Updated: Jan 22, 2020
This summer's terrible bushfires have been a wake-up call for Australia. Concern about climate change has reached record levels; 4 in 5 Australians were concerned or very concerned with climate change, according to a 2019 survey released by The Australia Institute.
The current bushfire season has exposed how disastrously underprepared Australia is for climate emergencies.
A good friend of mine in Batemans Bay painted a shocking picture of the unpreparedness of communities and emergency services dealing with this crisis:
Communications and power were down, with radio stations encouraging people to inform themselves via apps and webpages - which of course, required internet - which didn't work.
Policeman directing traffic had no idea where the danger was, literally claiming to be on a different radio channel to the firefighters.
Petrol stations ran out of petrol and whole areas were cut off by road for several days.
In the devastating wake of one of Australia's worst bushfire seasons yet, Australians are now wondering how on earth this could happen to one of the richest nations in the world? (Especially when we had accurate warnings this would happen!)
So far, the climate wars of Australian politics have lasted two decades, with not much real action on the problem. The debate has been framed around the winners and losers of climate policy, whether Australia has any impact globally and how serious the problem is. The seriousness of the issue is becoming apparent. But critically, this debate has precluded any meaningful discussion on one of the most important issues of our generation - adapting Australians to a changing climate.
We now know Australia is one of the most susceptible countries to the warming climate. If you think this year was concerning, climate change is just getting started. Weather will get hotter and drier (see figures below). Bushfire seasons, droughts and cyclones will be more frequent and disastrous than those we are witnessing today.
Australia must take stock. As the federal Science Minister has called for, it's essential that we accept the science and start preparing our nation for the future.
Figure 1: Australia will get a lot hotter - projects number of days over 30 degrees C under the scenario of no carbon abatement.
Figure 2: Australia will get a lot drier - projected average number of months where rainfall falls below the 10th percentile of dry months over the current 30 year average, under the scenario of no carbon abatement.
Property sectors role in a changing climate
Despite the lagging political debate, the property sector can push ahead and ensure that they build resilient, liveable communities which are climate change ready.
In our view, customers will become increasingly concerned about how communities and properties will fare in a climate-changed world. This will affect both communities that were directly impacted by the fire and new communities to be built by developers.
With the average Australian house lasting 70 years, and many for much longer than that, homes need to be built to last. Property developers are going to be on the front line for climate change adaption and resilience as they are building the homes of the future.
6 steps to building the resilience of your community
We have compiled a list of 6 things you can do right away to improve the climate resilience of your community:
1. Inform yourself of how climate change will affect your community - it seems like an obvious step, but in our experience this is not common practice. The CSIRO Climate Change in Australia portal is a good place to start. Some places will be more prone to bushfires and drought - some will be more prone to floods, or have to deal with rising sea levels. Each climate element has different planning solutions. Warning: this information can be pretty confronting if you're not across the details.
2. Ensure climate resilience is considered during the planning stage - this can include:
Orientating blocks and streets to optimise for passive solar.
Considering the heat island effect within your community i.e. reflective glazing and roofing and building roads with "low albedo" materials (materials that are light not dark) can reduce heat loads for the community.
Planting more trees to cool communities and clear the air. Be careful to choose species of tree that do not add to bushfire risk and will tolerate the future climate.
Using design guidelines to lift community resilience; such as mandating low albedo surfaces, using green roof design for each building, ensuring building materials are water-resistant/fire-resistant/impact-resistant (whichever is required in your community) and have effective drainage design for flood-prone areas.
3. Where possible, build resilience into critical infrastructure - this can include:
Considering back-up power system options such as solar and batteries on homes. NEV can support here in thinking through the technology and commercial options.
Better still, considering an embedded network with back-up batteries for the whole community that can keep the lights on even during widespread grid outages. NEV can also support here in thinking through the technology and commercial options.
Using water harvesting/recycling can provide water options to homes if the town water supply is disrupted or restricted through water restrictions.
4. Make use of green technology as much as possible - this can include:
Using highly water and energy-efficient appliances that make available water and power go further. In a crisis, this might make all the difference in riding it out.
Optimising heating and cooling systems to make use of available renewable energy, especially solar PV - at both the household and community level.
Ditching gas appliances as gas is unlikely to have a future in a carbon constrained world.
5. Consider your community's ability to evolve - Although much great research has been undertaken on the upcoming changes in our climate, it's good to be alert and on top of new information released that could affect your community. Part of making a community resilient is ensuring that it can adapt to new circumstances whenever it's needed.
6. Talk to your customers about climate resilience - customers are becoming increasingly concerned about the future. Showing how you've prepared your community for climate change may likely be a sales differentiator versus other communities.
This is just a small sample of the kind of steps that an be taken towards climate change adaption. This year, New Energy Ventures will be continuing to take an interest in this issue, assisting property developers to consider and implement climate adaption measures. Let us know if you would like to be involved in this journey to create better, more resilient local communities.