Last year Robert Glasser wrote his report: Preparing for the Era of Disasters. You can download it here. He is the former Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and now that he is back home in Canberra, he no longer has to pull any diplomatic punches.
It’s said that generals always fight the last war. This is the situation today with respect to climate change exposure: policymakers mistakenly base their strategies, policy assumptions, operational arrangements and funding allocations on experience of disasters in a stable climate or with the mistaken expectation that climate change impacts will increase gradually, rather than rapidly as the science suggests. The Australian Government’s 2011 National Strategy for Disaster Resilience states that ‘It is uncommon for a disaster to be so large that it is beyond the capacity of a state or territory government to deal with effectively.’69 Those words, and the systems, policies and funding underpinning them, will be out of date in little more than a decade.
Policymakers need to begin preparing now for this future. A first step should be to create a compelling narrative about climate and disaster risk reduction that explicitly recognises the changing scale of the threat and the new aspects we’re beginning to understand, such as the compounding, cascading effects that we—along with our South Pacific and Southeast Asian neighbours—are likely to experience. This is needed to lay the groundwork for more standardised, timely and frequent support from the Australian Government to the states and territories, and for changes in the posture and capability of our defence force and possibly the Australian Federal Police’s International Deployment Group.
An action plan to come from a national strategy:
1. the development of indicators of resilience at federal, state and local levels
2. the identification and implementation of incentives to promote private- and public-sector investments in resilient infrastructure and broader socio-economic and environmental resilience (for example, Suncorp has introduced discounts on insurance premiums for property owners in cyclone-prone areas who invest in strengthening homes against cyclone damage73)
3. an assessment of the exposure of critical infrastructure and other socio-economic assets to expected and emergent natural hazards (for example, critical infrastructure resilience should be strengthened through modularity and redundancy to cope with hazards and cascading impacts for which there’s no historical precedent)
4. initiatives to increase training and research (integrated across disciplines and stakeholders) at Australian universities and policy institutions into the compounding and cascading impacts of climate change, regional and subregional scale climate modelling and resilience-building74
5. financial support to the states for economic recovery following disasters and ‘fodder banks’ and ‘land banks’ to address the needs of communities in chronic crisis and the permanently displaced
6. the strengthening of disaster response capacity and planning at all levels, including in the Australian Defence Force (which will play an increasingly important role in the transport of firefighters and equipment, fodder drops from helicopters and the provision of shelters) and through joint taskforces to coordinate the ADF contribution, like the one established during the Black Saturday Victorian bushfires.
Of course this presupposes that we had leadership, which we don’t.
One of the prime objectives of the national strategy should be to scale up Australia’s efforts to prevent the effects of natural hazards, such as extreme weather, from becoming disasters. Currently, funding for mitigating disaster risk equates to only about 3% of what the Australian Government spends on post-disaster responses…
And this is exactly what happened recently. The Federal govt has done next to nothing preventative – infamously refusing to talk to senior fire fighting management during 2019 – preferring to react, whilst behaving as if it is ‘giving’ us something. ‘Giving us aid.’ Giving us the military.’ ‘Giving us money.’ ‘Giving us planes.’ Not giving us Danish firefighters.