Strategic, long-term adaptation planning is vital to addressing the clear and inevitable effects of climate change. The current approach to adaptation planning in Australia is not well defined or coordinated at the state or federal level. As a result, it is not capable of meeting the ever-increasing challenge driven by climate risk and must be transformed. The latest IPCC report clearly states that climate change is already leading to more frequent and intense extreme events. Even with concerted mitigation efforts the effects of climate change are set to become increasingly severe. Mitigation action is still essential but without effective adaptation action, the consequences to built infrastructure, supply chains, water, agriculture, environmental systems and ultimately the welfare of our community will be dire.

Effective adaptation action begins with good planning. Currently adaptation planning mostly occurs in response to specific events, and is hazard specific, short-term and geographically isolated. The delegation of adaptation planning to local governments, with limited support, is also leading to inadequately informed, funded and coordinated planning. The approach leads to a bias towards current or realised risks, ‘quick fix’ and short-term adaptation options. Ultimately this planning is not capable of effectively identifying and prioritising appropriate public and private adaptation actions across locations, time and hazards. At worst this can lead to inaction, poor decisions and maladaptation. This leaves our communities and ecosystems vulnerable and our governments needing to invest ever increasing resources into response and recovery.

There are some examples of more advanced adaptions planning approaches, including in coastal management in Queensland (QCoast2100) and NSW (Coastal Management Programs). Sarah Leck insight ‘Lessons from Queensland’s coastal adaptation planning process’ highlights some of the opportunities and challenges of the QCoast2100 program. In other areas, local governments and state agencies are trying to find their own way with some success. A more coordinated approach would result in more effective and value for money adaptation actions.

Driving coordinated and strategic adaptation planning

Transformation of the adaptation planning process is required to meet the real and growing climate challenges. States, or the Commonwealth, need to provide an overarching framework to guide strategic and long-term adaptation plans at the regional or local government scale. The framework should outline the planning approach, steps, scale and coordination. Importantly the framework should be supported by adaptation policy that clarifies the role of government, agencies and the private sector and removes barries to adaptation. The framework must also be funded and comprise appropriate complementary measures, including:

  • Planning guidance that outlines the processes, inputs and expected outputs of each step, supported by practical examples and advice.
  • Capability building to support local government and other responsible entities to confidently manage complex and technical planning requirements.
  • Governance and coordination across levels of government, and to support regional collaboration, to ensure roles and responsibilities are clear and barriers to implementation are removed.
  • Data and information at an appropriate scale should be provided by state, if not federal, agencies to drive accuracy, consistency and avoid duplication.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of any implemented plans to drive continuous improvement and demonstrate and communicate success.

What can individual agencies, organisations and businesses do now?

Implementing a new adaptation planning framework at the state or federal level is imperative but will not happen immediately. There are still actions that can be taken now by individual organisations to continue to progress and improve adaptation planning, including:

  • Be proactive – don’t wait for a disaster event to define your adaptation planning and action. Develop a simple adaptation planning approach for integrating adaptation into decision-making.
  • Identify planning steps – be clear on the steps needed to develop an adaptation plan. See our upcoming insight outlining the key steps required for effective adaptation planning.
  • Understand your readiness – most organisations already have some adaptation planning components, even if not labelled as adaptation. Identifying your existing capability, key gaps and barriers helps prioritise action.
  • Be practical and realistic – understanding readiness and having defined planning steps should help identify areas of highest priority. Being realistic will avoid inertia and help build internal support.
  • Consider all adaptation options – hard engineering actions must be considered alongside a broad toolkit of options including nature-based solutions, education and awareness, supply chain resilience and many others.
  • Monitor, evaluate and improve – implementing adaptation actions is still a relatively new field and monitoring and learning from actions will be important for improving the effectiveness of actions over time.

The time to act on adaptation is now and everyone has a role to play. Without considered and coordinated adaptation planning we will continue to underinvest in action, and the adaptation we do invest in may be sub optional or even maladaptive.