 fuel were totally unexpected - right out of the blue. Yep, rich researchers using all their money to fly everywhere. So true and so tragic.

      And your evidence that adaptation research is not being used is ....

  5. Garry Baker


    """ Meanwhile, millions of dollars of state and federal funds are being used to rebuild infrastructure after recent disasters, but much of it is being rebuilt to the same standards and in the same locations. ""

    The above statements don't seem to be researched all that well - given that insurers such as Swiss Re, Lloyds, etc, simply won't buy into policies where their actuaries rate the risk as way too high... Making the insurer of last resort, the government itself. So either the land and infrastructure upon it, is worthless on the free market - or governments run the risk of bankrupting themselves with its insurance cover

    Round the world right now this is happening - where some things are simply not insurable due to climate change. ie: Free enterprise outfits(insurers) are the first movers on climate because their betting guys simply won't take bets on certain activities.

    Ergo, check out the insurance covenants on this rebuild in infrastructure that's going on

    1. Roger Jones

      Professorial Research Fellow at Victoria University

      In reply to Garry Baker

      I love it when readers blithely assume authors are just making stuff up.

      Governments in Australia mostly ensure their own infrastructure, except for local government, which is often in the market for private insurance. Victoria has the Victorian Managed Insurance Agency, for instance - they almost act as a reinsurer themselves. Queensland has no such arrangements. They should.

      The Queensland Reconstruction Authority has spent or is spending $11,959.3 million on rebuilding public infrastructure…

      Read more
  6. Mark McGuire

    climate consensus rebel

    In 4 years since it's bi-partisan inception, NCCARF has produced 200 papers relating to climate change. I encourage you to show me I am wrong, which I will gladly acknowledge, but perusing though the list, and clicking on some (not all yet), NONE so far address the adaption to a cooling climate, which is a possibility. The current "pause in warming" was unseen, for example. Link to 200 papers at this GU link:

  7. Bob Bingham

    logged in via Facebook

    Much of Australia's wealth comes from digging, using and exporting coal.and yet it has a fragile climate which is easily affected by changes in climate. In this respect Australia is like a tobacco farmer who smokes and has lung cancer. Its a real dilemma that Australians will have to face up to one day. Climate change is not interested in politics or people its simple physics. burn coal, produce CO2, temperature rises, climate changes.

  8. Gratton Wilson

    logged in via Twitter

    Thanks for this timely article. Does any one know how much Australia spends (all sources) in mitigating the effects of all recent extreme weather events drought fire flood cyclones. Take a 5 or 10 year period. My guess is we should spend far more on mitigation and adaption research because we are yet to see far more adverse impacts (including on health) and we certainly need to improve our knowledge of how best to deal with the results..

  9. Gil Hardwick

    anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

    I am not at all sure, Roger, about "costing us potentially billions of dollars."

    Who is us?

    The great bulk of development in Australia is very recent, well within the period of our long established knowledge and awareness of environmental, weather and climate risk on this continent.

    Yet people went ahead with development anyway.

    It is those who continue making poor, ill-informed and as we regularly see contrary, belligerent, pig-headed decisions who not only should pay but inevitably…

    Read more