Climate change and emergency management

From the report Review of 10 years of reform in Victoria's emergency management sector

 

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT SECTOR

 

This report was released in October 2020. It outlines the changes in management of emergencies in Victoria since the 2009 Black Saturday fires and makes a series of observations and recommendations. The report is available here.

 

This is the section on climate change.

 

Climate change is real and it's having an impact on our emergency services.
Former Minister for Emergency Services, James Merlino, 16 May 2018.

 

The government recognises climate change as one of the most critical threats to the future wellbeing and prosperity of Victoria.

There have already been changes in Victoria's climate including increased frequency of extreme heat events and extreme fire weather days, increased heavy rainfall days, greater severity of droughts, and lengthening of the fire season. These trends are projected to continue, with increased risk of heatwaves, bushfires and floods in Victoria.

Climate change is also associated with increased and more diverse environmental risks, and human and animal health hazards such as algae blooms, mosquito-borne diseases and food security issues. Changes in human behaviour and the built environment associated with climate change are also likely to directly and indirectly increase emergency risks.

There is a financial and human cost of climate change and its impact on natural hazards. The economic cost of bushfire is projected to rise from an average of $172 million per year in 2014 to $378 million per year by 2050.98 Without a significant change in behaviour, there will be an additional 6214 deaths by 2050 from heatwaves caused by climate change in Victoria.

The changing climate is creating a risk profile that is associated with a greater frequency and severity of natural hazards and emergencies occurring simultaneously. The sector is already managing a longer and more intense fire season, and more extreme heat and storm events.

The capacity of the sector to respond to both Class 1 and Class 2 emergencies will be challenged by climate change. Cascading and compounding consequences of emergencies will increase as more people rely on essential services such as electricity and water. Longer and more severe emergencies are likely to result in higher levels of staff and volunteer fatigue and increased demand on equipment and infrastructure. Globally, there are implications for reciprocal resource sharing as the fire seasons in the Northern and Southern hemispheres increasingly overlap.

In 2009 the VBRC found that climate change projections needed to be factored into all areas of emergency management, and specifically emphasised the need to consider climate change in land use planning, bushfire risk mapping, fuel load management and workforce capacity.

In Victoria, actions to address the causes and effects of climate change have become increasingly formalised and aligned across all government portfolios, including the sector.

DELWP is the lead organisation for the whole-of-government climate change program based on Victoria's Climate Change Framework and Victoria's Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Both documents recognise the significant risks associated with climate change and note the leadership role for state government in emergency management.

 

Greenhill Lake, Victoria 

Since 2014 the sector has commenced several programs that explicitly consider the effects of climate change, including Safer Together and the Floodplain Management Strategy. Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) also advised IGEM that it is encouraging all portfolios of sector-wide work to consider climate change risk and adaptation.

In 2017 the government introduced the Climate Change Act 2017 that requires all departments to consider climate change and, in some cases, make tangible commitments to climate risk management practices. Overall, the actions directed towards the sector require preparation and planning for severe climate events that are likely to increase the frequency and severity of Class 1 and Class 2 emergencies.

In 2018 EMV was no longer able to fund a climate change leadership role and started to act as a facilitator for the sector to connect sector organisations to the state-wide program. Previous plans were to act on the readiness assessment and assist sector organisations to report on climate change pledges as per the Climate Change Act 2017.

The sector has increased its awareness of climate change, which reflects the broader shift across government. Stakeholders recognise that the concept of shared responsibility and many of the sector's current capacity issues are increasingly important in the context of climate change. This has been recognised in some hazard-specific plans such as the Heat Health Plan for Victoria that provides advice for state, regional and municipal tiers of government.

IGEM saw evidence of organisational awareness-raising initiatives and programs to reduce emergency risk in general that are applicable to climate change mitigation and adaptation. For example, MFB is currently collaborating with New Zealand to develop guidance for conducting a climate change focused risk assessment and DELWP has led a pilot initiative in the water sector to improve planning for the current and future impacts of climate change.

As Victoria prepares for future emergencies, the likelihood of more severe and frequent emergencies due to climate change needs to be a central consideration. A coordinated approach across the sector is needed for risk management initiatives to be most effective.

Observation 4

The Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) observes that the emergency management sector will be increasingly challenged by climate change and urges a centrally coordinated approach to managing risk and preparing for the increasing demands on the sector. IGEM notes the findings in the Review of 10 years of reform in Victoria's emergency management sector are likely to become increasingly relevant as climate change progresses and emergency risks increase.