Queensland has suffered more economic damage from extreme weather disasters than any other state or territory, and more extreme weather is on the way.
- Disasters have cost Queensland around $30 billion since the 1970s
- Ex-QFES commissioner says disaster management system is under pressure
- Damage to public infrastructure in South East Queensland has cost $492million since the 1970s
A Climate Council report released today examined the financial, social and economic costs of weather events linked to climate change.
He revealed that Queensland had lost a total of around $30 billion from extreme weather disasters since 1970, around three times that of Victoria.
The economic cost to Queensland from the floods in February and March alone was $7.7 billion, with around $5.56 billion in insured losses in southeast Queensland and the NSW coast.
Brisbane suffered around $1.38 billion in insured losses from flooding this year, more than any other local government area in Australia.
This follows the biannual State of the Climate report from CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, which revealed that extreme weather and climate change is occurring at an accelerating rate across the country.
And more extreme weather conditions are likely to occur this summer.
The official BOM summer outlook suggests that eastern Australia will experience above average rainfall and more flooding is expected.
Professor Lesley Hughes, co-author of the report and professor of biology at Macquarie University, said that with the amount of rain falling in some areas, there is not enough time between disasters for the communities are recovering.
“We have a situation where catchments in many parts of eastern Australia are already saturated, so they can’t really take in any more water.”
Emergency services pushed to the limit
The emotional toll of seeing your home flooded multiple times in a year is hard to comprehend, but the people working to coordinate, sandbag, rescue, and help clean up these disasters are also feeling the pressure.
Former Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Lee Johnson said disaster management and emergency services systems are under severe strain and “have been for some time”.
Mr Johnson, who is also a member of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action – a coalition of former senior emergency service officials – said that of the approximately 225,000 staff involved in emergency services in Queensland, around 200,000 were volunteers.
He said the constant need to respond to disasters has had a huge impact on volunteers at all levels, from emergency services to CWAs and the Red Cross.
“They live in communities. And they’re affected by what’s happening in the direction of disaster just as much as anyone else.”
Mr Johnson believes it is possible to evolve coordination between governments to better respond to weather disasters.
“So traditionally, seasonally, the bushfire season starts early in Queensland and then moves into southern Australia,” he said.
“We are in floods and cyclones as southern Australia burns and we are able to share resources back and forth, and we have done so for many years.
“It is getting more and more difficult, so we have to think about how we can better support each other across borders? What mechanisms can be introduced to facilitate this?”
Corporate bookings affected by unpredictability
Innes Larkin, co-owner of Mount Barney Lodge in southeast Queensland, said his business had been affected by the new unpredictability of weather.
Mr Larkin said the change had an effect on people booking in advance.
“We’ve gone from two to three months of pre-bookings where we know our clearer picture of what’s to come to two to three days.”
Mr Larkin wants Australian leaders to ‘take climate action seriously’ and ‘commit fully to net zero’.
“You can’t claim to have a net zero path and open up new coal and gas fields, those two things are mutually exclusive and incompatible.”
How can we sustain our cities?
Damage to public infrastructure caused by weather disasters in South East Queensland is estimated to have cost $492 million since the 1970s.
Dr Dorina Pojani, senior lecturer in urban planning at the University of Queensland, said all land use, design and transport decisions in the future should take climate and weather events into account.
For example, approvals for developments on floodplains must stop.
“At the same time, we don’t want Brisbane to expand any further because that would lead to increased car driving,” Dr Pojani said.
“The solution is to densify existing built-up areas that are protected from flooding.
“Local residents will have to accept that the era of low-density housing is (or soon will be) over.”
“The key to this whole situation”
The Climate Council report says recent weather disasters have been “supercharged by climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels”.
Queensland produces the most coal of any state and more gas than any state except Western Australia.
In 2021-22, the Queensland Government provided $665 million in aid to the fossil fuel industry, most of which was spent on coal mines, gas fields and fossil fuel power stations , according to the Australia Institute.
Earlier this year, Palaszczuk’s government announced it would raise coal royalty rates, a move that sparked a costly publicity campaign by the Queensland Resources Council.
Professor Hughes said governments ‘cannot have it both ways’.
“We have communities that are absolutely suffering the effects of increasing climate-related disasters, and some of the biggest companies in the world that are making extraordinary profits are supported by the Australian taxpayer,” she said.
Mr. Johnson agreed.
“We really need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which means burning coal, oil and gas as quickly as possible,” he said.
“That’s the key to this whole situation.”
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