Meet the Climate Hub Advisory Panel: Donovan Burton



Donovan is a climate change adaptation specialist with a diverse portfolio of experience, having completed more than 150 projects in his field. Over the past 10 years, Donovan has helped numerous organisations within the property development, infrastructure and ICT sectors as well as local governments, NGOs and research organisations identify the risks and opportunities associated with climate change.

Much of Donovan’s current focus surrounds the interface between climate change, future technologies and big data analytics to better understand the barriers and enablers to change.


What is the key focus of your work?


“In a nutshell, I help organisations mainstream consideration of climate change.”


I support organisations across a broad range of industries (government, agencies, banks, insurers) understand and respond constructively to the effects of climate change.

I work closely with these organisations to design a coherent response to climate change by quantifying their portfolio exposure, identifying potential responses and helping them to make institutional investment decisions.


Is there a difference in readiness to adapt or mitigate overseas compared to Australia?


Adaptation is about responding to the physical impacts of climate change such as the rise in sea levels. Mitigation is about reducing greenhouse gas emissions via renewable energy, land design and improved farming activities, to name a few. Australia used to be a leader in both the adaptation and mitigation space, however with no tangible targets to be held accountable for, we’re now falling behind. It is estimated that New Zealand will overtake Australia in their readiness to adapt or mitigate in the next 12 months.


Up until recently there was an Australian organisation called the National Climate Change Research Facility that helped to guide collective decision making, education and research all centred around climate change. This company no longer exists.


“Australia has gone from being a leader in the climate change space to lagging behind.”


What do you think is driving this difference? What could we do to catch up?


It all boils down to politics.


“Our federal government don’t recognise the seriousness of climate change and they aren’t committing to action.”


In other countries we see legislation - New Zealand have implemented a climate change act and they’re mandating steps and processes to ensure that they achieve a low carbon resilient community. Australia doesn’t have this.


Europe and the UK have recognised that climate change is their number one issue and they’re working to change legislation and introduce incentives to respond to that. In Australia climate change is an ‘add-on’, it’s not at the forefront.


We need to move quickly like our neighbours across the water. We need real targets and to be transparent in disclosing climate risks to our community. We need to condition our people to accept climate policies. Most importantly, we need to be held accountable.


You’re currently working on ‘transition risk’. Could you tell us a bit about this research and how it might be relevant to the Whitsunday region?


“Transition risk is about responding to a low carbon future.”


The world has to be at zero carbon by 2050 at the latest. If we don’t reach this target then the chances of runaway climate change are almost guaranteed. At the current rate of international commitment to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, we have a 5% chance of containing global warming to 2 degrees. To put this into perspective - at 2 degrees we have no Great Barrier Reef.


The transition to a low carbon economy carries both risk and opportunity and could either unfold gradually over the next 30 years or happen through knee jerk, fast reactions. Transition risks include policy changes, shifts in market preferences, norms and technology. By identifying the transition risks involved on the journey to being net zero by 2050, we can avoid sudden shocks to organisations, corporations and the community. That way we can better manage the transition, meaning we’re more likely to succeed.


For instance, it needs to be recognised that carbon emissions are beginning to carry a corporate financial risk and if systems across councils and organisations aren’t updated and adapted accordingly, then a carbon price could be put into place. Carbon is no longer simply reducing greenhouse gases, it is becoming a corporate, financial, realised risk.


If so, who holds the most transition risk? 


“Governments need to roll out the infrastructure to support their communities and industries.”


If the government isn’t designing future transport networks, incentives or rewards and policies that are forward thinking, then the community will pay the price. Simple as that.


For this reason, it’s so important that our local councils invest in initiatives like the Whitsunday Climate Change Innovation Hub. Carefully planned and effective adaptation measures can limit the impacts of climate change on our communities, our economy and our environment. The Climate Hub works to identify the likely impacts of climate change sector by sector, and how best to prepare for the future. A perfect example of a practical mitigation action is the Whitsundays “Healthy Heart” project aimed at decarbonizing the local tourism sector.