Adaptation of the built environment to climate change induced increased intensity of natural hazards

Adaptation Research Grants Program
David King
James Cook University

Executive summary from final report:

The complexity and social and economic importance of the built environment requires focussed governance to develop adaptation and hazard mitigation for community resilience to climate change and to predicted extreme events.  Where issues of adaptation and hazard mitigation impact public safety, they are best tackled through legislation, codes and policy. 


Planning research focussed on a scenario of greater numbers and intensities of floods as a consequence of climate change, such that the research plan was strongly influenced by the flood events of 2011. 

Recommendations of the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry (2012) that relate to land use planning responses to increased flooding were analysed. Many recommendations of the Inquiry propose sensible improvements that will mitigate the impact of natural hazards, but research highlighted responses that may be difficult to implement or that may be contested.  

There was strong support from planners in four key areas of Inquiry recommendations: whole of catchment flood mapping; climate change adaptation as a component of hazard mitigation; creation of zones of limited or constrained development; and planning for flash flooding. 

There is no consensus among planners on the desirability of some recommendations; especially on land swaps, retreat, levees, and defined flood levels. 

The Queensland State planning Policy ‘Mitigating the Adverse Impacts of Flood, Bushfire and Landslide’ has not been effective. Hazard mitigation and adaptation through land use and development planning must be incorporated into primary planning legislation.


The resilience of houses to natural hazards such as windstorms, floods and bushfires can be improved by revising regulations (BCA) and design standards. Revisions to design and construction standards have resulted in post-80s houses being more resilient to windstorms compared to pre-80s houses built in cyclonic regions of Australia. 

Structural upgrading is effective in reducing the vulnerability of non-engineered pre-80s houses. Structural upgrading and the provision of building envelope protection against windborne debris (preventing the formation of a dominant opening that generates large internal pressure) are two strategies that will also reduce the vulnerability of houses, including post-80s houses built in non-cyclonic regions. This is an adaptation strategy that would also be effective for any shift in cyclone boundaries or increases in wind loads that may result from climate change. 

Education to improve the house-building process (regulation, design, construction, certification and maintenance) aimed at all parties (designer, builder, certifier, and owner) will enhance community resilience.


Having insurance is not always a priority, or even an option, for all. In addition to significant rates of non-insurance and underinsurance, there is expectation of declining insurance availability and affordability in a changing climate. This will especially impact low-income earners. Insurance has little role at present in encouraging climate change adaptation measures, including risk mitigation. The role for insurance here is currently understood in terms of recovery not preparedness, and there is limited interest in using insurance to initiate innovation in climate change adaptation despite some engagement by insurers with the issues. The capacity of insurance to have a key role in climate change adaptation and associated risk mitigation is constrained by limitations in governance. Tensions over the roles and responsibilities for managing risks exist between the community and individuals, and between the public and private sectors, with inconsistencies amongst agencies and different levels of government exacerbated by a lack of leadership.

Recommendations for policy, good practice and legislative development have been placed at the end of this report.

Structure of this Monograph

Following the introduction to the research project, its three main components of planning (chapters 3-5), building (chapter 6) and insuring (chapter 7) are each presented as separate entities in this report. Readers will most likely be more interested in one or other area, hence the decision to maintain each study’s integrity. In relation to each of planning, building and insurance there is a literature review, followed by a methodology of the research, and then the case study or case studies, and finally a conclusion. Following these research findings is an integration and discussion chapter (chapter 8) that brings together findings from each of the research studies. The discussion leads into the recommendations that may form the basis for policy papers. These are the primary conclusion of the monograph. All references from all chapters have been collated into a single reference list. There then follows an appendix which contains additional case study materials and details of the stakeholder workshop.

View the final report