Learning from experience: Historical case studies and climate change adaptation

Anthony S. Kiem, Danielle C. Verdon-Kidd, Sarah L. Boulter and Jean P. Palutikof

Changes of policy, actions and/or infrastructure commonly occur following extreme events. These actions are targeted at reducing the impact of any future, similar extreme event. Thus, there are parallels between adaptations around past historical events and adaptation to future climate extremes. This Report summarises the lessons and insight gained from a series of 7 Historical Case Studies of Extreme Events, being: Cyclone Tracy (Darwin, Christmas Day 1974) [factsheet/full report] , drought in rural communities (agricultural communities in Donald & Mildura, VIC) [factsheet/full report], drought in mining communities ( Broken Hill NSW & Kalgoorlie, WA) [factsheet/full report], Heatwaves (Melbourne & Adelaide, Jan-Feb 2009) [factsheet/full report], QLD floods (Charleville, Jan 2008 & Mackay, Feb 2008) [factsheet/full report], Storm tides (1950s-1970s, east-coast Australia) [factsheet/full report], and the Pasha Bulker storm/East Coast Lows (Newcastle, June 2007) [factsheet/full report]. Eight key lessons were drawn from an evaluation of the case study results: 1) Governments at all levels need to provide frameworks to enable adaptation through incentives and regulation; 2) Adaptation actions should be realistic, pragmatic and forward thinking; 3) Non-holistic adaptation to a specific historical event may be inappropriate and lead to maladaptation; 4) Short-term solutions are not always suitable for the long term; 5) Recognising a new type of disaster, or knowing when to call a situation an emergency is critical to successful adaptation; 6) Communities need to be aware and prepared; 7) Communities may have to recognise that something has to change; 8) Some communities are simply more vulnerable because of their geographical, social, cultural and/or economic situation. A companion factsheet to this report can be found here

Resource Type: 
Case studies
Research report
Australia Wide
Local government
Storms, cyclones

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