Natural Disasters in Australia

January 2nd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Here (in PDF) is an interesting analysis by researchers at Macquarie University in Australia:

The collective evidence reviewed above suggests that social factors – dwelling numbers and values – are the predominant reasons for increasing building losses due to natural disasters in Australia. The role of anthropogenic climate change is not detectable at this time. This being the case, it seems logical approach that in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent investments be made to reduce society’s vulnerability to current and future climate and climate variability.


We are aware of few policies explicitly developed to help Australian communities adapt to future climate change (Leigh et al., 1998). One positive example is improved wind loading codes introduced in the 1980s as part of a National Building Code of Australia. These codes have been mentioned already and were introduced for all new housing construction following the destruction of Darwin by Tropical Cyclone Tracy in 1974. As a result, dramatic reductions in wind-induced losses were observed following Tropical Cyclones Winifred (1986) and Aivu (1989) (Walker, 1999) and most recently, Larry (2006) (Guy Carpenter, 2006). While these measures were introduced in response to the immediate threat from current climatic events, the benefits will hold true under any future.

An increased threat from bushfires under global climate change is often assumed. However, our analyses suggest that while the prevalence of conditions leading to bushfires is likely to increase, the impact is unlikely to be as dramatic as the combined changes of all of the other factors that have so far failed to materially affect the likelihood of bushfires losses over the last century. This is not to ignore the threat posed by global climate change, but, at least in the case of fire in Australia, the main menace will continue to be the extreme fires. The threat to the most at-risk homes on the bushland-urban interface can only be diminished by improved planning regulations that restrict where and how people build with respect to distance from the forest. Again these are political choices.

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