On 29 October, the Minister for the Environment released NCRAS ahead of COP 26 in Glasgow. Quite clearly debate on emissions control has dominated this conference. Emphasis on impacts of climate change, especially to developing nations has attracted considerable attention. However, we are all aware that Australia is highly vulnerable to both natural disasters and longer-term effects of climate change. This is very apparent at a national level in the work of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements 2020, recent IPCC reports, and other inquiries and reports into effects of droughts, coral bleaching, Torres Strait Island inundation etc. Now we have NCRAS designed to “position Australia to better anticipate, manage and adapt to our changing climate”.

From what I have observed there has been very little public discussion of NCRAS since it was released. A consultation process did occur during the year on the strategy where it was made clear that while various government and non-government sectors had roles and responsibilities in adaptation, the Australian Government’s role is to:

  • Provide national science and information
  • Manage Commonwealth assets and programs
  • Provide leadership on national adaptation reform
  • Maintain a strong, flexible economy and a well-targeted social safety net.

Many submissions and comments on this role noted its narrowness. For instance, the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, commented on how our federal government could also provide “a key role in facilitating financing adaption measures at sub-national scales through national agreements, direct grants, co-funding and other instruments” (7/9/21). This carefully thought-out submission argued that there is now a policy reform window for the Australian Government to adopt a range of measures in partnership with the states, including:

  • build on and synthesize existing adaptation plans from states and territories and other organisations
  • betterment not rebuilding “as was” in harms way after a disaster
  • better building standards
  • coastal development standards
  • buy back schemes to reduce risks and economic losses
  • floodplain restoration—to “give rivers room”
  • fire management
  • environment and water including restoration of riparian lands
  • information coordination involving benchmarking good practices and knowledge brokering independent of existing information provision agencies.

While the released NCRAS does not go into that level of detail, it does offer some scope for future expansion if the Australian Government is motivated to put more resources into national adaptation planning. Perhaps I am being optimistic given the fate of past attempts at such by different federal governments. Following considerations at COP 26 there is a further imperative to achieve what NCRAS says it must achieve, namely, sustained and ongoing action across four domains: natural, built, social and economic.

The strategy details three objectives to enable more effective adaptation across Australia recognising that adaption is a “shared responsibility”.

Objective 1—drive investment and action through collaboration where the Australian Government will provide “enhanced leadership and coordination”, and will “partner with governments, businesses and communities to act and invest”.

Objective 2--- improve climate information and services to better predict, manage and adapt to climate change.

Objective 3--- assess progress and improve over time through national independent assessments of climate impacts and adaptation progress.

For more information go to National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy 2021-2025.


NCRAS should be seen as a “living strategy” capable of enhancement. It must go beyond coordination and assessment and provide a clear direction to assist other levels of government and communities in managing risks and impacts. The Commonwealth has had success in the past in working in coastal areas as noted in the work of Beverley Clarke and Nick Harvey.

NCRAS admits the need for “sustained and ongoing actions”; lessons from one-off programs such as Coasts and Clean Seas (and the demise of NCCARF) highlight lack of sustained federal commitment to address national scale problems (e.g. those confronting us from “sustained and ongoing” sea level rise!). Objective 1 does invoke the word “invest”. While no new funds have been identified the power of submissions to the NCRAS process like that from ANU should foster more encouragement to federal agencies. They should collectively design adaptation plans in collaboration with the states to address short and long-term needs across all four domains mentioned in NCRAS. This must involve consideration of those federal powers over banking and insurance. It is up to ACS and other organisations to keep advocating for such an enhancement of NCRAS otherwise it will just wither like those in the past.

Bruce Thom

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author’s thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2021. For correspondence about this blog post please email