Category: australia

Wetlands have saved Australia $27 billion in storm damage over the past five decades

Wetlands have saved Australia $27 billion in storm damage over the past five decades

By Obadiah Mulder and Ida Kubiszewski

Australia is in the midst of tropical cyclone season. As we write, a cyclone is forming off Western Australia’s Pilbara coast, and earlier in the week Queenslanders were bracing for a cyclone in the state’s far north (which thankfully, didn’t hit).

Australia has always experienced cyclones. But here and around the world, climate change means the cyclone threat is growing – and so too is the potential damage bill. Disadvantaged populations are often most at risk.

Our recent research shows 54 cyclones struck Australia in the 50 years between 1967 and 2016, causing about A$3 billion in damage. We found the damages would have totalled approximately A$30 billion, if not for coastal wetlands.

Wetlands such as mangroves, swamps, lakes and lagoons bear the brunt of much storm damage to coast, helping protect us and our infrastructure. But over the past 300 years, 85% of the world’s wetland area has been destroyed. It’s clear we must urgently preserve the precious little wetland area we have left.

A wetland close to coastal development.
Wetland areas provide important protection from cyclones. Shutterstock

A critical buffer

National disasters cost Australia as much as A$18 billion each year on average. About one-quarter of this is due to cyclone damage.

Wetlands can mitigate cyclone and hurricane damage, by absorbing storm surges and slowing winds. For example in August 2020, Hurricane Laura hit the United States’ midwest. Massive damage was predicted, including a 6.5-metre storm surge extending 65 kilometres inland.

However the surge was one metre at most – largely because the storm drove straight into a massive wetland that absorbed most of the predicted flood.

In Australia, wetlands are lost through intentional infilling or drainage for mosquito control, or to create land for infrastructure and agriculture. They’re also lost due to pollution and upstream changes to water flows.

Putting a price on cyclone protection

Our research set out to determine the financial value of the storm protection provided by Australia’s wetlands.

We examined the 54 cyclones that struck Australia in the five decades to 2016. We gathered data including:

  • physical damage wrought in each storm swath (or storm path)
  • gross domestic product (GDP) in the storm’s path
  • maximum windspeed during each storm, which helps predict damage
  • total area of wetlands in each swath.

Using a powerful type of statistics called Bayesian analysis, we estimated the extent to which GDP, windspeed and wetland area affected total damage. This allowed us to estimate damage caused in the absence of wetlands.

We found for every hectare of wetland, about A$4,200 per year in cyclone damage was avoided. This means the A$3 billion in cyclone damage over the past 50 years would have totalled approximately A$30 billion, if not for coastal wetlands.

Importantly, the percentage of damage averted falls rapidly as wetland area decreases. And the protection afforded by a single hectare of wetland increases drastically if there are fewer other wetlands in the path of the storm. This makes protecting remaining wetland even more critical.

If the average cyclone path in Australia were to contain around 30,000 hectares of wetlands, it would avert about 90% of potential storm damage. If the wetland area dropped to 3,000 hectares, only about 30% of damage would be averted.

Climate change is making cyclones worse. By 2050, Australia’s annual damage bill could be as high as A$39 billion, assuming current levels of wetlands are maintained.

Seawalls and other artificial structures can be built along the coast to protect from storms. However, research in China has found wetlands are more cost-effective and efficient than man-made structures at preventing cyclone damage.

Unlike man-made structures, wetlands maintain themselves. Their only “cost” is the opportunity cost of not being able to use the land for something else.

Keeping wetlands safe

According to recent analysis by the authors, which is currently under peer review, global wetlands provide US$447 billion (A$657 billion) worth of protection from storms each year.

Of course, wetlands provide benefits beyond storm protection. They store carbon, regulate our climate and control flooding. They also absorb waste including pollutants and carbon, provide animal habitat and places for human recreation.

Wetlands are an incredibly important resource. It’s critical we protect them from development and keep them healthy, so they can continue to provide vital services.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Landmark legal case sees Australia’s biggest superannuation fund commit to strong action on climate change after 25-year old Brisbane man sues

Landmark legal case sees Australia’s biggest superannuation fund commit to strong action on climate change after 25-year old Brisbane man sues

By Will Bugler

Australia’s largest super fund, Rest, has agreed to test its investment strategies against various climate change scenarios and commit to net-zero emissions for its investments by 2050, after a legal case brought by a 25-year-old man from Brisbane. Mark McVeigh sued Rest in 2018 for failing to provide details on how it will minimise the risk of climate change. The landmark case represents the first time a superannuation fund has been sued for failing to consider climate change.

Mr McVeigh alleged Rest had breached Australia’s Superannuation Industry Act and the Corporations Act, after it failed to provide him with information on how it was managing the risks of climate change. These risks include physical climate risks that threaten Rest’s investments, and also transition risks which arise from the decarbonisation of the global economy.

Climate change is a ‘material, direct and current financial risk’

Australian law requires trustees of super funds to act with “care, sill and diligence to act in the best interest of members – including managing material risks to its investment portfolio”. In its settlement Rest agreed that its trustees have a duty to manage the financial risks of climate change.

In Rest’s statement about the settlement it said: “The superannuation industry is a cornerstone of the Australian economy — an economy that is exposed to the financial, physical and transition impacts associated with climate change.” and went on to emphasise that “climate change is a material, direct and current financial risk to the superannuation fund”.

Rest also agreed to take immediate action by testing its investment strategies against various climate change scenarios, publicly disclose all its holdings, and advocate for companies it invests in to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Mr McVeigh’s lawyer, David Barnden, head of Equity Generation Lawyers, said the case still sets an important precedent globally. “This outcome should represent a significant shift in the market’s willingness to tackle climate risk—a shift which should set a clear precedent for the industry in Australia, and also pension funds around the world,” he said. Mr Barnden is also representing 23-year-old Katta O’Donnell, who is suing the Australian Government for failing to disclose the risks that climate change could have on government bonds.

Growing momentum behind regulation

The latest cases in Australia are part of a global movement towards stricter regulation governing the financial risks posed by climate change (see Acclimatise’s timeline charting the rise of climate law). In 2015, for example, France introduced laws mandating climate disclosure for institutional investors and asset managers and in 2017 the Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure published recommendations for corporate climate disclosures. In 2019, National Instrument 51-102 Continuous Disclosure Obligations set out new requirements for firms reporting in Canada to disclose material risks in their Annual Information Form.

The implication of landmark cases such as the Rest settlement, is that super funds, pension funds, banks and other investors will increasingly require companies to understand and manage their climate risks. Earlier this year, Acclimatise worked Working with Asia-Pacific’s largest law firm, MinterEllison to produce a primer on physical climate risk aimed at Non-Executive Directors. The primer was published by Chapter Zero a global voluntary programme that connects and supports Non-Executive Directors to improve oversight and action on the issue of climate change.

Download the primer here.


Cover photo by Sippakorn, on Pixabay.
New report reveals current state of climate disclosure amongst ASX200 companies

New report reveals current state of climate disclosure amongst ASX200 companies

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ASCI) published a report on the status of climate reporting among ASX200 companies* in late September 2020. The ASCI is comprised of 37 Australian and international asset owners and institutional investors who collectively own around 10 per cent of every ASX200 company. To develop a picture of how these corporates are taking climate action and disclosing, the ASCI analysed all publicly available documents produced by ASX200 entities (as of 31 March 2020). This includes Annual Reports, Sustainability Reports, standalone TCFD Reports, company websites and ASX announcements.

The report indicates that there has been a surge in disclosure against the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations. In 2017, just 11 companies disclosing against the TCFD framework, which has grown to 60 ASX200 companies by 2019. A further 14 companies have also committed to disclose against the recommendations.

The research also shows that there has been an increase in the action on climate transition risks. For example, there has been increased adoption of net-zero emissions commitments, as net-zero commitments have emerged as the latest strategic front in managing climate change exposures, according to the ASCI. The research also shows that science-based targets are gaining traction.

While the report generally showcases increased action in relation to transition climate risks, it also flags how firms are taking action in relation to physical climate risk. ASX200 companies are starting to disclose physical climate risks in a meaningful way, though at present just 10 firms were identified in this category, including a variety of corporates, ranging from commercial banks to natural resources and oil & gas companies. ASCI’s research shows that physical risk analysis and disclosure is still in early stages. As it stands, quantification of the financial impacts of physical climate risks and necessary capital expenditures for climate adaptation are not yet disclosed by ASX200 companies.

Corporates in Australia and beyond can look to this report to understand how large corporates are taking climate action and disclosing that. The report rightfully points out that investors and other stakeholders need companies to begin to quantify the potential financial impacts of physical climate risk or the cost of capital expenditure to build resilience. Whilst the TCFD recommendations provided a framework for disclosing transition and physical climate risks and opportunities, they left organisations to develop their own methodologies and approaches for implementing the disclosure recommendations. Acclimatise, along with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA), a range of partners from the financial, corporate and regulatory sector as well as consultancy firm Four Twenty Seven, developed a set of recommendations on how institutions can include physical climate risks and opportunities into their financial and corporate reporting. This is available on the EBRD’s physical climate risk knowledge hub, accessible by clicking here.

The full ASCI report is available by clicking here.

* The ASX200 is a stock market index listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. It is based on the 200 largest ASX listed stocks, which together account for around 80% of Australia’s sharemarket capitalisation, according to ASX200 List, 2020.


Cover photo by Jordan on Unsplash.
New Review confirms climate change is increasing the risk of wildfires

New Review confirms climate change is increasing the risk of wildfires

By Sophie Turner

The ongoing fires in Australia have caused devastation of epic proportions. And with the end of the fire season still months away, it will be a long time before the full extent of the damage will become known. Most recently, it seems that some Australian journalists and politicians are looking to find someone to blame for the fires, with false information circulating online about arson or green policies being responsible – anything except climate change.

Despite the conspiracy theories, emerging science continues to find links between global warming and worsening wildfires. A new study published last week shows that climate change has already increased the frequency and severity of fire weather* globally, increasing the risks of wildfire. The review also reports that more extreme conditions and longer fire seasons are as a result of climate change, rather than fluctuations due to natural variation.

The study was conducted through a rapid analysis of 57 peer-reviewed articles by scientists from the University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter, Imperial College London, the Met Office Hadley Centre and Australia’s CSIRO. The researchers used a new online platform to gather and evaluate papers that examine the link between climate change and fire risk. The study focused on papers published since the last major review of climate science came out in 2013. Though some of the papers noted anomalies in isolated regions, none of the papers showed a widespread decrease in fire risk.

Observational data (from 1979 to 2013) revealed that fire weather seasons had lengthened across approximately 25 percent of the Earth’s vegetated surface, resulting in a 20 percent increase in the average length of the fire weather season. With rises in global temperatures, these figures are only going to increase.

The research highlighted that the area with a detectable impact of anthropogenic climate change on fire weather will be twice as large at 3°C than at 2°C. However, the research concluded that there was significant potential to reduce future fire risks if we limit climate change to well below 2°C. It remains to be seen whether the Australian government will realise that stronger action is required to cut greenhouse gas emissions and help to meet these reduction targets.



*Fire weather is described as periods with a high likelihood of fire due to high temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and often high winds.

Cover photo by Josh O’Connor – USFWS / Flickr.
Queensland floods kill half a million drought-stressed cattle

Queensland floods kill half a million drought-stressed cattle

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

After a long-lasting drought, Queensland, Australia, has been hit by extreme rain reaching up to 1.4 metres in some areas – twice the amount that falls in London in a year. What started as a sigh of relief in drought-stricken communities quickly turned into floods that destroyed homes, infrastructure and left an estimated 500,000 cattle dead.

Michael Guerin, CEO of AgForce, a peak organisation representing Queensland’s rural producers, said there was no doubt this was a disaster of unprecedented proportions that will take the industry decades to recover calling it a massive humanitarian crisis. “The speed and intensity of the unfolding tragedy makes it hard to believe that it’s just a week since farmers’ elation at receiving the first decent rains in five years turned to horror at the devastating and unprecedented flood that quickly followed,” he added.

Rachael Anderson, a farmer in western Queensland lost 2,000 cattle, about half of her livestock. The losses have put her business under severe financial stress, not sure how she will be able to make repayments to her bank in six months. She added, “we can’t get loans because we’ve got nothing to borrow against, none of us have got anything left. I’m not going to lie, it will finish some people up, but others will be rebuilding.” In the meantime, the rotting bodies of dead livestock and stagnant floodwaters are creating an unbearable stench, but they are also polluting the creek Anderson’s station was using as water supply to wash clothes and brush teeth.

The crippling livestock losses come after more than five years of debilitating drought. Now, whole rural communities are fighting to survive as farmers are left with nothing but debt. Guerin implored governments to make sure these communities get long-term support to recover from these recent shocks including bringing in specialist well-being professionals.

Scott Morrisson, Australian prime minister, confirmed the federal government would provide an immediate in-kind payment of AUS$1 million to affected shires. As of 11 February, insurers had received over 13,500 claims from Townsville, Queensland, alone; the estimated losses are about AUS$165 million.

After the record-setting blistering temperatures of January 2019, bushfires that tore through 200,000 hectares in Tasmania, these extreme floods are just another frightening signal of what climate change is doing to the continent. As Adam Morton and Ben Smee write in The Guardian, Australia is “no stranger to extreme weather – bushfire, flooding, rains and skin-peeling heat are central to its history and mythology – but the contrasts this southern summer have been particularly stark.”


Cover photo by Commonwealth of Australia (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0): An MRH-90 Taipan helicopter from 5th Aviation Regiment delivers livestock feed to communities near Julia Creek to assist graziers affected by severe flooding.
Ten years ago, climate adaptation research was gaining steam. Today, it’s gutted

Ten years ago, climate adaptation research was gaining steam. Today, it’s gutted

By Rod Keenan, University of Melbourne

Ten years ago, on February 7, 2009, I sat down in my apartment in central Melbourne to write a job application. All of the blinds were down, and the windows tightly closed. Outside it was 47℃. We had no air conditioning. The heat seeped through the walls.

When I stepped outside, the air ripped at my nose and throat, like a fan-forced sauna. It felt ominous. With my forestry training, and some previous experience of bad fire weather in Tasmania, I knew any fires that day would be catastrophic. They were. Black Saturday became Australia’s worst-ever bushfire disaster.

I was applying for the position of Director of the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research (VCCCAR). I was successful and started the job later that year.

The climate in Victoria over the previous 12 years had been harsh. Between 1997 and 2009 the state suffered its worst drought on record, and major bushfires in 2003 and 2006-07 burned more than 2 million hectares of forest. Then came Black Saturday, and the year after that saw the start of Australia’s wettest two-year period on record, bringing major floods to the state’s north, as well as to vast swathes of the rest of the country.

In Victoria alone, hundreds of millions of dollars a year were being spent on response and recovery from climate-related events. In government, the view was that things couldn’t go on that way. As climate change accelerated, these costs would only rise.

We had to get better at preparing for, and avoiding, the future impacts of rapid climate change. This is what is what we mean by the term “climate adaptation”.

Facing up to disasters

A decade after Black Saturday, with record floods in Queensland, severe bushfires in Tasmania and Victoria, widespread heatwaves and drought, and a crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin, it is timely to reflect on the state of adaptation policy and practice in Australia.

In 2009 the Rudd Labor government had taken up the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader, we seemed headed for a bipartisan national solution ahead of the Copenhagen climate summit in December. Governments, meanwhile, agreed that adaptation was more a state and local responsibility. Different parts of Australia faced different climate risks. Communities and industries in those regions had different vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities and needed locally driven initiatives.

Led by the Brumby government in Victoria, state governments developed an adaptation policy framework and sought federal financial support to implement it. This included research on climate adaptation. The federal government put A$50 million into a new National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, based in Queensland, alongside the CSIRO Adaptation Flagship which was set up in 2007.

The Victorian Government invested A$5 million in VCCCAR. The state faced local risks: more heatwaves, floods, storms, bushfires and rising sea levels, and my colleagues and I found there was plenty of information on climate impacts. The question was: what can policy-makers, communities, businesses and individuals do in practical terms to plan and prepare?

Getting to work

From 2009 until June 2014, researchers from across disciplines in four universities collaborated with state and local governments, industry and the community to lay the groundwork for better decisions in a changing climate.

We held 20 regional and metropolitan consultation events and hosted visiting international experts on urban design, flood, drought, and community planning. Annual forums brought together researchers, practitioners, consultants and industry to share knowledge and engage in collective discussion on adaptation options. We worked with eight government departments, driving the message that adapting to climate change wasn’t just an “environmental” problem and needed responses across government.

All involved considered the VCCCAR a success. It improved knowledge about climate adaptation options and confidence in making climate decisions. The results fed into Victoria’s 2013 Climate Change Adaptation Plan, as well as policies for urban design and natural resource management, and practices in the local government and community sectors. I hoped the centre would continue to provide a foundation for future adaptation policy and practice.

Funding cuts

In the 2014 state budget the Napthine government chose not to continue funding the VCCCAR. Soon after, the Abbott federal government reduced the funding and scope of its national counterpart, and funding ended last year.

Meanwhile, CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall argued that climate science was less important than the need for innovation and turning inventions into benefits for society. Along with other areas of climate science, the Adaptation Flagship was cut, its staff let go or redirected. From a strong presence in 2014, climate adaptation has become almost invisible in the national research landscape.

In the current chaos of climate policy, adaptation has been downgraded. There is a national strategy but little high-level policy attention. State governments have shifted their focus to energy, investing in renewables and energy security. Climate change was largely ignored in developing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Despite this lack of policy leadership, many organisations are adapting. Local governments with the resources are addressing their particular challenges, and building resilience. Our public transport now functions better in heatwaves, and climate change is being considered in new transport infrastructure. The public is more aware of heatwave risks, and there is investment in emergency management research, but this is primarily focused on disaster response.

Large companies making long-term investments, such as Brisbane Airport, have improved their capacity to consider future climate risks. There are better planning tools and systems for business, and the finance and insurance sectors are seriously considering these risks in investment decisions. Smart rural producers are diversifying, using their resources differently, or shifting to different growing environments.

Struggling to cope

But much more is needed. Old buildings and cooling systems are not built to cope with our current temperatures. Small businesses are suffering, but few have capacity to analyse their vulnerabilities or assess responses. The power generation system is under increasing pressure. Warning systems have improved but there is still much to do to design warnings in a way that ensures an appropriate public reaction. Too many people still adopt a “she’ll be right” attitude and ignore warnings, or leave it until the last minute to evacuate.

In an internal submission to government in 2014 we proposed a Victorian Climate Resilience Program to provide information and tools for small businesses. Other parts of the program included frameworks for managing risks for local governments, urban greening, building community leadership for resilience, and new conservation approaches in landscapes undergoing rapid change.

Investment in climate adaptation pays off. Small investments now can generate payoffs of 3-5:1 in reduced future impacts. A recent business round table report indicates that carefully targeted research and information provision could save state and federal governments A$12.2 billion and reduce the overall economic costs of natural disasters (which are projected to rise to A$23 billion a year by 2050) by more than 50%.

Ten years on from Black Saturday, climate change is accelerating. The 2030 climate forecasts made in 2009 have come true in half the time. Today we are living through more and hotter heatwaves, longer droughts, uncontrollable fires, intense downpours and significant shifts in seasonal rainfall patterns.

Yes, policy-makers need to focus on reducing greenhouse emissions, but we also need a similar focus on adaptation to maintain functioning and prosperous communities, economies and ecosystems under this rapid change. It is vital that we rebuild our research capacity and learn from our past experiences, to support the partnerships needed to make climate-smart decisions.


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo by CSIRO (CC BY 3.0): A destroyed property at Kinglake after the ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires.