12.8.5. Human Environments
The most vulnerable human environments in Australia and New Zealand are those
that are subject to potential coastal or riverine flooding, landslides, or tropical
cyclones and other intense storms. Adaptation to natural variability in these
cases usually takes the form of planning zones, such as setbacks from coasts
and flood levels of particular return periods or engineering standards for buildings
and infrastructure. Many of these settlements and structures have long lifetimescomparable
to that of anthropogenic climate change. This means that many planning zones
and design standards may become inappropriate in a changing climate.
Adaptation in these circumstances depends on costs and benefits, the lifetime
of the structures, and the acceptability of redesigned measures or structures
(e.g., seawalls). Thus, responses will depend in part on aesthetic and economic
considerations; poorer communities, such as many indigenous settlements, will
be particularly vulnerable. Conflicts will arise between investors with short
time horizons and local government or other bodies who think on longer time
scales and may bear responsibility for planning or emergency measures. Complex
jurisdictional arrangements often will add to the difficulties of adopting rational
adaptation measures (Waterman, 1996).
In an attempt to meet these problems for the Australian coastline, a guide
has been developed for response to rising seas and climate change (May et al.,
1998), as well as good practice and coastal engineering guidelines (Institution
of Engineers, 1998; RAPI, 1998).
Local governments in some parts of Australia and New Zealand are identifying
measures they could implement to adapt to climate change. For example, the Wellington
Regional Council is required by its Regional Policy Statement to periodically
review current knowledge on climate change and possible effects on natural hazards;
the Council already allows for climate-induced variability in its flood protection
activities (Green, 1999).
The region's health infrastructure is quite strong, and numerous existing
adaptations, such as quarantine and eradication of disease vectors, are available
to deal with the main changes expected. However, there is concern that already
disadvantaged communities, especially indigenous people, may not have equitable
access to adaptation measures. Another issue is the question of adaptations
to deal with a climatic impact that may cause secondary effects. Examples include
adaptations that require more energy production or higher water use, and vector
controls that result in reduced population immunity to the disease carried.
12.8.6. Indigenous People
Traditional indigenous societies in the region have lived in a close and conscious
relationship with their environment (Tunks, 1997; Skertchly and Skertchly, 2000).
Australian Aborigines have modified and managed the landscape through the controlled
use of low-intensity fire (Kohen, 1995). They have lived in Australia for at
least 40,000 years. Thus, they have a long history of adaptation to sea-level
rise, which rose by 130 m from the last glacial maximum 18,000 years ago until
the present level was reached 6,000 years ago. Memories of these traumatic events
are found in oral traditions recorded by early European settlers (Mulvaney and
With the recognition of indigenous land rights, indigenous people in both countries
are now major land managers (Coombs et al., 1990; Langton, 1997) and hence are
impacted by and responsible for managing climatic impacts. The importance of
their participation in the development of policy and response strategies to
climate change is discussed in New Zealand Climate Change Programme (1990) and
Tunks (1997), but to date their involvement has been minimal. This is a result
partly of greater emphasis in Australia and elsewhere on mitigation of climate
change rather than adaptation (Cohen, 1997), lack of indigenous community involvement
in climate change research, and the array of other more pressing social issues
for such communities (Braaf, 1999).
12.8.7. Extra-Regional Factors
Basher et al. (1998) draw attention to the vulnerability of the region to external
influences arising from climate changein particular, from likely changes
in terms of trade (see also Stafford Smith et al., 1999). Increased risk of
invasion by exotic pests, weeds, and diseases and possible immigration from
neighboring territories rendered uninhabitable by rising sea level are other
factors. These issues exist independent of climate change but are likely to
be exacerbated by climate change. A variety of adaptations to deal with each
problem exist and can be strengthened, but the costs involved and remaining
impacts could be considerable.