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Executive Summary (excerpt)

The summer of 2019-20 was defined by a series of consecutive and at times coincident natural events involving a confluence of bushfires, floods, drought and heat extremes. Their cascading effects have impacted Australian communities and industries. Apart from loss of life, the cost to the community and government of these events is significant. For example, insurance losses for this year’s bushfires already exceed A$2.3 billion1, and for the 2019 North Queensland floods social and economic costs exceed A$5.6 billion2.

CSIRO researchers undertake bushfire testing at the Eurobodalla Rural Fire Service Training Facility near Mogo in NSW, the only facility in Australia with a bushfire flame front simulator that enables testing of different materials in the open under realistic bushfire conditions.

Climate change influences the frequency and severity of these events and will be a factor into the foreseeable future, given the long timeframes associated with current climate trajectories. It is important to better understand and predict the interplay of these natural events and the challenges, risks and impacts they present over different timescales with an increasing population and changing human footprint.

This is a complex undertaking. Much has already been done and achieved by all levels of government, response agencies and the community to increase Australia’s resilience.

However, there is both a need and an opportunity to take this to the next level as we face increasing climate variability and hazard exposure, and drive a truly national response to further build the resilience of our infrastructure, our land use practices, our communities, our industries and our environment.

In response to the recent bushfires, CSIRO was tasked in January 2020 by the Prime Minister to deliver an independent study recommending ways in which Australia can increase its climate and disaster resilience, supported by an Expert Advisory Panel chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.

This work has been guided by the following principles:

  • Evidence-based analysis informed by literature, lived experience and expert inputs
  • A focus on where research, science and technology can contribute to building resilience
  • Acknowledgement of past improvements and the importance of complementarity, with a number of related reviews, reports and inquiries currently underway including the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements
  • CSIRO’s role in providing relevant insights to inform policy makers but not policy advice.

Given the breadth of this topic, and the timeframe available, this Report (and accompanying Technical Report) is not intended be a comprehensive and definitive treatment of climate and disaster resilience. Compromises in scope have been made, with a focus on acute events, and limitations in the depth of exploration possible on some topics.

The opportunities to take Australia to the next level of building resilience broadly fall under the following six actionable themes outlined below. To realise these opportunities, this study makes a detailed series of findings and recommendations which form the basis for a forward plan of action.

The themes of these are:

  1. A harmonised and collaborative national approach is required to achieve global best practice
  2. The national approach requires systems thinking and solutions to deal with complexity – including foresighting, management of risk and learning and education for all stakeholders
  3. Availability of data is a key enabler – there is a compelling case to shift to common approaches and platforms for both resilience planning frameworks and operational management systems
  4. The community plays an essential role in all phases of resilience building and must be appropriately included and engaged
  5. Investment in targeted research, science and technology remains a key enabler of many of the improvements required to build resilience
  6. We need to build back better. Resilience needs to be embedded as an explicit consideration in all future planning, agricultural and urban land use and zoning and investment decisions.


  1. Insurance Council of Australia figures May 2020
  2. Commonwealth of Australia, North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency, Annual Report 2018–19

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