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Preparing for the Era of Disasters

By Robert Glasser

Preparing for the Era of Disasters, a new ASPI Special Report by Dr Robert Glasser, warns that we are entering a new era in the security of Australia, not because of terrorism, the rise of China or even the cybersecurity threat, but because of climate change.

As the world warms beyond 2°C, as now seems increasingly likely, an era of disasters will be upon us with profound implications for how we organise ourselves to protect Australian lives, property and economic interests and our way of life.

The Report surveys the features of this emerging era of disasters including an increase in concurrent extreme weather events and in events that follow in closer succession. Communities may manage the first few but, in their weakened state, be overwhelmed by those following. Large parts of the country that are currently marginally viable for agriculture are increasingly likely to be in chronic crisis from the compounding impacts of the steady rise of temperature, floods, drought and bushfires. Dr Glasser contends that the scale of those impacts will be unprecedented, and the patterns that the hazards take will change in ways that will be difficult to anticipate.

He notes that this emerging Era of Disasters will not only increasingly stretch emergency services, undermine community resilience and escalate economic costs and losses of life, but also have profound implications for food security in our immediate region, with cascading impacts that will undermine Australia’s national security.

Dr Glasser outlines a number of steps the Australian Government and the state and local governments should begin taking now to prepare for the unprecedented scale of these emerging challenges, including:

  1. scale-up Australia’s efforts to prevent the effects from natural hazards, such as from extreme weather, from becoming disasters through greater investment in disaster risk reduction.
  2. increased planning for financial support to 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.
  3. strengthening disaster response capacity and planning at all levels, including in the military which will play an increasingly important role in transporting firefighters and equipment, fodder drops from helicopters and the provision of shelters, etc.  Joint task forces to coordinate the defence contribution, like the one established during the Black Saturday Victorian bushfires, will become increasingly necessary.
  4. ensure that flood and bushfire risk maps, building codes, planning schemes, infrastructure delivery and the supporting legislation fully embed consideration of climate change effects.