Living with floods: key lessons from Australia and abroad

Media type: 
Caroline Wenger
Karen Hussey
Jamie Pittock
Australian National University

This project analysed flood reviews in light of climate change comparing Australia with the Netherlands, China and the USA, to determine similarity that reinforced Australian findings and differences.

Following the serious flood events in 2010-2011 in Queensland and Victoria, and the reviews that were consequently undertaken, this project was developed to analyse those reviews to determine if they offered any lessons for climate change adaptation. Focusing on four major and recent reviews but drawing on others as well, the project’s objectives were to:

  • Explain the relationships between floods and climate variability to climate change adaptation;
  • Synthesize the findings from flood inquiries in Victoria and Queensland by ordering key lessons into frameworks that aid climate change adaptation by end users;
  • Check the lessons from these Australian inquiries against lessons for more effective flood risk management identified overseas to explore positive synergies and differences;
  • Refine the draft research finding with advice from end users through interviews and a committee; and
  • Communicate the lessons for climate change adaptation and limits to adaptation with key end users involved in flood risk management.

In addition to analysing the Australian flood reviews, the project also compared review processes and findings with similar processes overseas, including the Netherlands, China and the USA, to determine points of similarity that reinforced Australian findings and to explore differences.  In addition to analysing the reviews themselves, the project team also conducted a series of semi-structured, in-depth interviews with relevant sectors including insurance, emergency services, floodplain managers, ecosystem researchers, local government and urban utilities.

The reviews varied greatly in their scope, but one of the most notable findings was that Australian reviews virtually ignored the issue of climate change and its impact on flooding; some reports didn’t refer to it at all.  The vast majority of recommendations in all reviews pointed to a need for better governance, coordination, integration, policies, strategies, management, management tools, standards, legislation, accountabilities, oversight, communication, resourcing, risk assessment, planning, education and training.  These are all socio-institutional issues and are vital for the effective implementation of any adaptation measures. In contrast to the Australian reviews, climate change was a driving force behind the international reviewers, and all three international reviews overwhelmingly pointed to a need for ecosystem approaches to flood control. Each of the reports from the Netherlands, the United States and China had important lessons for Australia’s flood policies, particularly in relation to structural versus non-structural measures, the role of disaster relief funds, flood insurance, and the use of mitigation measures such as voluntary land purchase and relocation.

Please cite this report as:
Wenger, C, Hussey, K & Pittock J 2013, Living with floods: Key lessons from Australia and abroadNational Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 267 pp.

View a fact sheet that summarises the report 

View the project page