This past week I haven’t had much time or energy to read, the perks of being on a holiday… although I have to confess I walked into a second hand book store and got a “few” books now waiting for me… (below the evidence; my mother thought I was kidding when I had stacked these up in the bookstore).
So given that my blogs are usually about books, this one is not going to be one but a more reflective piece what has been going in Australia (but the next one will be for sure as I settle back into my routines with work and reading).
For the past few weeks, I have mostly been spending time with my son, mother and stepfather; taking time off and not doing all my reflection exercises and career planning and whatnot that I had planned for as I was going to be on “holidays”.
Instead, I have been following the bushfire crises news here in Australia, being thankful that where we live, we have been able to have fresh air and have not been affected by the fires.
But at the same time, feeling very helpless in the face of these disasters occurring across Australia, checking in on friends and colleagues who are in the affected areas, and also observing how these events are both portrayed in the news and what the political leadership has done.
What is most depressing is that the government was warned several times over the years about the potential devastation that climate change could bring about through increases in bushfire risks due to less rainfall in many parts of Australia.
The fire chiefs in Australia have been very vocal about these risks as have the scientists and organisations who are keeping up to date with the latest science and latest observations of the trends that are shaping Australia’s climate (see here for an eloquent piece on adaptation in Australia that sums up this discussion nicely).
And we have also known for years, through Australia’s previous government’s investments, in what climate adaptation strategies are needed and should be implemented.
From Adaptation Leader to…?
When I came to Australia in 2009 to do my PhD in climate change adaptation at Griffith University, Australia was seen as one of the most progressive countries in adaptation science through its investments and building up national capacity in climate adaptation.
Griffith University had just succeeded in bidding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) that was established on the Gold Coast campus and spearheaded national adaptation science efforts in Australia for a decade.
It boosted the capacity especially of early career researchers to undertake critical adaptation science but it also established several major research networks across Australia that produced National Research Plans (including an Emergency Management Network), and worked closely with policymakers to assist Australia to start thinking about adaptation.
For example, NCCARF has produced a report on the Leading adaptation practices and support strategies for Australia: An international and Australian review of products and tools and numerous other key reports, policy briefs and communication materials that have aimed to assist local, state and Federal governments, communities, NGOs and the private sector in finding out what adaptation is, how it should be implemented and what tools are out there.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) had a Climate Adaptation Flagship that also produced key reports and research knowledge on how Australian and Australians can adapt to climate change across sectors and places.
Yet, what has become clear is that no amount of knowledge influences a political view on climate change especially in a context where climate change is seen first and fore mostly as a political issue, rather than a reality.
Australia has in fact become known now for its political bickering over action rather than for foresight in putting in places strategies that can support more resilient and adapted communities and subnational governments.
Adaptation on the ground: here and now
But this does not mean that there is no action at all on adaptation to climate change.
Many state, local and city governments are surpassing expectations about what can be done: for example,Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has set ambitious goals for reducing emissions and supporting adaptation to climate change.
Adaptation plans, frameworks and policies do exist across the country at different levels and for different groups although the implementation of these policies and plans is often the issue.
Yet, we do still find that there has been less focus on climate adaptation than there has been on reducing emissions as adaptation is often thought about as a distant thing in the future that future generations will have to deal with.
But the current climate crises in Australia show a stark contrast to this assumption: the many impacts that we talk about are already occurring and we do need to talk about adaptation here and now.
Going forward, people need to look at the evidence of what has changed, what is different in the environments that we live in, and which strategies and investments can be put in place in order to make our communities better prepared.
This includes direct investments in capacity of firefighting organisations, decreased heavy reliance on volunteer firefighters as many have full-time work somewhere else, and investing in equipment that is needed across communities.
But it needs to go further than that: we need to understand the national capacity and capability to respond to these kinds of emergencies that extends also to our health services, both immediate and longer-term mental health assistance and support.
For me, we need to talk about adaptation on daily basis and make adaptation a normalised issue that people understand, including the actions they can take in the long-term.
Not out of fear, not out of catastrophes, but due to adaptation’s potential to help individuals, communities, companies and governments to build a more resilient future in the places that they govern, love and cherish.
Adaptation ultimately is about both planning for the future while confronted with the current evidence, and being able to shift gears when needed.