Federal paper on climate change adaption

06 April 2010

The Federal Government has released a position paper on climate change adaption (available here).

The release of the federal paper follows the exhibition by the NSW Department of Planning of its Draft NSW Coastal Planning Guideline – Adapting to Sea Level Rise, exhibited last year.

We heavily criticised the NSW Department of Planning’s proposed approach (you can access our submission here).

The NSW Government has not yet made a decision on its draft guideline, but the federal paper represents the concluded views of the Commonwealth.

In some regards, the federal paper echoes the sentiments of the NSW paper, but there is clearly a different emphasis.

In line with the NSW document, the federal paper says that “decisions about where we live – and in particular where we build new settlements – will need to take account of future climate risks, including floods, fires and coastal inundation”.

The federal paper goes on to say that “once we have begun to adapt it will take time for some decisions to make a difference.

“For example, new building standards will be needed to enable buildings to withstand more severe weather events. But, once those new standards are agreed, it will take time to implement them both in existing buildings wherever possible and in new structures as our building stock is gradually replaced. So the time to start acting is now.”

However, the federal paper differs from the NSW paper, because it downplays the role that regulation should play in adapting to climate change:

“Adapting to the impacts of climate change is, in large measure, about managing risks. Risks will be dealt with most efficiently if they are well understood and allocated to those who are best placed to manage them.

“Individuals and businesses are often best placed to manage the risks associated with their assets. The private benefits individuals and households can gain from adapting to climate change provides an incentive for them to take reasonable steps to manage their exposure to those risks, and so reduce the potential costs to them of climate change.

“It would also be inefficient for governments to make decisions about how to adapt to climate change impacts on behalf of individuals and businesses that are better placed to manage their own risks.”

The federal paper sees a role for policy instruments, such as land-use planning, codes and standards, or environmental or public health legislation, however this is limited to circumstances where “market mechanisms are ineffective”.

The federal paper also recognises the impact climate change adaption strategies will have on urban land release.

It’s clear to us that the draft paper exhibited by the NSW Department of Planning last year is not in accord with the principles articulated by the Federal Government in this latest paper.