Critical infrastructure such as transport, housing, electricity and water could be at major risk from sea level rise and extreme temperatures according to a new senate inquiry.
According to a report on the recent inquiry by the Environment and Communications References Committee, Australia has a significant amount of residential dwellings, buildings and infrastructure, with 2015 figures indicating that the eight million buildings across the country have an approximate replacement cost of $5.7 trillion.
With Australia’s varied and sometimes harsh climate, it is imperative that these buildings can withstand both the current climate and expected future changes to climate. The report states that one of the key concerns for Australia is that sea levels are rising as a result of ocean thermal expansion, with an increase in water entering the ocean from melting glaciers and ice caps.
Globally, sea levels increased between 1993 and 2016 at an average rate of 2.6 to 2.9mm per year, amounting to a total increase in the order of 7cm over that period.
“Most Australians live along the coast, and we’re staring down the barrel of sea level rise of 1.1m by 2100 and some 250,000 existing homes at risk of inundation,” said Ms Rice, Chair of the Environment and Communications References Committee.
“We’ll see the average number of over 35 celcius days more than double from the current eleven to 24 per year in Melbourne, from 28 a year to 63 in Perth, Brisbane more than quadruples from 12 to 55 but worst of all is Darwin, which will have 265 days per year where the maximum temperature is over 35 degrees centigrade.”
The impact of climate change on infrastructure assets used for transportation and utilities are the same as those generally faced by buildings.
The report states that rising sea levels will have the same consequences for essential infrastructure in low-lying areas as it will for houses and other buildings. However, it is critical to account for the interconnectivities and interdependencies between infrastructure types.
For example, electricity is essential for operation of many types of transport; however, resilient transportation assets such as roads are also needed for accessing electricity generation and network facilities.
Climate change may mean that the lifespan of these infrastructure assets is shorter than planned, or that maintenance costs increase significantly. It may also mean that repairs are needed more frequently, or that materials used in transportation infrastructure could deteriorate more quickly.
Higher temperatures are expected to increase heat stress on transport infrastructure, with sealed roads and rail lines then becoming particularly vulnerable.
According to Ms Rice, the evidence made clear that the cost of climate adaptation in a four degree world is simply too high to bear. She said that rapid reduction of carbon pollution is the only way that Australia will be able to adapt to climate change.