Sea level rises due to climate change could cost Australia $200b, Climate Council report finds
Future sea level rises could put more than $200 billion of Australian infrastructure at risk, a report by the Climate Council has found.
The report, Counting the Costs: Climate Change and Coastal Flooding, showed sea levels were likely to rise by between 40 centimetres and one metre over the next century.
The report’s lead author, Professor Will Steffen, warned national income would suffer huge losses if action was not taken to protect against rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
“You’re looking at anywhere from three tenths of a per cent of loss of GDP per year, all the way up to 9 per cent loss of GDP per year,” Professor Steffen said.
Coastal flooding report:
At least $226 billion of infrastructure exposed to flooding and erosion (with a 1.1m sea level rise), including:
- $81b – commercial buildings
- $72b – residential
- $67b – road and rail
- $6b – light industrial buildings
Source: Climate Council
“That upper scenario is higher than the growth rate of GDP per year, so you’re looking basically at staggering economic costs if we don’t get this under control.”
The Victorian coast, the south-east corner of Queensland and Sydney would be the hardest hit by rising sea levels, the report found.
With more than 75 per cent of Australians living near the coast, Professor Steffen said large swathes of infrastructure were at risk.
“Much of our road, rail, port facilities, airports and so on are on the coast,” he said.
“If you look at a 1.1 metre sea level rise – which is the high-end scenario for 2100 but that’s what we’re tracking towards – you’re looking at more than $200 billion worth of infrastructure that’s at risk.”
Professor Steffen said so-called once-in-a-lifetime natural events could become regular occurrences.
“If you look at some of our most vulnerable areas, and the Sydney region is one of those, you would say toward the end of this century that a one-in-100-year flood is going to be happening every few days,” he said.
“That’s an impossible situation to cope with.”
Professor Steffen said infrastructure projects, like the new runway planned for Brisbane’s airport, needed to factor in future sea rises.
“The people who are investing actually went to the best scientists here in Australia, experts of sea level rises, and took the best science into account and decided they were going to build that third runway higher than previously planned,” he said.
If sea level rises were ignored, by 2050 the report predicted the global the impact of coastal flooding would cost $US1 trillion per year – the same size as the Australian economy.
Climate change impacting insurance premiums
The Climate Council warned sea level rises would put pressure on home insurance premiums, as rising sea levels fed coastal erosion.
Australian Local Government Association president Felicity-Ann Lewis said erosion was already causing problems for home owners.
National infrastructure within 200 metres of the coastline:
- 120 ports
- five power stations/substations
- three water treatment plants
- 258 police, fire and ambulance stations
- 75 hospitals and health services
- 11 emergency services facilities
- 41 waste disposal facilities
“The insurance industry is very interested in this because some of the insurance premiums are becoming such that people can’t afford to take out insurance on their properties,” Dr Lewis said.
“This is a very big issue.”
Dr Lewis said a lack of coordination across all levels of government was impeding action.
“It’s a very mixed bag; there is no consistent view or approach for local government to try to deal with this,” she said.
“Each state and territory association is trying to deal with different guidelines; there is no consensus around that, so for us it’s a very big challenge.”