Building business resilience in a changing climate
Written by: Kate Gavens, EPA Victoria
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing Victoria's environment, economy and society. Already Victoria is seeing the impacts of climate change through increases in the number and severity of bushfires, hot days and reduced water availability. The potential for flow on effects to Victorian business and the economy was evident in 2008-09 with amongst other things power outages, infrastructure damage and significant impacts on human and environmental health. Climate change will be unavoidable no matter how successful we are at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. We therefore have to prepare for these impacts to increase as well as being prepared to face new even greater challenges.
At EPA we have been working to understand how climate change will impact on the environmental systems that we protect. The aim of this work is to ensure that we can where possible, build proactive responses to protect Victoria's environment and strengthen the ability of our environment to withstand climate change.
To assist in identifying these challenges and appropriate responses, EPA has produced a report- Protecting Our Future Environment In a Changing Climate. This report which builds on research being conducted at the state, national and international level, highlights some of key challenges for Victoria including:
Air - Increased summer smog, smoke from bushfires and prescribed burning as well as increases in windblown dust.
Already we have seen the impacts of reduced air quality over Melbourne and in the regions during bushfire seasons. Air monitoring recorded visibility in Wangaratta at only 400m during the 2007-08 bushfire season and three kilometres in Melbourne.
Freshwater - Declining water quantity and quality and the loss of aquatic systems leading to a decline and the potential loss of aquatic species.
Reduced water availability has resulted in people using alternative water sources such as bore water, recycled water, greywater, desalinated water and stormwater. Handled correctly, these alternative sources can supply water for irrigation, environmental purposes and industrial uses and could be highly useful to Victoria's economy and environment. However, the water sources need to be managed properly to protect our health and our environment.
Groundwater - Increased extraction of groundwater and use of aquifers for water storage.
The Werribee Irrigation District is an important area for vegetable market gardens. During 2006-07, despite water allocations of only 25 per cent, water levels in the aquifer declined and salinity levels increased to the point where water could no longer be used. It is suspected that low groundwater levels allowed seawater to infiltrate the aquifer, causing salinity to rise.
Marine - Increased sea surface temperature, changes in ocean current patterns and increased ocean acidity.
The combination of evaporation and less freshwater inflow has caused water in Port Philip Bay to become saltier and denser than the Bass Strait. Increasing water density in Port Phillip Bay changes circulation patterns, reduces water exchange with Bass Strait and in certain areas, affects the dilution and dispersion of pollution from point sources.
The way that we respond to these challenges will be crucial in continuing to protect the Victorian environment. For EPA, this means continuing to improve our understanding of how the environment will be impacted by climate change and working with business and the broader Victorian community to appropriately respond to this change.
For the business community, there is substantial opportunity in tackling climate change, through reducing greenhouse gas emissions and therefore costs, harnessing business innovation in the changing environment and assisting to build resilience in the natural environment. To this end, EPA is produces a range of tools and services which aim to assist business in this goal. These include providing guidance to assist business in the appropriately and safe use of alternative water supply. As well as this, EPA has developed a range of carbon management tools to assist business in defining management responses.
For more information on these and other programs go to: www.epa.vic.gov.au.