Australia –The country’s electricity and water supplies are at high risk from climate change, and immediate action is needed to prepare for the threat, a report presented to the Federal Government has warned.
Dams, roads, power stations and even paved footpaths are all at risk of damage from the increasing number of droughts and bushfires and rising sea levels during the next 30 to 50 years, said the report by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.
A national taskforce should be formed to develop guidelines for adapting to climate change and to consider legal liabilities for allowing developments to go ahead, said the report, made public yesterday by the Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong.
Electricity production and distribution in southern Australia has “a very high degree of vulnerability” to climate change.
As warmer temperatures curtail snow falls, less power can be generated from hydroelectric sources. But less cooling water would be available to coal-fired power plants. Higher temperatures are expected to increase the demand for air-conditioning, but they are also likely to lead to more bushfires, which can damage and even destroy power grids.
“Adaptation to cope effectively with these situations is expected to require major investment with integrated, high-level strategic planning,” the report said.
The use of ageing timber for electricity power poles in many parts of NSW made them vulnerable to bushfires and storms, while hot days caused overhead power lines to sag dangerously, it said. The report suggested burying power lines would be a justified expense because it would lead to fewer power cuts. Sea level rise could also be a threat to power plants in low-lying areas of NSW such as parts of the Hunter Valley and Central Coast.
“Developments in low-lying coastal areas, which are now at risk from innundation and erosion, will become increasingly vulnerable,” the report said.
Planning approvals in areas that are already regarded as flood-prone, such as parts of the Central Coast and the Hawkesbury region north-west of Sydney, might have to be reviewed.
Sydney Airport, which protrudes into Botany Bay, and other airports in low-lying areas could face “serious disruption to services” due to combined effects of sea level rise, flooding and storm surge, the report said. Dams and watercourses in southern Australia are at “high to extreme risk, with effective adaptation capacity requiring major investment and national strategic planning”.
As well as recycling more water, extra desalination plants should be considered as long as they were not powered by burning fossil fuels, the report said.
“Coupling desalination installations with thermal power stations may be worthy of consideration,” it said.
The NSW Government said the desalination plant being built at Kurnell would offset all the emissions for the electricity it needed by paying for the construction of a new wind farm.
The report suggested pavements would need to be repaired and roads sealed more often because of dryer soil combined with more extreme heavy rainfall.
Despite many engineering and scientific challenges the report examined, it concluded that most of the country’s infrastructure was robust enough to withstand most effects of climate change.