Climate change in the frame as Australia battles further floods

The phenomenon of climate change has been raised once again as Australia suffers another severe flood – the fourth of its kind in an 18-month period.

Some areas in New South Wales state have received a month’s rain in just two days, swelling rivers and forcing Sydney’s main dam, the Warragamba Dam, to spill over at the weekend.

Homes, farms and bridges have been left underwater in several suburbs in the west of Australia’s largest city.

Roads have been cut off, with 18 evacuation orders in place and warnings of more extreme weather to come.

New South Wales emergency services minister Steph Cooke warned that it was a “rapidly evolving situation” and warned that people should be “prepared to evacuate at short notice”.

Climate change is widely believed to be a contributing factor to the frequent severe weather events, the Climate Council said, adding Australia is “under-prepared”.

Federal emergency management minister Murray Watt said climate change must be taken “seriously” due to the frequent occurrence of floods. “The reality is we are living in a changing climate,” Watt told ABC television.

Bad weather has delayed by 24 hours Monday’s scheduled launch of a NASA rocket from the Arnhem Space Centre in north Australia, operator Equatorial Launch Australia said.

Tom Mortlock, a senior catastrophe analyst at Aon, told RTE that the increased frequency of heavy rain was consistent with what could be expected from climate change, as warmer air holds more moisture in the atmosphere.

Furthermore, Australia has been exposed to the La Nina weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean two years in a row, which typically brings above average rainfall on the east coast. 

Although the La Nina event ended in June, there is a 50-50 chance it may re-form later this year, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said.

A further emerging risk here is creeping urbanisation: Sydney’s rapid population growth over the last few decades has pushed development into the floodplain.

On a more positive note, the country’s new government wants to be more proactive in tackling disaster risk, Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt has said.

“More often than not, it’s not the wealthy people living in the cheap land on the floodplain, it’s the people who can’t afford to live on top of the hill,” Watt said last week.

The government plans to set up a Disaster Ready Fund to provide up to A$200 million a year for disaster prevention and resilience programmes.

The current flooding is likely to prove to be a further blow to a local (re)insurance market already reeling from substantive flood losses this year- in March and April in New South Wales and southeast Queensland state, flooding resulted in A$4.8 billion (€3.1bn) in insured damage, the Insurance Council of Australia has estimated.