Climate Change: Science and Solutions for Australia

Chapter 5: Adaptation: reducing risk, gaining opportunity

Page 9 of 16

A farmer examining wheat crop. By Dr Mark Stafford Smith and Dr Andrew Ash

Successful adaptation will depend on developing the knowledge and skills base in the industries and communities most affected, as well as enhancing the adaptive capacity of government agencies to provide the best policy context for adaptation.


The less we reduce emissions, the more we will have to adapt; for warming greater than 2 ºC, many Australian sectors will be very vulnerable.

The most sensitive sectors in Australia, which will require most early adaptation, are: water, the natural environments, cities and infrastructure, the coastal zone, and agriculture.

Adapting in these areas presents significant challenges, but can also create great opportunities; early action will maximise our ability to capture these opportunities.

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Climate Change - Dr Mark Stafford Smith


Well the rest of this book has set out some of the climate changes that we might anticipate over the coming century, and it’s also talked about some of the measures we could take to try and mitigate or reduce those climate changes by reducing our emissions.

The reality is though that we are locked into a reasonable bit of change, probably at least two degrees C, and quite potentially more than that. And so it becomes necessary for us to think very seriously about adapting to those... that level of change as well. And as we move past two degrees C to the possibility of four degrees C, almost every sector of Australian society could be affected by climate change. Our most sensitive sectors are the areas of water, of our cities, and particularly our coastal cities, our infrastructure, our natural environments, and agriculture. But as I say, many other areas are also affected.

It can be quite overwhelming, I think, to think about the huge diversity of decisions which could be affected by climate change, and so it becomes very important to think about these in a systematic way, and this is something which we’ve been starting to work on. Not all decisions are equal; some things are shorter term and can be satisfactorily approached in an incremental way; others are longer term, things like building long lived infrastructure – bridges, roads – that may be there for 50 years, or even suburb locations which may be there for hundreds of years if they’re not inundated by sea level rise. And so not all decisions are equal, and we can start to think about which ones really need some decision making now.

This chapter starts to try and outline some of the philosophy that underlies that, and highlights the ways in which we can start to prioritise different things, and be really proactive about some of those decisions, because behind it all the most crucial thing for dealing with climate change, and for in fact grasping some of the opportunities that will arise, as well as the threats that we must deal with, one of the most important things is having a strong adaptive capacity amongst all our decision makers, from farmers up to policy makers, in order to set us on the best possible path for the future, and this chapter starts to outline some of the needs for that.