Facing climate changeThe consequences of climate are upon us. It is a reality. The Federal Government’s Climate Commission published a report “Angry Summer” on 4 March 2013 that noted the summer of 2012 – 2013 was the hottest summer in Australian History with bush fires in Victoria, cyclones and floods in Coastal Queensland and drought declared in many inland regions. 123 extreme weather records were broken and 70% of Australia experienced heatwave conditions. Internationally, 2012 was the wettest year on record in the UK. In a year of crazy weather, South East England was declared water stressed with hose and irrigation bans.

While in the north of the country, the Tyne and Ouse rivers fell to their lowest and rose to their highest levels since records began, all within a crazy 4 month period. 2012 was also the hottest year ever recorded in the United States, which also noted that the 12 hottest years ever, have come in the last 15 years. The changing weather also produced Hurricane Sandy. With a cost of $75 billion (2012 USD) it was the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history and the largest Atlantic Storm ever. The most expensive was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These, and other events, prompted President Obama to acknowledge climate change as a reality in his 2013 State of the Union Address.

Depending on the research source, the Earth’s climate and the average daily temperature has increased by between .75 and .9 of a degree since 1900. Based on the current rate of change it is expected to keep rising by 2 to 5 degrees over the next 50 years.  We need to consider what this means for us and the risks and opportunities it presents. The risks include:

Extreme Weather Events

These are often called Black Swan events and can have an impact that ranges from something as simple as a business not being able to serve its customers for a few days through to the disruption of industrial production or agricultural decline. They include;

  • Cyclones
  • Wind Storms and tornados. A 2.2 degree increase in temperature means a 4 fold increase in dangerous windstorms.
  • Destructive super cell storms including damaging hail, bursts of heavy rain and high winds.
  • Unseasonal or very heavy snowstorms.
  • Floods. A University of Tokyo study warns of increased flood risk due to global warming which would increase the risk of flooding in 42% of the Earth’s land surface, by the end of this century.
  • Storm surge – beach erosion. Not to be confused with Sea Level Rise
  • Drought
  • Bush Fires. A one degree increase in temperature means an 18% increase in wildfires. Between 2001 and 2007 there was an increase of 10 – 40% in fire dangerous weather in South East Australia, as compared to the years between 1980 and 2000.

Sea Level Rise

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), noted that the last time the average daily temperature was 2 degrees above the 1900 level was 130,000 years ago and the sea level was approximately 5 meters higher than today.

In response to expected changes, the Gold Coast City Council are planning to accommodate a 27 cm sea level rise over the next 86 years – within a human life time. This plan is framed within the reality that the sea level in New York harbour is 30 centimetres higher today than it was in 1900.


Climate change may cause staff absences due to:

  • Respiratory illness – Ozone Smog (Mexico City, Beijing, Singapore)
  • Heat stroke – heat waves. The World Health Organisation state that the modest temperature rises since 1970 have been responsible for 150,000 extra deaths a year from heat related stress. They expect this number will double by 2030. Closer to home the Queensland Ambulance Service calculate that for every degree in temperature above 22 degrees brings a 1.2% increase in ambulance call outs in the Brisbane region.
  • Mosquito borne disease vectors – Malaria, Dengue and Ross River fevers. The London School of Tropical Medicine estimate that since 2003, climate change has contributed to 160,000 extra deaths from malaria.
  • Other biological threats – such as the spread of the habitat due to warmer conditions of poisonous spiders and the movement south of the Irukandji box jellyfish into previously unaffected coastal regions.
  • Alcoholism – increased consumption of alcohol due to the hot weather.

Climate & Technology

  • Overheated transformers will mean electricity supply failures resulting in black outs and brown outs. Those industries reliant on a single power source will stop. Automated building management systems and lifts will cease working as will non UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) supported security systems. This will also result in internet access problems as ITC equipment fails as well as the inability to charge mobile devices.
  • Water shortages and water quality problems will arise as traditional sources of water dry up or infrastructure is damaged as happened with water treatment plants in the 2013 Brisbane floods.
  • Stress on ITC machine room air conditioning and network failures
  • Heat stress and human comfort air conditioning failures will contribute to irritable workers and conflict in the workplace.
  • Stress on electronic security systems. Single technology passive infrared detectors (PIR’s) will fail to operate as they will be unable to determine body heat signatures due to the increased ambient room temperature.

Violence And Crime

Matthew Ranson, a researcher at Harvard University, has predicted that between 2010 and 2099, climate change will cause a 2.5% increase in crime in the United States, resulting in an additional 30,000 murders, 200,000 rapes, 1.4 million aggravated assaults, 400,000 robberies, 3.2 million burglaries. His study is based on 50 years of weather data from the National Climate Data Centre and crime statistics for the same period, from the FBI. Closer to home, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute are of the view that we can expect an increase in ”climate crimes” including domestic and alcohol fuelled violence as well as water and power theft.

Research at the South University in Alabama has determined that crime waves follow heat waves.  In their view, it is a matter of opportunity. When it is hot, people open their homes and businesses for ventilation. They go out and interact more when it is warm. They stay out later, wear less clothing, drink more alcohol, are less inhibited and engage in risky behaviours. The Eastern Tokyo study identified that more acts of violence occur on hot and humid days. On another level, the global carbon market and pollution reduction schemes have attracted the attention of organised crime who have engaged in fraud and the attempted corruption of public officials.

Climate change will increase opportunities for crime and will create social conflict.  Mick Keelty, former Australian Federal Police Commissioner once said that climate change is going to be the security issue of the 21st century.

Climate Crisis

Crises are part of life in Australia. Drought occurs on average every 3 out of 10 years and associated heatwaves have killed more Australians than any other type of natural disaster in the 20th century. Flooding is historically the most costly disaster with average losses estimated at AUD $400 million a year. It’s worth noting that the 2011 Queensland floods covered an area larger than France and Germany combined.

Fortunately, we are a resilient nation with all levels of government as well as business and community based Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) playing a role in the development of resilience strategies making Australian communities safer, with our climate changing about us, we can’t afford to become complacent.

Emergency Management Australia (EMA) is the peak body charged with reducing the impact of natural and non-natural disasters in Australia. The EMA and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are not equivalent organisations, although they do share a common purpose and similar responsibilities for responding to disasters.

Managing the Risk

In 2009, AS NZS 31000: 2009 Risk Management – Principles and Guidelines replaced an earlier standard. The following year EMA recommended to the State Governments that these risk management principles now be applied to all emergency management practises including those events caused by climate change.

There is no federal emergency management legislation and EMA operates within an atmosphere of cooperative and constructive dialogue with the States and Territories who operate their own Disaster Acts. These Acts are administered in most cases by State Ministers for Emergency Services who control the peak government agency charged with emergency management at State or Territory level. Drilling down, each state is divided into District Disaster Management Groups (DDMG) who liaise with the responsible Minister through the State’s peak body. Its membership is made up of District Police Commanders, regional government departments, government owned corporations, NGO’s and in some instances, major local employers. It offers a middle management interface by providing State Government assistance, when requested by Local Disaster Management Groups (LDMG).

Local Government

A fundamental concept in Australia’s climate change management philosophy is sustainability and resilience at a local level. LDMG’s are established and chaired by the Mayor or other senior elected members of local government councils. Local Governments also fund their own community based, volunteer staffed, State Emergency Service units.


Climate crises can be just as destructive to business as they are to communities. The recommended structure for an emergency control organisation in a workplace is laid down in AS NZS 3745:2010 Planning for Emergencies in Facilities. While this is only a non-mandated guide, the document is reinforced by national Workplace Health and Safety Legislation. This places the responsibility on the person in charge of a workplace to ensure the safety of everyone in the workplace. This is reinforced by common law within each of the States and Territories.

In addition, well managed businesses should maintain and test their own business continuity plans in accordance with AS/NZS 5050:2010 – Business Continuity – Managing Disruption Related Risk. Again, this document is only a guide but performing this work is good business sense as it enhances an organisation’s ability to withstand whatever climate change can throw at it, deliver on its bottom line and take advantage of newly evolving opportunities.

Plan for Climate Change

Develop your Climate Change Plan. Research widely but don’t get caught by analysis paralysis. Engage with your stakeholders, give them ownership of it and tailor the response to your particular circumstances. Is your business in a flood affected area, tropical dengue zone, next to a national park, bush fire risk? What are your staff absence arrangements and alternate power and water supply plans? There is ‘no one plan fits all’ solution as each plan will address the specific risks and needs of individual businesses.

Consider sub plans for distinct working areas or functions. For instance, Media – Communications, Facilities Management, IT Disaster Recovery, Operations at Remote Sites, as well as a Pandemic Plan which should incorporate a deceased staff member/s plan. Address any issue that you need to such as, how would your organisation pay its staff if your payroll IT system was negatively impacted by climate change power outage or pivotal pay section staff were at home sick with Ross River fever. Plans need to be based around positions, not individuals, who can all be replaced. Identify your trigger points such as what has to happen or what order of magnitude should the event attain before the plan is initiated.  Most importantly, take advice from local experts in their field, the people who run the various systems your organisation depends on.

Once produced, your climate change crisis plan is a living document that needs to be maintained and tested at least once a year. Motivate, train and practice with the staff involved, including executive management, by conducting an annual full simulated exercise of the plan. Incorporate learnings and organisational changes, close the loop and do it all over again. No one likes unpleasant surprises and being prepared makes good business sense.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General said “Climate change and what we do about it will define us, our era and ultimately the global legacy we leave for future generations”.  What you do about planning for climate change will determine your organisation’s ability not only to survive but to thrive and nimbly take advantage of new opportunities presented in our ever changing world.

Fergus Ross
Fergus Ross has over two decades experience Security Manager at Queensland University of Technology. In addition to holding qualifications as an ASIS Certified Protection Professional and Certified Anti-Terrorist Specialist, Fergus is also a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and a Fellow of the Australian Security Industry Association Ltd.