Natural disasters cost Victoria billions

Friends of the Earth released this statement on January 30.

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A research report by environment group Friends of the Earth shows the financial cost to governments and the community in Victoria from natural disasters was $19.9 billion over a 10-year period, from 2003 to 2013.

The report Natural Disasters and a Warming Climate; Understanding the Cumulative Financial Impacts on Victoria is a compilation of loss statistics from weather-related Victorian disaster events — fires, floods, storms and heatwaves.

The figures of $6762 million in public costs and $13,174 million in insured costs are based on estimates of loss cost rather than true cost. Disaster cost estimates in Australia are largely drawn from insurance data or insurance data with some augmentation; they are therefore a limited proxy for true costs. Some public costs associated with particular events were not able to be identified.

Friends of the Earth campaigns coordinator Cam Walker said: “Climate change science clearly tells us that, without concerted global action to reduce emissions, Victoria will face hotter summers and extended heatwaves, more erratic rainfall patterns, and longer bushfire seasons.

“We note the Climate Council statement that all extreme weather events are now being influenced by climate change because they are occurring in a climate system that is hotter and moister than it was 50 years ago.

“It is clear that there are already considerable economic impacts of climate change that are being felt across the state. These costs are directly competing with other demands, such as education and health budgets.

“What this report seeks to highlight is the fact that the government is ‘flying blind’ when it comes to tracking the economic and social costs of natural disasters on our state. There is no single tally of the costs of extreme weather events, and so it is up to the media to report each event as they occur.

“A forward thinking state government would compile the full costs, making them public on an annual basis, and task the premier’s office with coordinating the state-wide response to tackling climate change and advancing the state’s climate adaptation plans.

“Insurance data only account for insured losses, and these represent a fraction of the total cost of a disaster. They do not include many indirect costs, nor intangibles such as ecosystem services like drinking water. They do not include the huge personal costs of losing loved ones, homes, or businesses. They do not include the personal costs to police, firefighters, SES and other emergency workers who face danger and human loss, and must contend with the emotional impacts of their work.

“As Victoria suffered under the recent heatwave, limitations in the ‘surge capacity’ of our medical system were apparent. Health professionals have called on the government to urgently review how the state manages heatwave response. While bushfires have caused the greatest financial impact on Victoria over the past decade, heatwaves have been the largely unacknowledged killer in our state. According to a Monash University study, more than 200 people died as a result of the 2009 heatwave.

“Our state government has walked away from meaningful action to reduce greenhouse pollution, including dismantling the emission reductions target in the Victorian Climate Change Act. It has retreated to a position where it has opted for an adaptation response rather than a serious mitigation strategy, and it’s Adaptation Plan has been criticised as being insufficient to task.

“What this report highlights is the fact that natural disasters are a major drain on public and private funds, with total known costs over 10 years of natural disaster events in Victoria being $19.9 billion.

“Unless our government stops hiding from climate science, and joins the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will be condemning Victorians to an ever greater cost burden from extreme weather events.”

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