Infrastructure Australia has released A Pathway to Infrastructure Resilience; advisory papers  outlining practical steps to plan and deliver more resilient infrastructure in response to increasing levels of threats, as the national cost of natural disasters is predicted to hit $39 billion by 2050.

The events of recent years, including the global pandemic, bushfires, droughts, floods, other extreme weather events, and cyber threats, have highlighted Australia’s vulnerability to natural and non-natural threats and their social, environmental and economic impacts.

The cost of these threats is significant, with the Insurance Council of Australia reporting that the cost of insurance claims for the four natural disasters that were declared over the 2019–20 summer (hailstorms, flood, storms and bushfire) has surpassed $5.19 billion.

The total economic cost of natural disasters in Australia over the 10 years to 2016 averaged $18.2 billion per year. It is predicted to rise to $39 billion per year by 2050 – and these estimates do not factor in the potential for increased frequency or severity of events due to climate change. 

Recognising the increasingly complex role infrastructure now plays in supporting resilience, Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure NSW partnered on A Pathway to Infrastructure Resilience, to identify opportunities to improve how infrastructure is planned and increase resilience.

A Pathway to Infrastructure Resilience recommends a whole-of-system, all-hazards approach to resilience planning that focuses on strengthening an infrastructure asset, network and sector, as well as the place, precinct, city, and region that the infrastructure operates within.

It aims to create resilient communities that can resist, absorb, accommodate, recover, transform and thrive in response to the effects of shocks and stresses in a timely, efficient manner to enable sustainable economic, social, environmental and governance outcomes.

A Pathway to Infrastructure Resilience consists of two advisory papers:

  • Advisory Paper 1: Opportunities for systemic change – identifies ten directions for transformational and systemic change in infrastructure planning to achieve infrastructure for resilience.
  • Advisory Paper 2: Guidance for asset owners and operators in the short term – identifies a series of short-term actions for asset owners and operators as the first steps towards this change.

Infrastructure Australia’s ten steps towards a systemic approach to managing risk:

 1. Improve strategic alignment of resilience governance: Governance that adopts a systemic view of risk and establishes the accountability and resourcing

2. Manage uncertainty through scenario planning: A common set of future scenarios to streamline planning and support cross-sector coordination and shared responsibility

3. Improve data collection and sharing for informed planning, action and decision-making: Coordinating, sharing and standardising critical disaster and climate data

4. Adopt place-based approaches for resilience: Planning tools and data to consider multiple place-based issues and address resilience and community needs

5. Embed resilience into land use planning and development decisions: Planning systems that value and set resilience as policy objectives, incorporate new and emerging data, capture local opportunities

6. Improve infrastructure investment decision-making: Agreed mechanisms and guidance for quantifying the projected economic, social, environmental and governance implications of the impacts associated with managing uncertainty or resilience

7. Collect and share information on asset and network vulnerability: A shared understanding of the impacts to interconnected systems

8. Value blue and green infrastructure: Improving the understanding, valuation and governance of the green and blue infrastructure

9. Build trust through more inclusive decision-making: Including communities and informing them about the risk, uncertainty and trade-offs related to infrastructure services and their livelihoods

10. Embed traditional ecological knowledge in decision-making: Draw on traditional ecological knowledge to manage land and natural resources and mitigate-risk

Development of Advisory Papers 

The steps proposed to improve resilience in response to all hazards and across sectors are informed by the latest thinking from over 600 experts. 

The recommendations are informed by The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangement, The National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework, the independent NSW Bushfire Inquiry and a series of 16 stakeholder workshops.

Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive, Romilly Madew, said, “The events of recent years have brought Australia’s vulnerability to threats such as bushfires, droughts, floods, pandemic and cyber-attack into sharp relief. 

“The impact on many communities has been devastating, however we also have a real opportunity to learn from these challenges and ensure our infrastructure can better withstand disruption and adapt to shocks and stresses.

“We need a shift in focus from the resilience of assets themselves, to the contribution of assets to the resilience of the system. Asset and network owners and operators will need to work more closely with the community, emergency responders, and Australian governments at all levels to meet local needs.

Ms Madew said in addition to building organisational resilience and personnel capabilities, this requires a renewed focus on building the resilience of our communities.

“There is enormous value in driving systemic change in Australia’s resilience planning. By 2050, the annual cost of natural disasters in Australia is expected to more than double – from $18 billion per year to more than $39 billion.”

Infrastructure Australia acknowledges that achieving the level of collaboration needed to achieve infrastructure for resilience will be challenging and that a shared vision supported by trusted guidance and resources will be critical.

“We encourage all levels of government, communities, industry and academia to build on and make use of this research,” Ms Madew said.

Read Advisory Paper 1: Opportunities for systemic change and Advisory Paper 2: Guidance for asset owners and operators in the short term here.

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