Unprecedented yet so close: why heatwaves and flooding could be here to stay

This past week the news have sizzled with news about extreme fire events, large ranging bushfires in Sweden and Greece.

Japan declared last week the heatwave a disasters while being faced with an “unprecedented” heatwave. 22 000 people were taken to hospital and this has impacted the elderly in particular.

Portugal is set to face the heat this weekend, with temperatures likely to fair around +50. (Stay cool, Suraje!).

Wherever you look in the news, it seems that something more drastic and out of ordinary is happening across the globe.

When I’ve read these news items (and preparing a lecture on climate change adaptation), it has really made me think as to what we mean by “unprecendented” and how we judge the concept in today’s world.

It has also really brought to the fore the kinds of climate risks that we are likely to have to deal with in the future even more regularly.

Cyclones predicted to move further south

Last week a new study was published in Nature Climate Change that again raised the evidence bar on the possibility that cyclones could move further towards the poles.

This means for Australia that the cyclone zone, which currently is mainly located in the north and north-east could potentially move further south.

The fastest growing region in Australia, South East Queensland, is located currently away from this cyclone zone but this could change.

The fact that cyclones can potentially move further south should be a concern especially places like the Gold Coast where I live.

I was interviewed by local tv station as to what the implications of the study were and why this is a concern for governments.

After the news segment had aired on local news, I got lots of feedback. Friends made concerned comments, especially those who live on the coast or beachfront. What does this mean for them?

I didn’t really have an answer except what I said in the interview, that governments do need to start considering such potential risks especially given that cities like the Gold Coast have not been built up to cyclone standard.

Partly this is because the latest major cyclone occurred in 1974 and most of the city’s infrastructure and housing developments have occurred since.

Add to the fact that the city is situated on a floodplain, there are numerous challenges to consider in the planning process and how adaptation can and should unfold.

Considering climate risks and property

At the same time the City of Gold Coast has provided updated flood risk maps, based on the 0.8 meter sea level rise by 2100 and the 1-in-100 storm scenarios.

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This allows people to check which suburbs are likely the frontline places to experience extensive flooding in the future.

New buyers in the property market, like myself, would do well to at least entertain the idea of checking out such information.

The council does in fact also provide property specific flood information on request but so far this has been focusing on past historical flooding.

What the interactive map does is to allow people to consider this aspect of risk and also gain a better understanding of their neighbourhood and area that they live in.

This also brings home the need to consider climate change adaptation already now, and how our cities are increasingly vulnerable to different weather and climate impacts.

Moving forward with Adaptation 

This is one of the reasons why in a few weeks we are organising an event at Griffith University that really looks at how different governments are responding to climate risks and what they are doing about climate adaptation.

This includes for example governments of UK and Ireland, our own state government, and also how such organisations as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) summarise and provide the evidence base for decision-makers.

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I am particularly excited about this event as this will also include launching the book “Limits to Climate Change Adaptation” that I co-edited and that is the first comprehensive book on the concept of adaptation limits.

I have had numerous discussions about the book and the concept of limits prior and after the book has been published. Most often I get asked by policymakers how they can operationalise (use the concept) in their work and decision-making, and how it can be incorporated into policy.

Given the newness of the concept, in both theory and practice, I haven’t really had a robust answer to this yet.

But trust me, one is coming especially as we start understanding further what such limits are in practice, where these are emerging, and how communities, individuals and organisations start dealing with these.

The fact is that there is no “new normal” as the climate system continues to shift. What we do need are drastic emission reductions while also making sure that we are doing what we can to adapt to now and also putting in strategies that we can address climate risks also in the future.

Which reminds me… I’ve taken up a new role as a managing editor for the journal Climate Risk Management with kickass co-editors-in-chief Benjamin Preston and Suraje Dessai. Watch this space…

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