Climate adaptation summit outlines priorities for a national approach

April 29, 2021
Reimagining Climate Adaptation Summit 2021

Critical priorities

A summit featuring climate, industry, community and government leaders has outlined critical priorities for future frameworks and collaboration for Australia to adapt to climate change.

Future Earth Australia, hosted by the Australian Academy of Science, held the Reimagining Climate Adaptation Summit from 19 to 21 April.

The summit attracted over 440 attendees and had 36 speakers and 4 keynotes. With speakers and attendees from all states and territories, and from across government, business, not-for-profits and community organisations, the event was able to gather diverse perspectives on adaptation as Australia mitigates its emissions.

The summit was underpinned by a comprehensive national consultation and is the latest milestone in an ongoing dialogue led by Future Earth Australia and its members about Australia’s climate adaptation agenda and action. Emerging from an increased national attention to community resilience and adaptation following the horrific 2019–20 bushfire season, the outcomes of the summit are particularly pertinent as the Australian Government refreshes its National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy.

As well as defining priorities, the event acknowledged the pervasive nature of climate change effects on livelihoods, wellbeing, health, social life, economic and industry activities and our relationship with nature.

Climate adaptation manifests as a rich tapestry of priorities. While it might be adapting to the hotter, drier conditions which give rise to megafires, it also means having a plan to tackle intense heat waves, prolonged drought, coastal erosion, and floods. There are follow-on repercussions such as impacts on mental and physical health, damage and loss of property, significant changes to major industries like agriculture and tourism, and endangerment of culturally sacred and ecologically significant flora and fauna.

Diverse knowledge approaches to adaptation

Speakers on the first day of the summit, which centred on the importance of diverse knowledge approaches to adaptation, highlighted the need to create space and structure for First Peoples to define the conceptual basis for climate adaptation and define their priorities for how their knowledge is used.

“Aboriginal people have proven that cooperation can underpin human survival,” said Bruce Pascoe, author of the book Dark Emu and Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man. Traditional methods for managing for bushfires after the 2019–20 summer, for example, have garnered attention in the national discourse.

Aboriginal people have proven that cooperation can underpin human survival.

“Addressing climate change, building resilience and social equality is the growth story of the 21st century,” said Dr Marcelo Mena, Chilean Minister for Environment 2014–18 and founder of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action at the World Bank, in his keynote address on the second day.

The summit then defined key aspects of enabling practical adaptation through advancing frameworks which empower local communities to pursue their own vision and resilience in a warming world, collaboration across sectors and initiatives, and adapting business and finance to use a climate lens across their portfolios.

Zoe Whitton, Executive Director of Pollination Group, said that “investors are building the governance infrastructure themselves... at a point they need policy to enable the right decisions everyday across portfolios”.

Thriving future

The third day of the summit focused on transforming sectors and systems like agriculture, coastal and marine systems, and cities and towns to prepare and adapt. Proper valuing natural and social capital associated with healthy ecosystems and resilient communities in our governance and business planning is as a major priority. Building the capacity of practitioners across sectors to work with uncertain and constantly changing conditions, which can be informed by quality research, is also a central step.

“In a time where so much is defined by urgency and emergency, we can't lose sight of the thriving future we are working for,” said the Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio, Victorian Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Energy.

In a time where so much is defined by urgency and emergency, we can't lose sight of the thriving future we are working for.

Russ Wise, economist and adaptation specialist at CSIRO, emphasised that “our research, development, investment and strategies need to be based on an assessment of what we value, what we can’t stand to lose, and being aware of who is defining those priorities.”

Next step

The summit was recorded and will soon be made available on the Future Earth Australia website. A written synthesis of themes arising from the discussions will also be published on the website. 

It is envisaged that the next step will be a roadmap for enabling adaptation policy and practice across Australia, informed by extensive consultation with stakeholder groups already working in adaptation.

Future Earth Australia thanks all speakers, chairs and attendees for their invaluable contributions to advancing an inclusive, evidence-based and effective climate change adaptation agenda. Future Earth Australia was delighted to work with FEA members, the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney and the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, to deliver this summit, and with 3M which sponsored the ‘Emerging Leaders’ forum for early career researchers and professionals.

© 2023 Australian Academy of Science