20 January 2012 – Australia’s energy, transport and telecommunications infrastructure could well do with a new national body to co-ordinate greater resilience to climate change, a new government report has found.

The report, The Role of Regulation in Facilitating or Constraining Adaptation to Climate Change for Australian Infrastructure, specifically targeted gaps in the regulatory environment around these infrastructure items, created before climate change was considered a serious threat.

The report, which will feed into the Productivity  Commission’s current investigations into climate change adaptation, has been developed by Maddocks Solicitors for the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

Jointly releasing the report on Friday, acting minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Senator, Chris Evans, said: “Most of the regulations for Australian infrastructure were designed without climate change in mind.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Mark Dreyfus said the report also examined the ability of planning regimes, environmental impact assessment and government procurement processes to take into account risks arising from climate change.

Key problem areas identified in the report include:

  • Lack of explicit or implicit recognition of the need to adapt to climate change
  • Regulatory framework that only applies to new infrastructure and does not apply to existing infrastructure
  • Lack of harmonisation and fragmentation of approach within jurisdictions and between jurisdictions
  • Inadequate, inconsistent or outdated information regarding climate change risks
  • Inability to review regulations or standards with sufficient frequency
  • Implementation that is ineffective
  • Compliance that is too difficult or too costly
  • Enforcement mechanisms that are weak or too costly to pursue

Recommendations for improvement include:

  • Performance-based standards, which provide flexibility to respond to the uncertain effects of climate change.
  • Technical standards or guidelines for new and existing infrastructure to ensure that such infrastructure is designed, constructed and operated in a way that is resilient to climate change risks.
  • Codes of practice, which could be used to ensure that climate change risks are accounted for as part of ongoing management and operation of existing infrastructure.
  • Infrastructure management plans and associated service delivery plans that are periodically reviewed to ensure that climate change effects are addressed as they evolve over time.
  • Licences, approvals and accreditation, which can be made conditional on adequate assessment and management of climate change risks.
  • In-built risk assessment processes, which provide an opportunity for climate change risks to be included in existing regimes for risk assessment.
  • Computer-based modelling tools to assist targets of regulation with assessment of climate change risks and, therefore, compliance with adaptive management regulation.
  • Fitness for purpose obligations that could be used to ensure that infrastructure has been designed to cope with current and future climate change risks.
  • Third party access to infrastructure, which provides an opportunity to diversify infrastructure that may, in turn, increase resilience.
  • Market mechanisms, which can flexibly and dynamically account for climate change risks in determining the most efficient allocation of resources affected by climate change with limited government intervention.
  • Incentives to drive changes in practices to better account for climate change risks.
  • Mandatory disclosure about infrastructure performance and climate change risks to motivate entities to assess risks and provide information to consumers/users about those risks.
  • Stakeholder engagement in the design and implementation of regulation to foster support for climate change action.

– By Tina Perinotto