1.3 Embed Resilience
Victoria’s changing climate is leading to more frequent and severe natural hazards and emergencies including bushfires, extreme heat, and flooding. It is also increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events occurring consecutively, or even at the same time.1 This was demonstrated during 2019–20, where drought and bushfires were rapidly followed by storms and flooding. The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly followed this series of emergencies, compounding their effects.2
Climate change and its impact on natural disasters has a human and a financial cost.3 These include loss of life, negative impact on health and wellbeing, reduced safety, biodiversity loss, and damage to property, infrastructure, agriculture and industry.4 The economic costs from bushfires alone are projected to rise from an average of $172 million a year in 2014 to $378 million a year by 2050.
Heatwaves caused by climate change are expected to cost Victoria $179 million annually by 2030,5 and could cause an extra 6214 deaths in Victoria by 2050.6 The costs associated with severe natural disasters can be much greater. For example, the economic costs to agriculture of the 2010–11 Victorian foods were estimated at $1.5 billion to $2 billion, including lost pasture, crops, stock and equipment.7 Costs associated with Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires were estimated at more than $4 billion.8
Climate change is not the only risk Victorian communities face. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to health and economic damage worldwide. The speed of change is increasing, and risks can escalate rapidly.9 Infrastructure, and the communities it serves, urgently need to adapt to this changing landscape. This will involve taking practical actions to manage risk, increase protection, and strengthen resilience.10
Victoria’s coastal areas face increased flooding and erosion
Victoria’s coasts are home to nearly 14% of the state’s population11 and they receive around 70 million visits each year.12 Victoria’s coasts have special significance to many of Victoria’s First Nations peoples. Coastal infrastructure supports communities and industries, including tourism and fishing, and caters for residents and seasonal tourists.
For instance, Lorne welcomes an extra 20,000 people during the annual Pier to Pub swim, a 20-fold increase of its normal population.13 Rising sea levels and increasing heavy rainfall are projected to increase coastal erosion and flooding, damaging many low-lying ecosystems, infrastructure, and homes.14 More frequent storm surges can make this worse.
Victoria is heavily exposed to rising sea levels. A sea level rise of 0.8 metres would put $18.3 billion of infrastructure at risk of inundation and erosion, including: 15
Valuable infrastructure is close to the coast, including buildings, hospitals, roads, rail, electricity, telecommunications, stormwater, drainage, and sewerage assets. Rising sea levels have social and economic impacts beyond the infrastructure itself. Erosion is visibly threatening the Great Ocean Road’s $1.1 billion
visitor economy,16 while Phillip Island17 and Inverloch18 are witnessing the loss of popular beaches. Coastal ecosystems could also change, affecting biodiversity. For example, mangroves usually found in coastal saline water have begun appearing in the Gippsland Lakes.19
Resilient infrastructure can better withstand extreme events
Victoria’s social and economic well being depends on its critical infrastructure.20 Critical infrastructure supports services which are essential for everyday life, such as food, water, energy, transport and health care.21 It is also essential for the community, economy and governments to withstand and respond to crises.22
A disruption to critical infrastructure can have significant implications, affecting supply chains and service continuity.23 The 2019–20 summer bushfires demonstrated the vulnerabilities of communities when critical infrastructure fails in an emergency. Thirty-eight towns lost communication, mostly caused by power outages, and impassable roads cut off 17 of these towns.24 Similarly, a changing climate will alter the environmental conditions under which infrastructure must perform. In contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the adaptability of
Victoria’s infrastructure, as critical infrastructure services and networks were able to reconfigure quickly and offer different models of delivery.25 Digital technologies played a major role in supporting business and community resilience, highlighting the importance of technology and innovation in prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Infrastructure will need to be resilient so it can be relied upon during a crisis, or in changing social, economic, and environmental circumstances.
Infrastructure resilience can be improved in different ways, including by building to different standards and designs, building in safer places, or having better integrated plans to protect and rapidly repair it when damaged. Resilience considerations should be central to infrastructure investment decision-making. The infrastructure Victoria builds now will need to serve communities for many years to come.
Communities need to build resilience too
Infrastructure can support community resilience, for example by providing emergency shelter during extreme heat events, by enabling transport and communications during times of emergency, or by supporting emergency services’ response.
However, the intensifying nature of extreme events will place escalating demands on even the most resilient infrastructure and challenge the capacity of emergency services.26 Communities must form realistic expectations of emergency services’ ability to mitigate risk or respond in the face of catastrophe. This also means that communities and individuals must maximise their own preparedness for potential disasters, based on an informed understanding of the available emergency response.
An inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian bushfire season identified that, despite considerable progress, a challenge remains in ensuring people have a clear understanding of the risks they face.27
Community resilience is based on more than the infrastructure and services that support it. Resilient communities work together to cope with emergencies, to strengthen essential infrastructure and facilities so that support systems continue to function when needed. They stay informed, so they are better able to make decisions and take action before, during and after emergencies.28 Victoria’s shared responsibility approach to emergency management leverages local knowledge, resources and experience in emergency planning, and helps to develop community resilience.29
Recommendations to embed resilience
Infrastructure Victoria is making the following recommendations to embed resilience. They can also help climate change adaptation (see section 1.2). Elsewhere we make recommendations to improve the resilience of telecommunications infrastructure (see recommendation 85), make social housing suitable for changing climates (see recommendation 94) and create climate-adapted facilities for rural communities (see recommendation 90).