An aerial image provided by Nearmap shows the Brisbane river flooded to the left of the picture.

Climate change has cost Australia billions. And a state bears the weight

Queensland has suffered more economic damage from extreme weather disasters than any other state or territory, and more extreme weather is on the way.

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”.

Lee Johnson sits on a park bench
Former Commissioner Lee Johnson said he started noticing an increase in natural disasters in 2006 after Tropical Cyclone Larry.(Provided: Climate Council)

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.”

A State Emergency Service (SES) crew walks past a flood gauge on the swollen Balonne River in St George.
Most emergency services in Queensland are voluntary.(PA: Dan Peled)

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 sits on a bench in front of a lush green view of his property
Innes Larkin, co-owner of Mount Barney Lodge in South East Queensland.(Provided: Climate Council)

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.

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