Page 6 - Final Report-8 NO TRANSPARENCY

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Resilient urban systems:
a socio-technical study of community scale climate change adaptation initiatives
In the last three years, a number of record-breaking events have demonstrated the vulnerability of Australian
communities to the impact of extreme weather. Tens of thousands of people have been affected and the
cost to business, insurers and the public is estimated to have exceeded $15 billion (Dobbin and Dowling,
2009, Ker, 2009, Dumas, 2011, State Government of Victoria, 2009). Many of the most severe social and
economic impacts resulted from disruption to infrastructure systems.
The scale of these impacts illustrates how modern societies such as Australia are dependent on the
continuous function of critical (energy, food and water) infrastructure. The design of many of these systems
is based on projections of historical trends in climate variability and pre-date contemporary understanding
of climate change. Climate models are not only projecting an increase in the intensity, frequency and
duration of extreme weather events over the coming decades, they also indicate a growing likelihood of low
probability/high impact ‘outlier’ events (Nicholls, 2008). Given the longevity of critical infrastructure and the
long investment pay-back times they require, investors, engineers and utility managers face a key challenge
in knowing how existing and emerging less- and de-centralised infrastructure systems might minimise or
exacerbate community vulnerability to climate change and other disturbances. This challenge is made
particularly difficult by the uncertainty surrounding predictions of future climate change and its impacts
(Ben-David, 2010).
With the increasing appearance of less- and de-centralised (water and energy) infrastructure systems as
part of new residential developments, it is especially important to determine how these systems affect the
resilience of Victorian communities.
Our definition of resilience
The resilience of any energy or water system (which includes the individuals and communities reliant on the
service) is indicated by the degree of disturbance it can absorb, adjust to or avoid without losing its essential
functions or identity (Walker and Salt, 2006, Folke et al., 2003, Holling, 1973, Handmer and Dovers,
1996). Critically, as understood in this project, resilience is not just the ability to return to a former state
post-disturbance. It also incorporates the concepts of adaptive capacity and transformation (Walker et al.,
2004). Transformation reflects a very high degree of resilience, despite the loss of original system structures,
functions or identity, provided this process is deliberate and results in desired conditions.
A number of researchers and system designers (including the authors) have questioned the resilience of
conventional infrastructure systems under conditions of resource scarcity and environmental and social
uncertainty. They argue that the features and characteristics that enable ‘centralised’ infrastructures
(including energy and water systems) to provide consistent, reliable, low-cost and high-quality generic
services to large numbers of people are an advantage only under conditions of stability (Biggs et al., 2010).
Under conditions of change and uncertainty, these systems can be brittle, or ‘easily shattered by accident
or malice’, thereby reducing community resilience (Lovins and Lovins, 1982, Auld, 2008, Biggs et al., 2010).
Lovins and Lovins further explain:
‘Our reliance on these delicately poised energy [and water] systems has
unwittingly put at risk our whole way of life’ (ibid)