– by Romilly Madew –


“It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather,” eighteenth century writer Samuel Johnson famously remarked.

The extreme weather conditions over the last month have certainly provided Australians with much to discuss.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology says that the month of August is shaping up to be Australia’s hottest on record.

We’ve seen remarkable heat in Central Australia, the southern half of the Northern Territory, southern Queensland and northern NSW, with temperatures five to six degrees above average.

The wild weather was not restricted to the north of the country, of course, with NSW, Victoria and South Australia being lashed by strong winds.

And we’ve already been warned to expect another scorching summer of mega-bushfires.

Climate change scientists argue that these extreme weather conditions are the direct result of global warming and predict worse to come. CSIRO climate scientists have forecast temperature increases of up to one degree in the south-east and around two degrees in Western Australia and the Northern Territory by 2020, leading to as much as a 65 per cent increase in extreme fire weather days. Stronger tropical cyclones are also expected, with more frequency and intensity.

Clearly, extreme weather will need to be considered in our future built environment, as our current buildings are not designed for the intense heat, wild winds or firestorms that climate change scientists predict will become the norm.

Some steps are already being taken.  In the wake of the devastating Victorian bushfires this year, the State Government adopted a new standard which will see every new home built in Victoria undergo a Bushfire Attack Level assessment.

Earlier this year, the Australian Government announced changes to the Building Code of Australia which will increase the stringency of energy efficiency requirements for all classes of commercial buildings from 2010.

Many buildings erected today will still be in use in 40 to 60 years, so we must consider the likely effect of climate change on buildings being constructed now.  Rising temperatures can accelerate the degradation of building materials, for instance, providing new challenges for designers and manufacturers, as well as building owners and managers.

Extreme weather conditions will also have an impact on the insurance industry, putting buildings – and investments – at risk.

So, with all this talk about the weather, it’s worth considering the words of wisdom from Oscar Wilde, who said: “Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else.”

Romilly Madew is chief executive, Green Building Council of Australia