IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

11.6 Case studies

The following case studies (Boxes 11.2 to 11.4) illustrate regions where climate change has already occurred, impacts are evident and planned adaptation is being considered or implemented.

Box 11.2. Adaptation of water supplies in cities

In capital cities such as Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Auckland, concern about population pressures and the impact of climate change is leading water planners to implement a range of adaptation options (Table 11.2). For example, the winter rainfall-dominated region of south-west Western Australia has experienced a substantial decline in May to July rainfall since the mid-20th century. The effects of the decline on natural runoff have been severe, as evidenced by a 50% drop in annual inflows to reservoirs supplying the city of Perth (Figure 11.3). Similar pressures have been imposed on groundwater resources and wetlands. This has been accompanied by a 20% increase in domestic usage in 20 years, and a population growth of 1.7%/yr (IOCI, 2002). Climate simulations indicate that at least some of the observed drying is due to the enhanced greenhouse effect (IOCI, 2002). To ensure water security, a US$350 million programme of investment in water source development was undertaken by the WA Water Corporation (WA Water Corporation, 2004) from 1993 to 2003. In 2004, the continuation of low streamflow led to the decision to construct a seawater desalination plant, which will provide 45 Gl of water each year, at a cost of US$271 million. Energy requirements (24 MW) will be met by 48 wind turbines.

Figure 11.3

Figure 11.3. Annual inflow to Perth Water Supply System from 1911 to 2005. Horizontal lines show averages.

Source: www.watercorporation.com.au/D/dams_streamflow.cfm. Courtesy of the Water Corporation of Western Australia.

Box 11.3. Climate change and the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the world’s largest continuous reef system (2,100 km long) and is a critical storehouse of Australian marine biodiversity and a breeding ground for seabirds and other marine vertebrates such as the humpback whale. Tourism associated with the GBR generated over US$4.48 billion in the 12-month period 2004/5 and provided employment for about 63,000 full-time equivalent persons (Access Economics, 2005). The two greatest threats from climate change to the GBR are (i) rising sea temperatures, which are almost certain to increase the frequency and intensity of mass coral bleaching events, and (ii) ocean acidification, which is likely to reduce the calcifying ability of key organisms such as corals. Other factors, such as droughts and more intense storms, are likely to influence reefs through physical damage and extended flood plumes (Puotinen, 2006).

Sea temperatures on the GBR have warmed by about 0.4°C over the past century (Lough, 2000). Temperatures currently typical of the northern tip of the GBR are very likely to extend to its southern end by 2040 to 2050 (SRES scenarios A1, A2) and 2070 to 2090 (SRES scenarios B1, B2) (Done et al., 2003). Temperatures only 1°C above the long-term summer maxima already cause mass coral bleaching (loss of symbiotic algae). Corals may recover but will die under high or prolonged temperatures (2 to 3°C above long-term maxima for at least 4 weeks). The GBR has experienced eight mass bleaching events since 1979 (1980, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006); there are no records of events prior to 1979 (Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999). The most widespread and intense events occurred in the summers of 1998 and 2002, with about 42% and 54% of reefs affected, respectively (Done et al., 2003; Berkelmans et al., 2004). Mortality was distributed patchily, with the greatest effects on near-shore reefs, possibly exacerbated by osmotic stress caused by floodwaters in some areas (Berkelmans and Oliver, 1999). The 2002 event was followed by localised outbreaks of coral disease, with incidence of some disease-like syndromes increasing by as much as 500% over the past decade at a few sites (Willis et al., 2004). While the impacts of coral disease on the GBR are currently minor, experiences in other parts of the world suggest that disease has the potential to be a threat to GBR reefs. Effects from thermal stress are likely to be exacerbated under future scenarios by the gradual acidification of the world’s oceans, which have absorbed about 30% excess CO2 released to the atmosphere (Orr et al., 2005; Raven et al., 2005). Calcification declines with decreasing carbonate ion concentrations, becoming zero at carbonate ion concentrations of approximately 200 µmol/kg (Langdon et al., 2000; Langdon, 2002). These occur at atmospheric CO2 concentrations of approximately 500 ppm. Reduced growth due to acidic conditions is very likely to hinder reef recovery after bleaching events and will reduce the resilience of reefs to other stressors (e.g., sediment, eutrophication).

Even under a moderate warming scenario (A1T, 2°C by 2100), corals on the GBR are very likely to be exposed to regular summer temperatures that exceed the thermal thresholds observed over the past 20 years (Done et al., 2003). Annual bleaching is projected under the A1FI scenario by 2030, and under A1T by 2050 (Done et al., 2003; Wooldridge et al., 2005). Given that the recovery time from a severe bleaching-induced mortality event is at least 10 years (and may exceed 50 years for full recovery), these models suggest that reefs are likely to be dominated by non-coral organisms such as macroalgae by 2050 (Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999; Done et al., 2003). Substantial impacts on biodiversity, fishing and tourism are likely. Maintenance of hard coral cover on the GBR will require corals to increase their upper thermal tolerance limits at the same pace as the change in sea temperatures driven by climate change, i.e. about 0.1-0.5°C/decade (Donner et al., 2005). There is currently little evidence that corals have the capacity for such rapid genetic change; most of the evidence is to the contrary (Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999, 2004). Given that recovery from mortality can be potentially enhanced by reducing local stresses (water quality, fishing pressure), management initiatives such as the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and the Representative Areas Programme (which expanded totally protected areas on the GBR from 4.6% to over 33%) represent adaptation options to enhance the ability of coral reefs to endure the rising pressure from rapid climate change.

Box 11.4. Climate change adaptation in coastal areas

Australia and New Zealand have very long coastlines with ongoing development and large and rapidly growing populations in the coastal zone. This situation is placing intense pressure on land and water resources and is increasing vulnerability to climatic variations, including storm surges, droughts and floods. A major challenge facing both countries is how to adapt to changes in climate, reduce vulnerability, and yet achieve sustainable development. Two examples illustrate this challenge.

Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand. This bay is characterised by a narrow coastal zone with two of the fastest-growing districts of New Zealand. Combined population growth was 13.4% over the period 1996 to 2001, centred on the cities of Tauranga and Whakatane. By 2050, the population is projected to increase 2 to 3 times. Beachfront locations demand the highest premiums on the property market, but face the highest risks from storm surge flooding and erosion. Substantial efforts have been made to reduce the risks. For the purpose of delineation of hazard zones and design of adaptation measures, the Environment Bay of Plenty regional council explicitly included IPCC projections of sea-level rise in its Regional Coastal Environment Plan. This identified ‘areas sensitive to coastal hazards within the next 100 years’. Implementation of such policy and plans by local government authorities has been repeatedly challenged by property developers, commercial interests and individual homeowners with different interpretations of the risks.

Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay-Burnett, Queensland, Australia. Between 2001 and 2021, the Sunshine Coast population is projected to grow from 277,987 to 479,806 (QDLGP, 2003), and the Wide Bay-Burnett population is projected to grow from 236,500 to 333,900 (ABS, 2003b). Sandy beaches and dunes are key biophysical characteristics of this coastline, including Fraser Island which is the largest sand island in the world. These natural features and the human populations they attract are vulnerable to sea-level rise, flooding, storm surges and tropical cyclones. Many estuaries and adjacent lowlands have been intensively developed, some as high-value canal estates. Local government is clearly becoming aware of climate-change risks. This topic is included in the agenda of the Sea-Change Taskforce, made up of coastal councils throughout Australia. At the regional planning level, climate change was recently embedded at a policy level into the strategic planning processes for the Wide Bay-Burnett region.