Introduction to the special issue : historical and projected climatic changes to Australian natural hazards

Westra, Seth and White, Christopher J. and Kiem, Anthony S. (2016) Introduction to the special issue : historical and projected climatic changes to Australian natural hazards. Climatic Change, 139 (1). pp. 1-19. ISSN 0165-0009

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    Abstract

    Australia’s size and varied climates mean that it is affected by a range of weather-related natural hazards, including tropical and extra-tropical storms and associated extreme wind and hail, coastal and inland floods, heatwaves and bushfires. These hazards cause multiple human and environmental impacts, and collectively account for 93 % of Australian insured losses (Schuster 2013). In addition, drought—often treated distinctly from other hazards due to its more gradual onset—can cause substantial reductions in agricultural productivity, and places stress on municipal and industrial water resources and natural ecosystems. Evidence is building that the frequency and cost of natural hazards are increasing both in Australia (Insurance Council of Australia 2013; Schuster 2013) and globally (Munich Re 2014). However, understanding the cause of these changes has proved to be difficult, with increases in reporting rates (Munich Re 2014), changes in societal exposure and vulnerability (Bouwer 2011; Neumayer and Barthel 2011) and anthropogenic climate change (IPCC 2013) all potentially playing a role in explaining the observed changes. Yet although the potential causes are many, correct attribution of the observed changes is necessary in order to identify appropriate policy responses, and to predict how the frequency and severity of natural hazards might change in the future. This Special Issue focuses on the specific role of large-scale climatic changes on the observed and future incidence of Australian natural hazards. The Special Issue is divided into seven papers, each covering a major class of climate-influenced natural hazard: floods, drought, storms (including wind and hail), coastal extremes, bushfires, heatwaves and frost. The work was initiated by the Working Group on Trends and Extremes from the Australian Water and Energy Exchanges (OzEWEX) initiative, which is a regional hydroclimate project run under the auspices of the Global Energy and Water Exchanges (GEWEX) initiative.