IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

11.2.5 Current adaptation

Since vulnerability is influenced by adaptation, a summary of current adaptation is given here rather than in Section 11.5 (which looks at future adaptation). Adaptation refers to planned and autonomous (or spontaneous) adjustments in natural or human systems in response to climatic stimuli. Adaptation can reduce harmful effects or exploit opportunities (see Chapter 17). An example of autonomous adaptation is the intensification of grazing in the rangelands of north-west Australia over the last 30 years, as graziers have exploited more reliable and better pasture growth following an increase in monsoon rainfall (Ash et al., 2006). However, there is currently insufficient information to comprehensively quantify this capacity. While planned adaptation usually refers to specific measures or actions, it can also be viewed as a dynamic process that evolves over time, involving five major pre-conditions for encouraging implementation (Figure 11.1). This section assesses how well Australia and New Zealand are engaged in the adaptation process.

Figure 11.1

Figure 11.1. Adaptation as a process (Warrick, 2000, 2006).

Provision of knowledge, data and tools.

Since the TAR, the New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has created a separate strategic fund for global change research (FRST, 2005). Operational research and development related to climate impacts on specific sectors have also increased over the last 10 years (e.g., agricultural impacts, decision-support systems and extension activities for integration with farmers’ knowledge) (Kenny, 2002; MAF, 2006). One of Australia’s four National Research Priorities is “an environmentally sustainable Australia”, which includes “responding to climate change and variability” (DEST, 2004). The Australian Climate Change Science Programme and the National Climate Change Adaptation Programme are part of this effort (Allen Consulting Group, 2005). All Australian state and territory governments have greenhouse action plans that include development of knowledge, data and tools.

Risk assessments

A wide range of regional and sectoral risk assessments has been undertaken since 2001 (see Section 11.4). Both countries occasionally produce national reports that synthesise these assessments and provide a foundation for adaptation (MfE, 2001; Warrick et al., 2001; Howden et al., 2003a; Pittock, 2003). Regionally relevant guidelines are available for use in risk assessments (Wratt et al., 2004; AGO, 2006).


Climate change issues are gradually being ‘mainstreamed’ into policies, plans and strategies for development and management. For example, in New Zealand, the Coastal Policy Statement included consideration of sea-level rise (DoC, 1994), the Resource Management (Energy and Climate Change) Amendment Act 2004 made explicit provisions for the effects of climate change, and the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act 2002 requires regional and local government authorities (LGAs) to plan for future natural hazards. New Zealand farmers, particularly in the east, implemented a range of adaptation measures in response to droughts in the 1980s and 1990s and as a result of the removal of almost all subsidies. Increasing numbers of farmers are focusing on building long-term resilience with a diversity of options (Kenny, 2005; Salinger et al., 2005b). In Australia, climate change is included in several environmentally focused action plans, including the National Agriculture and Climate Change Action Plan (NRMMC, 2006) and the National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan. A wide range of water adaptation strategies has been implemented or proposed (Table 11.2), including US$1.5 billion for the National Water Fund from 2004 to 2009 and US$1.7 billion for drought relief from 2001 to 2006.

Table 11.2. Examples of government adaptation strategies to cope with water shortages in Australia.

Government Strategy Investment Source 
Australia Drought aid payments to rural communities US$1.7 billion from 2001 to 2006 DAFF, 2006b 
Australia National Water Initiative, supported by the Australian Water Fund US$1.5 billion from 2004 to 2009 DAFF, 2006a 
Australia Murray-Darling Basin Water Agreement  US$0.4 billion from 2004 to 2009 DPMC, 2004 
Victoria Melbourne’s Eastern Treatment Plant to supply recycled water US$225 million by 2012 Melbourne Water, 2006 
Victoria New pipeline from Bendigo to Ballarat, water recycling, interconnections between dams, reducing channel seepage, conservation measures US$153 million by 2015 Premier of Victoria, 2006 
Victoria Wimmera Mallee pipeline replacing open irrigation channels US$376 million by 2010 Vic DSE, 2006 
NSW NSW Water Savings Fund supports projects which save or recycle water in Sydney US$98 million for Round 3, plus more than US$25 million to 68 other projects DEUS, 2006 
Queensland (Qld) Qld Water Plan 2005 to 2010 to improve water-use efficiency and quality, recycling, drought preparedness, new water pricing Includes US$182 million for water infrastructure in south-east Qld, and US$302 million to other infrastructure programmes Queensland Government, 2005 
South Australia Water Proofing Adelaide project is a blueprint for the management, conservation and development of Adelaide’s water resources to 2025 N/A Government of South Australia, 2005 
Western Australia (WA) State Water Strategy (2003) and State Water Plan (proposed) WA Water Corporation doubled supply from 1996 to 2006  US$500 million spent by WA Water Corporation from 1996 to 2006, plus US$290 million for the Perth desalination plant Government of Western Australia, 2003, 2006; Water Corporation, 2006 

Climate change is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Climate change has been integrated into several state-based and regional strategies, such as the Queensland Coastal Management Plan, the Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Action Plan, the Victorian Sustainable Water Strategy and South Australia’s Natural Resources Management Plan. The Wild Country (The Wilderness Society), Gondwana Links (Western Australia) and Nature Links (South Australia) and Alps to Atherton (Victoria, NSW, Queensland) initiatives promote connectivity of landscapes and resilience of natural systems in recognition of the fact that some species will need to migrate as climate zones shift. Guidelines prepared for the coastal and ocean engineering profession for implementing coastal management strategies include consideration of climate change (Engineers Australia, 2004).

Evaluation and monitoring

The New Zealand Climate Committee monitors the present state of knowledge of climate science, climate variability and current and future climate impacts, and makes recommendations about research and monitoring needs, priorities and gaps regarding climate, its impacts and the application of climate information (RSNZ, 2002). In Australia, the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) monitors and evaluates performance against objectives in the National Greenhouse Strategy. The AGO and state and territory governments commission research to assess current climate change knowledge, gaps and priorities for research on risk and vulnerability (Allen Consulting Group, 2005). The National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA, 2001) and State of the Environment Report (SOE, 2001) also have climate-change elements.

Awareness raising and capacity building

In New Zealand, efforts are underway for transferring scientific information to LGAs and facilitating exchange of information between LGAs. The New Zealand Climate Change Office has held a number of workshops for LGAs (MfE, 2002, 2004b), supported case studies of ‘best practice’ adaptation by LGAs, and has commissioned guidance documents for LGAs on integrating climate change adaptation into their functions (MfE, 2004c). The AGO, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and most Australian state and territory governments have developed products and services for raising awareness about climate change. Government-supported capacity-building programmes, such as the Australian National Landcare Programme, enhance resilience to climate change via mechanisms such as whole-farm planning.

In general, the domestic focus of both countries has, until recently, been on mitigation, while adaptation has had a secondary role in terms of policy effort and government funding for implementation (MfE, 2004b). However, since the TAR, recognition of the necessity for adaptation has grown and concrete steps have been taken to bolster the pre-conditions for adaptation, as discussed above. Initiatives such as the Australia-New Zealand Bilateral Climate Change Partnership (AGO, 2003) explicitly include adaptation. Overall, in comparison to most other countries, New Zealand and Australia have a relatively high and growing level of adaptive capacity, which has the potential to be implemented systematically on a wide scale.