Collaboration Key to Climate Change Response
While the growing impact of climate change and the associated policy response has been on the public and political agenda for several years now, recent events are giving the issue a renewed sense of urgency.
It is not just the bushfires that have brought climate change to the fore, as Strategen-JBS&G Executive Director Darren Walsh says, people are noticing the changing climate more in their day-to-day lives.
“The world has accepted the science, the debate is now around what, as a nation, we can do,” he said.
The science is in
According to CSIRO’s Dr Guy Barnett, the impacts of climate change on urban areas in the coming years include changes in sea-level rise and storm surge intensity, changes in temperature and precipitation, and an increase in extreme weather events such as bushfires, drought and heatwaves as well as high-intensity rainfall.
He says that it is through weather and climate extremes that most Australians will experience climate change, and this will largely occur in urban areas.
Specifically, winter rainfall is projected to decline by as much as 50% in south-western Australia under high emissions (RCP8.5) by 2090. Extreme fire weather is also projected to increase, with longer fires seasons across large parts of Australia.
The WA State Government’s recently released climate change issues paper labels WA as one of the most fire-prone regions in the world. It also highlights the prolonged period of drying in the south west of WA as a factor affecting primary industries, water security and natural ecosystems.
How do we respond?
The CSIRO says that climate change is likely to drive large, unprecedented, and systemic changes in climate, which will have impacts on urban infrastructure and communities. “Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for urban developers to manage and reduce the risks of climate change,” Dr Barnett said.
“Large reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades will enhance the effectiveness of adaptation strategies and reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer-term.
“Adaptation responses enable individuals, communities, organisations and natural systems to deal with those consequences of climate change that we are already committed to and cannot be avoided by climate mitigation.
“Some actions, such as energy efficient buildings, water conservation and urban greening, have both mitigation and adaptation co-benefits.” Dr Barnett also outlines how Western Australian energy supplies are distinctly different from those to the east of Australia.
“The relatively small South West Interconnected System and other localised grids across the State do not have the benefit of hydroelectric power storage as on the east coast,” Dr Barnett said.
“In order to decarbonise the electricity sector, other practical energy storage solutions will be needed to provide energy supplies when renewable sources are not available.”
Mr Walsh advises that industry has already shown substantial leadership over time with many developers on the front foot around aspects like PV cells, alternative water schemes, climate responsive design and so forth.
“I think there is opportunity in things like considering the carbon footprint of construction, built form design, substantial design in terms of lot layout and orientation, although that’s been pretty embedded for a long time now,” Mr Walsh said. “The real future opportunities lay in things like alternative water schemes, technology around alternative power generation, and those sorts of things, I think for industry that’s probably the next step.
“I think the other opportunity as an industry is to start to explore carbon offsetting in the context of reforestation, just like we’re used to delivering offsets for things like biodiversity.
“I think that’s an area that at the moment is not necessarily top of mind for many developers but could be an opportunity as a proactive thing to start to move on and leave that positive legacy as well.”
Government facilitation of new technology and innovation will be key to successfully responding to climate change.
“A key role for State and local government is to embrace new ideas and make innovation a lot easier,” Mr Walsh said.
“For our industry to really make big strides it’s going to take a good level of facilitation and cooperation from State and local government to allow industry to really make those steps forward particularly in relation to infrastructure around water and power.”
The State’s issues paper is a good starting point to facilitate a more coordinated approach to climate change policy, however the devil will be in the detail, with how the Government responds to feedback and the final policy yet to be seen.
“There is a real opportunity on the implementation side and how the three tiers of government align and facilitate and embrace the private sector,” Mr Walsh said.
For Perth in particular, the UDIA WA believes that a key response to climate change is greater urban density surrounding public transport infrastructure in order to encourage more sustainable forms of transport.
Leading the way
According to the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) published by Germanwatch, the NewClimate Institute and the Climate Action Network, Sweden and Denmark are the top performing countries in relation to four categories including GHG emissions, renewable energy implementation, energy use and climate policy. Australia features near the bottom of this list, at number 56 out of 61 countries measured.
In relation to the climate policy category, Australia ranked last, “as experts observe that the newly elected government has continued to worsen performance at both national and international levels.”
Mr Walsh believes that we are likely to see stronger action from the Morrison Government in the wake of the bushfires.
“It is interesting if you look at the national debate, before the bushfires started the Morrison Government did not appear to have a high priority on climate policy, now post bushfires it’s front and square of government policy so it just goes to show how quickly things can change,” he said.