Real cost of climate change

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View of Mary Street during the peak of February 2022 flooding. An RCMP report determined that 206 buildings are ‘uninhabitable’ and ‘cannot be secured’. Photo: JOHN CLOUGH

JAMES BEATSON, who has worked for the Byron Echo and the Sydney Morning Herald, looks at the financial costs of flooding and asks, where do we go from here?

The cost to Gympie’s economy from flooding in 2022 is breathtaking.

Gympie Council’s community sustainability director, Adrian Burns, said the council “has determined that 112 homes and 94 commercial/industrial properties have been severely damaged”, meaning “the structure is not usable or habitable. and cannot be secured”.

The combined cost of 206 lost homes and businesses at a nationally estimated cost of $500,000 per structure is $103 million.

To date, Gympie Council has not provided numbers for partially damaged properties.

But maybe up to 800 partially damaged properties and the contents of properties at an average claim of $3,000 adds another $2.4 million.

Thus, the total cost can reach 105.4 million dollars, and only some will be insured.

By comparison, the Gympie Council’s budget for 2022-23 is $115.79 million.

Nationally, irreparably damaged homes and businesses, including Gympie, number over 5,000 with relocation costs of $500,000 per property – that cost alone is $2.5 billion. dollars.

National estimates for partially damaged properties and content, including Gympie, of around 16,000 claims with an average of $3,000 each, add another $48 million.

The total represents a shocking cost of $2.548 billion to individuals, federal, state and council governments.

Adaptation is already on the agenda of most governments.

Australia, being a largely flat country with cities often close to major rivers, it will be unavoidable and expensive to treat buildings built on floodplains.

The first step is to correct planning laws determined by state governments that local councils must adhere to.

The State Governments of Queensland and NSW are reviewing the current Annual Exceedance Probability – AEP (i.e. 1 in 100 year measure) which could be replaced by the Definition of Flood Events (DFE).

According to some, the benchmark measurement is problematic.

The Gympie flood of March 1870 was recorded at 21.6 metres.

This was exceeded in 1893 with a flood of 24.45m.

Thus, the first Gympie council determined an AEP percentage of “1 chance in 50 years”.

This held for the next 50 years.

But in the absence of major floods in 1950, they changed the AEP baseline to today’s figure, 1 in 100 years.

Today Gympie has suffered severe flooding on several occasions over the past nine months, damaging development in these once protected areas from construction.

Although planning is a matter legislated by the states, adaptation to climate change now requires federal intervention.

The national cabinet model adopted during the Covid crises may be an appropriate planning model.

This reporter contacted every state planning minister or premier and federal emergency planning minister asking “Is a national cabinet model needed to develop new planning laws to determine the building in floodplains? »

I have had no response to date.

The Federal Government’s Minister for Emergency Planning, Senator Murray Watt, announced: “More than 7,000 Queensland homes have been damaged by flooding this year in 37 local government areas”, noting “the Fund for $741 million resilient homes – which is being provided through the Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) – [and] we are working hard to help as many flood-affected people as possible, as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for Queensland’s Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning explained: “We know that current assumptions taking into account the impacts of climate change, such as increased and frequent rainfall, need to be at the center of concerns”.

These words seem like shorthand for looking at options for planned managed floodplain removal.

This would include significant portions of Gympie’s CBD.

Although the spokesperson added: “We continue to review the impact of recent flooding on recent developments and how Queensland’s planning framework, including local government planning provisions and planning instruments of the State, can better manage and respond to these risks”.

The same spokesperson cited T O’Donnell’s article in The Conversation on managed planned retirement, where 135 scholarly papers found three common problem areas:

* issues of property rights and compensation

* the need for governance and institutional mechanisms to enable an orderly and managed retirement

* an increase in negative impacts on vulnerable communities as a result of relocations or retreats that were not orderly or well managed.

There are few examples of recent relocation of Australian cities.

The devastating flood that swept through the small town of Grantham (population 634 in Lockyer Valley, Queensland, 100km west of Brisbane) in 2011 is an example of this.

The immediate toll was 12 dead with more than 100 houses badly damaged or totally destroyed.

According to a local reporter, “Grantham’s move is held in high esteem around the world, largely due to its speed and cost, taking just 11 months and costing $30 million, with funding of 18 million dollars divided equally between the state and federal governments”.

Queensland created a reconstruction authority carrying out an accelerated planning and approval process by declaring Grantham a reconstruction area.

The project leader was a young engineer, Jamie Simmonds, who said the secret was to “just say ‘hey, we’ll do it’, people get on board, and that’s probably a message for other communities now that are considering different ways to recover.

“Just hang in there. It sounds silly, but we just didn’t expect anything.

“We started the master plan straight away, and we had machines pushing the roads before we had designs for the roads.

“We were three steps ahead of where we were supposed to be.

“The estate was half built when it was approved.”

Over the past 18 months, Australia has experienced an unusual weather pattern that could become a ‘new normal’.

Extended seasons of La Niña wet weather coupled with a wet negative dipole in Indian Ocean temperatures have contributed to the recent catastrophic floods.

Climate change could repeat this pattern more often – scientists are undecided.

The Australian Institute of Science’s 2021 report Risks to Australia from a 3 degree Celsius warmer world is causing a stir.

The main author, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldburg, together with 15 prestigious contributors, offers a reality check.

“Everything is changing at a breakneck pace.

“A lot of people assume that because we signed the Paris Agreement and everyone is in the same room, we are actually heading towards a goal that gets us out of trouble.

“This is not the case.”

This report explains that even if international governments meet their Paris targets on time, our planet could well reach an average global surface temperature of 3 degrees or more by 2100.

With the last decade wasted, climate change has taken a new 3 degree trajectory. The report says plans also need to change.

Since national records began in 1910, Australia has already warmed by 1.44°C.

But science says what we’re seeing today is only a watershed of what to expect if governments and economies don’t act quickly.

National understanding of this is widespread.

From the likes of the Greens to Australia’s second richest person, Twiggy Forest, CEO of Fortescue Metals Group, earning $77 million a week.

They agree with most leading scientists that a real effort to reduce carbon emissions must be well underway in this decade.

Getting to 2040 to start the heavy lifting won’t get us to net zero by 2050.

Is this challenge beyond any federal political leader?

In 2017, Canberra correspondent and journalist Karen Middleton published an incisive biography of Anthony Albanese, written after his long spell describing him as an effective Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, then later as Deputy Prime Minister Gillard. For Middleton, Albanese is a focused, yet self-effacing, multi-tasker who relentlessly pursues big goals.

Her book gives readers hope.

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