Floods and inundation: these voters with uninsurable properties know the reality of climate change

Affected voters realise climate change is causing increasing catastrophic flooding, as well as sea level rise threatening coastal communities with inundation.

Unprecedented storms and floods in Queensland. Rampant coastal inundation in WA


Amid net-zero infighting, Australia is on track for the world’s biggest increase in cyclone victims

Australians are set to experience the biggest relative increase in severe cyclones in the world. Photo: Getty

The New Daily

A new report has found Australia will experience the world’s biggest relative increase in people affected by severe, once-in-500-year tropical cyclones, as senior government figures call for emissions targets to be axed.

The study looked at historic conditions from 1980 to 2017 and made groundbreaking projections for the 2015 to 2050 time frame.

Compared to recent decades, the number of Australians who will be affected by Category 3 tropical cyclones will jump 9375 per cent by 2050, the international team of scientists said on Thursday.

The Middle Eastern nation of Yemen is set to see the next-highest relative increase in cyclone victims at 2916 per cent, followed by Papua New Guinea at 1442 per cent and South Korea at 935 per cent.

The entire coast of Queensland will be affected by the uptick in cyclones, particularly between Mackay and Townsville.

“These changes should alert governments and policymakers that they might need to update their risk reduction strategies to accommodate for these substantial increases in tropical cyclone risk in the near future,” Dutch researcher Dr Nadia Bloemendaal, who led the team, told The New Daily.

These findings come days after a row emerged within the government over net-zero emissions.

Queensland Senator Matt Canavan on Tuesday claimed that “the net-zero thing is all sort of dead anyway”.

The government maintains it is committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Outside of the research paper, Dr Bloemendaal also applied the methodology specifically to Cairns, which happens to be in Senator Canavan’s home state.

She found the likelihood of severe, Category 5 cyclones would increase more than sevenfold.

“For Cairns, we found that the return period of Category 5 wind speeds increased from once-in-2500 years in the 1980 to 2017 time period to around once-in-300 years in the near-future time period,” Dr Bloemendaal said.

“Similarly, Category 3 conditions increase from once-in-50 years in the ‘recent past’ climate to once-in-30 years in the near-future climate.”

In March, the IPCC pointed to Australia as a country that would suffer from “cascading, compounding and aggregate” natural disasters as the climate changes.

At the time that report was released, parts of Queensland and northern New South Wales were dealing with deadly floods.

The floods in Gympie, Queensland.
This year saw unprecedented flooding throughout NSW and Queensland. Scientists are warning there will likely be more to come. Photo: AAP

Government divided on climate policy

The Liberal and National parties committed to net zero by 2050 shortly before last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, but a recent row has erupted within the ranks of the government over what path to pursue.

On Tuesday, Mr Canavan claimed other major countries are abandoning their emissions-reduction commitments – and said Australia should follow suit.

“It’s all over. It’s all over, bar the shouting here,” he told the ABC.

Scott Morrison has distanced the government from Senator Canavan’s comments.

“That is not his party’s position, that’s not the Coalition’s position and it’s not the government’s position,” he told reporters on the campaign trail in Rockhampton on Tuesday.

“That’s his view. It’s no surprise. He’s held it for a long time. It’s been resolved and our policy was set out very clearly.”

Rockhampton is in a region that is expected to see a massive increase in tropical cyclones in future.

Scott Morrison and Michelle Landry were forced to defend the government's climate commitments on Tuesday amid dissent from within the government.
Scott Morrison and Michelle Landry were forced to defend the government’s climate commitments on Tuesday amid dissent from within the government. Photo: AAP

Standing next to him was local MP Michelle Landry, who added: “Pull your head in, Matt.”

“I agree with the government’s position, I’m in one of the biggest coal mining electorates in the country.”

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce initially backed the comments made by Senator Canavan and Colin Boyce, a former state MP who is having a tilt at federal politics at the election.

But on Wednesday, he affirmed his party’s commitment to net zero by 2050.

“We are a party that believes in free speech, and I imagine Senator Canavan will speak on behalf as for how he sees things in central Queensland,” the deputy PM told reporters in Rockhampton.

“But I’m a believer in the Nationals, and my view is that, 2050, we made an agreement, we’re going to honour that agreement, and we’re going to give our very best endeavours to reach that target.”

Senator Canavan, meanwhile, also took a more diplomatic approach alongside Mr Joyce.

“The great thing about the National Party is, we tell everybody in the public what we say in private and we have robust conversations in the bush,” he said at the same press conference.

The government’s commitment to net zero by 2050 has been widely panned by climate scientists and policy experts alike.

“This is pure spin,” Climate Council senior researcher Tim Baxter said back when it was announced.

“A document that has the singular purpose of attempting to legitimise the federal government’s do-nothing approach.”

How will Queensland’s natural disasters and COVID-19 pandemic shape the federal election?


Alli Lark standing in her flood- damaged house at Deagon in Brisbane's north.
Alli Lark’s house and business has been affected by the flood disaster.(ABC News: Tobias Jurss-Lewis)

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Alli Lark is “stressed, tired and really, really upset”.

As she opens the door to her flooded Deagon home in Brisbane’s north, the walls are torn apart, the floors are stripped back and there is a lingering smell of mould and sewage.

Ms Lark lives and works in the electorate of Lilley – the most marginal seat in Queensland.

Both her home and her business were flooded in early March.

“You can’t escape it,” Ms Lark said.

“Some people get to go to work and not have to think about it for a bit.

“I leave the home, go to the business, and it’s there in my face, just the reminder.”

Muddy stairs and flooring after a flood in a home at Deagon on Brisbane northside.
Mud still coats the inside of Alli Lark’s home as the flood clean-up continues.(Supplied)

Ms Lark’s business is a dress-rental store that was running at 50 per cent capacity in January due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Now it has stopped earning altogether after being swamped by floods.

She is one of thousands in Lilley caught between the ongoing collateral damage of the pandemic and the fallout from the floods.

Lilley encompasses Moreton Bay and Brisbane’s northern suburbs and is held by Labor on a 0.6 per cent margin.

Alli Lark's flood-ravaged possessions piled up outside her home at Deagon on Brisbane's northside after they were destroyed.
Alli Lark’s flood-ravaged possessions were piled up outside her home at Deagon.(Supplied)

Ms Lark exemplifies the concerns of voters across Lilley, who will head to the polls on May 21.

“It’s going to be [about] who is still there and doing work and supporting us and reaching out, not just whoever it is that’s been there in the initial stages, and then just moved on to the next thing,” Ms Lark said.

“I want to see somebody who understands that these sorts of things take a lot of time — that’s where my vote will go.”

Battleground Queensland

The Coalition government won the 2019 election in Queensland, securing 23 of the state’s 30 seats, illustrating the state’s importance in federal politics.

Government preparedness, flood resilience, rebuilding and economic recovery would be “fundamental features” of the federal election, Griffith University political analyst Anne Tiernan said.

An aerial view of houses under the water.
The scale of flooding in Fairfield and Yeronga in Brisbane in early March.(Supplied: Luciano Nunes)

“Seats here will be very important … this is a very consequential election and Australia’s at a critical juncture,” Dr Tiernan said.

“It’s going to be a fascinating contest because we’ve got minor parties, we’ve got the Greens who might do really well.

Flood recovery has been a key focus for Lilley’s incumbent MP Anika Wells as she campaigns to retain her seat, which she won by less than 1,500 votes in 2019.

The seat of Lilley lies in inner-northern Brisbane and also extends along Moreton Bay from the Brisbane River to Sandgate and Brighton.

Anika Wells, federal Labor Member for Lilley, speaks at a press conference in Brisbane.
Anika Wells, the current Member for Lilley, won by less than 1,500 votes in 2019 federal election.(AAP: Darren England)

“What I learned on the ground last time is that people wanted to feel that they were being listened to, and that was certainly the message we got at the polls,” Ms Wells said.

Ms Wells will run against the LNP’s Vivian Lobo – who replaces previous candidate Ryan Shaw – and minor party candidates.

Aerial image of suburb of Deagon on Brisbane's northside.
The electorate of Lilley includes Deagon on Brisbane’s northside.(ABC News)

New mapping tool shows iconic WA destinations wiped out by rising seas due to climate change


Cottesloe Beach, Matilda Bay and Perth Zoo will all be washed away without urgent action on climate change, a group of experts say.

The potential devastation is laid bare in a new website, Coastal Risk Australia, which allows users to visualise what the impact of rising sea levels could be.

Experts at two Australian mapping companies, FrontierSI and NGIS Australia, created the website by plugging in modelling from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which predicted the behaviour of ice sheets.

The IPCC has predicted that sea levels could rise by 0.84 metres by 2100, if high carbon emissions continue.

The experts also used Google Earth Engine technology to visually depict how higher sea levels would impact the Australian coastline.

Users can zero in on any coastal location for which there’s data and look at what would happen with an increase of 0.84 metres.

They can also manually adjust the maps to see the impact of any sea level rise between zero and ten metres.

The maps show a chilling vision of what could happen by the turn of next century to large stretches of riverfront land along the Swan and Canning rivers and coastal Perth suburbs – locations that are usually home to the wealthiest in the city.

A big chunk of North Fremantle, the Crown Perth site, Hillarys, Coogee, Rockingham, Mandurah and Kwinana are all set to be inundated.

Large stretches of Australia’s iconic beaches including Cottesloe, Manly and Byron Bay in NSW, Glenelg in SA, Noosa in Queensland and Bells Beach in Victoria could be washed away.

The experts also warn of inundation in tourist attractions like Mandurah, Cairns and Hindmarsh Island.

Flooding is also more likely in the streets of North Fremantle, St Kilda and Docklands, and Lauderdale in Tasmania.

“The Coastal Risk Australia tool aims to place scientific modelling into the hands of the people so they can see for themselves how the areas they live in could be impacted in the future by climate change,” said Graeme Kernich, CEO of FrontierSI, in a statement.

Sea level rises of up to 30cm by 2050 are already assured, but scenarios beyond then depend on choices made by global communities to reduce emissions, says Nathan Eaton, executive director of NGIS Australia.

The interactive map can be found here.

Coastal Risk Australia shows Cottesloe, Mandurah, Busselton vulnerable to rising sea levels

Perth’s iconic Cottesloe Beach could be at risk if sea levels continue to rise at the current rate.
Perth’s iconic Cottesloe Beach could be at risk if sea levels continue to rise at the current rate. Credit: News Limited, Stewart Allen


WA TOURISM drawcards such as Cottesloe Beach, Mandurah and Busselton are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of rising sea levels, according to Coastal Risk Australia.

If sea levels continue to rise around Australia by 74cm by the end of this century, Coastal Risk Australia mapping warns these areas and many more around the country could be devastated by encroaching water levels.

In both Fremantle and Sydney, flooding events became three times more frequent during the 20th Century as a result of sea-level rise.

The Coastal Risk Australia website charts the majority of Australia’s enormous coastline and is free to use.

It incorporates cutting-edge Google technology and local tidal data to accurately map how rising sea levels could encroach on cities, towns and beaches under three scientific scenarios.

Mandurah’s idyllic canal lifestyle could be under threat if sea levels continue to rise.
Mandurah’s idyllic canal lifestyle could be under threat if sea levels continue to rise. Credit: News Corp Australia, Daniel Wilkins

The website shows that iconic beaches like those along the Gold Coast and tourism drawcards like Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory will be among the vulnerable places to rising sea levels, and is designed to help individuals, communities and all levels of government prepare in the decades to come.

The report comes as it was revealed that Greenland’s vast ice sheet has reached record levels, with 12 per cent melting almost a month earlier than any previous time.

NGIS Australia principal consultant Nathan Eaton said it was difficult for people to appreciate what rising sea levels in decades to come could mean for their homes, community and the places they love.

“Maps are a universal language that everyone can understand. This website allows every Australian to visualise our climate change future with pinpoint accuracy, and gain a better understanding of how rising sea levels will affect our coastline, neighbourhoods and favourite places.”

NGIS Australia built the website based on an earlier model used to map sea-level rise in the Pacific Islands.

“Our main goal is to raise awareness of how sea-level rise will effect the places we live, but this will also help all Australians prepare for change, from all levels of government, in policy, conservation and community engagement,” Mr Eaton said.

More than 80 per cent of Australians live near the coast and a Climate Council report has already warned that future sea level rises could put more than $200 billion of infrastructure at risk.

Across the globe, sea levels have risen an average of 17cm over the course of the 20th Century. And scientists are forecasting sea levels will rise between 40-110cm over the remainder of this century depending on how rapidly the world reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.

Visit coastalrisk.com.au to find out more.

Low-lying Busselton is another iconic WA coastal attraction that could be threatened:
Low-lying Busselton is another iconic WA coastal attraction that could be threatened: Credit: Supplied, Tourism Western Australia

Coastal Risk Australia mapping shows that if sea-levels around Australia rise by 0.74 metres by the end of this century some of the vulnerable places are:

-Brighton and St Kilda beaches in Victoria

-The Gold Coast in Queensland

-Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia

Homes and streets in prestigious suburbs:

-Albert Park, Middle Park, and Williamstown in Melbourne.

-Narrabeen in New South Wales

-Mandurah in West Australia.

-Moreton Bay area in Queensland

Popular coastal tourist spots:

-Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory

-Port Fairy, Gippsland Lakes and Queenscliff in Victoria.

-Noosa in New South Wales

-Busselton in West Australia

-Cairns and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland

Ms Wells will run against the LNP’s Vivian Lobo – who replaces previous candidate Ryan Shaw – and minor party candidates.

Aerial image of suburb of Deagon on Brisbane's northside.
The electorate of Lilley includes Deagon on Brisbane’s northside.(ABC News)

Perth’s iconic Cottesloe Beach could be at risk if sea levels continue to rise at the current rate.
Perth’s iconic Cottesloe Beach could be at risk if sea levels continue to rise at the current rate. Credit: News Limited, Stewart Allen

Some Science and Statistics:

Why was recent flooding ‘unprecedented’?

What does a 1 in 1000 year flood mean? It’s much more likely these days


What does a 1 in 1000 year flood mean? Something labelled that way is now much more likely to happen than 1 in 1,000, as rainfall becomes both heavier, and more intense because of climate change.

As a massive wet weather system batters the eastern coast of Australia, with (so far) $900m insurance claims, the Premier of NSW has described it as a 1 in 1,000 year event. My favourite response to this came from one of our satirical newspapers The Shovel:

“Politicians and media have labelled the devastating floods in Queensland and NSW a once-in-one-hundred year natural disaster, the eighteenth once-in-one-hundred year natural disaster in the past year.”

The Premier’s 1 in 1,000 statement was likely derived from a comparison of the peak of the Lismore flood with the 2014 Lismore floodplain management plan, where probabilities are placed on different heights of the river. The actual height of the river, according to thie graph below, was  around 14.5m, and you can see the heights that the plan suggested were 1 in 100 year and 1 in 500 year events. Superficially that does make it appear that this was a 1 in 1,000 year event. But it does seem that we’ve been having 1 in 1,000 year events every few years. So what’s happening?

The flood plan was based on history. That history only went back to 1870, so included around 150 years of floods. It assumed in setting the probabilities, that the likelihood of flood hadn’t changed in that time – so no change in climate.

The climate scientists have told us that the likelihood of wet weather increases with higher temperatures.  This report from Australian insurer IAG summarises the current Australian knowledge:

Extreme precipitation can intensify significantly with climate change, even in regions that experience drying on average. The more extreme an event is (i.e., the more intense and less frequent), the more its rainfall rate is likely to change in the future. A study of trends in Australian hourly and daily rainfall from the period 1966-1989 to 1990-2013 showed daily rainfall increased at around 7% per degree of warming. Emerging science also confirms that intense rainfall rates are increasing. These rates across southern Australia have increased nearly 14% per degree of warming, and 21% for the tropical regions.

Basically, both the average rainfall, and the level of variability of that rainfall are likely to increase. So something that had a 1 in 1,000 chance of occurring would happen more frequently. Intuitively, you might think that if the average rainfall goes up a little bit, so does the chance of a big flood – maybe from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 900? No. The extremes of the distribution become MUCH more likely. If the distribution is normal, that 1 in 1,000 flood will be five times more likely with a small increase in the mean. And the science tells us that the variability will also increase, which would increase the chances of that flood even more.

Weather modelling is very difficult, particularly extremes. But what happened this week in the East Coast of Australia was much more likely to happen now, after we have changed the climate of Australia by increasing average temperatures by more than 1 degree Celsius, than it would have been over the past 150 years that the flood planning was based upon.

Ironically, this flooding happened in week the IPCC latest report was released. This article is just one of the many reports about the unprecedented impact. Compare the two reports –

The IPCC’s final conclusion:

Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

and the newspaper article from country New South Wales:

In Lismore we have experienced floods forever. But this is not a flood, this is a catastrophe. This is extreme. This is a giant, angry river in the sky. This is climate change. If you had a flood plan – which everyone on flood-prone land does, especially since 2017 – it was meaningless. We have the 1974 flood imprinted in our cultural fibre. It was the biggest flood. There are markers on power poles all round town. These are the floods of the past. They are not the floods of today, the floods of climate change.

and you can see a clear link from the IPCC report about planetary climate change to this experience on the ground. The IPCC’s summary for Australasia sums it up:

Ongoing warming is projected, with more hot days and fewer cold days, snow and glacier retreat, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification (very high confidence). More extreme fire weather is projected in southern and eastern Australia (high confidence) and over northern and eastern New Zealand (medium confidence). Heavy rainfall intensity is projected to increase [my emphasis], with more droughts over southern and eastern Australia and northern New Zealand (medium confidence).

Coastal Inundation

Sea Level Rise Driving Increasingly Predictable Coastal Inundation in Sydney, Australia

(Earth’s Future 01 August 2020 Ben S. Hague, Shayne McGregor, Bradley F. Murphy, Ruth Reef, David A. Jones https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EF001607)

As sea levels rise, the daily highest tide reaches higher and further inland, and as a result, we see coastal flooding more frequently. Coastal flooding is when roads, carparks, walking paths, gardens, and, in more extreme cases, homes and businesses are impacted by high sea levels. Using Sydney, Australia, as an example, we find that most coastal flooding events we observe today would not have happened without human-caused sea level rise. Further, coastal flooding is expected to occur in Sydney on average once per week by 2050 and every day by 2100 if high greenhouse gas emissions continue. In the past, the most severe coastal flooding impacts, such as flooding of main roads and private property, only occurred with large coastal storm events. However, we find that these severe floods will occur much more frequently as sea levels continue to rise, as they will eventually occur on the daily high tides. As the timing and heights of daily high tides are driven by the Sun, Moon, and the seasons, these severe coastal floods will become very predictable. This will have implications for the coastal and emergency managers tasked to deal with this changing risk.

Rising temperatures from climate change are contributing to increases in sea level, severe storms and storm surges, and changes in precipitation patterns (see more below). These changes are increasing the number of coastal floods, worsening their effects, and causing floods to last longer and extend further inland. All of these changes increase health risks associated with coastal flooding.(source)

This graphic provides more detailed flood data for Wilmington, NC, USA showing the increase in floods over time. The number of observed tidal flood days per year is shown as orange bars. Projections are also shown for two possible futures: lower emissions (light blue) and higher emissions (dark blue).

Source: https://statesummaries.ncics.org/sites/default/files/downloads/NC-screen-hi.pdf

We cannot let it get any worse. We need government level climate action right now. Let’s use our votes to get it.

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