Climate Adaptation Flagship

Enabling Australia to adapt more effectively to the impacts of climate change and variability and informing national planning, regulation and investment decisions.

  • 9 August 2007 | Updated 19 April 2013

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Climate Adaptation Flagship overview
Helping Australia Adapt to a Changing Climate


Narrator: Fire, drought and floods are nothing new to Australia.

Many have had to learn to cope with the threat to lives, property and the natural environment.

But now the world is facing human-induced climate change – perhaps the greatest economic and moral challenge of our time.

Extreme weather events are likely to become more severe, more frequent or longer lasting.

CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship, is developing adaptation responses to counter the expected damaging effects of climate change. It will analyse future climate changes in Australia, deliver strategies to manage their impact, and build on new ways to combat and even benefit from these challenges.

The Climate Adaptation Flagship will assist primary industries by providing seasonal climate predictions and developing strategies for their long-term viability.

Ian McClelland, Chairman Birchip Cropping Group: Science is going to be crucial in this whole adaptation for farmers and they’ll, through genetic engineering, they’ll put a frost gene in frost-resistant gene in a wheat crop, which will be fantastic for farmers, or it would do a drought-resistant gene. But also we’ll get completely new crops.

Narrator: Bushfire risk is expected to increase. Ways of predicting their path and spread will be studied and analysed.

Ken Thompson, Deputy Commissioner, NSW Fire Brigade: Climate change is being taken very seriously by the fire and emergency services and I think that’s because we’re at the forefront already. We’ve seen a lot more serious events, storm events, bushfire events over the past 10 to 15 years.

Narrator: Australia’s worst drought in recorded history already means severe water shortages in cities and on the land . The Flagship will deliver scientific solutions to help farmers cope with water shortages.

Better management strategies will be developed to help contain floods, storm surges and sea level rises .

Geoff Withycombe, Sydney Coastal Councils Group: Well we’re hearing the predictions for the sea level rise is about an increase of 1 metre over the next century. We’re going to have some significant issues in relation to that. Obviously due to increased storm erosion of our beach escarpments, putting properties at risk both in the public and private sector. We’re also going to have nationally about 700 thousand properties classified “at risk” from coastal erosion.

Narrator: With more than 90% of Australians living in cities or along the coastal fringe, the Flagship will play a critical role to inform new building and infrastructure design, sustainable urban planning, and innovative strategies for local councils and government to make the changes that will need to be made.

It will examine the vulnerability to climate change of Native species, and develop methods to improve their chance of survival and tackle the threat of invasive species.

Sam Mostyn, Insurance Australia Group: I think the important point is understanding how we adapt to that changed climate and understanding which businesses are most vulnerable to those events, which parts of the country are at most risk and therefore have higher insurance premiums or just can’t sustain the businesses that they once did and adapt.

Narrator: Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. And we’re more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than any other industrialised nation.

By partnering with government, industry and communities across Australia the CSIRO Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship aims to equip the Nation with practical and effective science-based options for tackling the challenge of climate change.

Sam Mostyn, Insurance Australia Group: And as Australians we’ve adapted in many cases over hundreds of years to changed environments and changed climates, we’ve just got to do that again, but I think with a sense of optimism that we can be in all sorts of new industries.

The challenge facing Australia

Australia is a land of droughts and fires, storms and flooding rains – the driest inhabited continent with a dramatically variable climate of extremes.

Australia’s climate shapes:

  • our lives and livelihoods
  • our economic activities
  • our social wellbeing 
  • our unique natural environment.

In recent times, the climate challenge facing Australia has become more severe and more urgent.

Australia has experienced the worst drought in recorded history, and as one consequence many cities and regions have faced severe water supply constraints.

These issues have highlighted the reality of global climate change, the massive impacts that it is likely to have on our continent and the challenges and opportunities stemming from those impacts.

Australian ecosystems, water resources, agriculture, built infrastructure, regional and remote communities, and health all have vulnerabilities to climate change.

So our responses need to embrace nearly all aspects of our economy, society and the environment.

The Australian export sector is particularly exposed to climate change due to the vulnerability of our key export commodities including:

  • agriculture
  • forestry
  • fisheries
  • fossil fuels
  • tourism.

Therefore, an integrated, systems-based approach offers the best opportunities for minimising economic, social and environmental harm, while maximising new opportunities.

Responding to climate change

The National Research Flagships Program is delivering scientific solutions to advance Australia’s most vital national objectives.

Flagships are partnerships of:

In recent times, the climate challenge facing Australia has become more severe and more urgent, so we must start adapting to climate change today in a practical and effective way.

  • leading Australian scientists
  • research institutions
  • commercial companies
  • selected international partners.

The problem of climate change is serious and demands a major response, which requires two platforms:

  • mitigation of impact, through reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions
  • adaptation to the inevitable climate change that will occur while mitigation gradually takes hold.

The CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship contributes to mitigation through developments in energy technologies.

The Climate Adaptation Flagship tackles the second platform, delivering the best available scientific information and expertise to support Australia's efforts to adapt to climate change today in a practical and effective way.

The Flagship's research is led by some of Australia's pre-eminent climate scientists, and will add significant value to how we adapt.

The linked issue of climate and water supply is being addressed through the Water for Healthy Country Flagship.

Research themes

The four research themes within the Climate Adaptation Flagship are as follows.

Pathways to adaptation: positioning Australia to deal effectively with climate change

Flagship research is ensuring that Australia is positioned to deal effectively with the impacts of climate change by providing the scientific knowledge needed to improve our ability to adapt.

Sustainable cities and coasts

Flagship researchers are developing planning, design, infrastructure and management solutions to help Australia's cities and coasts adapt to a changing climate.

Managing species and natural ecosystems in a changing climate

CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship research is developing and delivering adaptation options to protect from the impacts of climate change Australia's marine and terrestrial species, ecosystems and the services they provide.

Primary industries, enterprises and communities adapting to climate change

The Climate Adaptation Flagship is developing adaptation options for Australia's primary industry and resource sectors to reduce the vulnerabilities and enhance opportunities created by climate change and variability.

Climate variability

The Climate Adaptation Flagship will encompass both climate variability and climate change.

CSIRO will continue its research on adapting to existing climate variability through advanced technologies such as seasonal climate prediction.

However, it is clear that this alone will not be sufficient in the face of climate change, given that natural or managed system thresholds will be crossed, and climate change will increase climate variability.

Adaptation to climate change is therefore the main focus of this Flagship.

Read more about the National Research Flagships.