There is no aspect of life that will be unaffected by a changing climate. Every component of society, economy and environment will have differing levels of resilience and exposure to change than others and will respond to varying degrees to the stressors of climate change.
Impacts will be far reaching and unpredictable, from heat waves, extreme weather events, bushfires, soil erosion, invasive species, food production, diseases and impacts on financial markets, levels of crime, mental health to name a few. It is vital that we are preparing for climate change, so here is a snap shot of what we know about climate change in arid Australia and what we need to know going forward.
Total annual emissions for the Northern Territory are 16.5 Mt CO2-e. This is a 27.6% increase on 2005 emissions. Total emissions of the NT are 3.1% of Australians annual emissions. The single largest source of emissions is through Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry. This is followed by Stationary Energy and then Agriculture.
The forward outlook projects significant increases in NT emissions by several orders of magnitude. The single largest confirmed addition to NT emission will be due to the INPEX Ichthys project coming online. This offshore gas and processing project in Darwin is projected to produce a whopping 280Mt of greenhouse gases over the 40-year lifetime (Inpex EPA Assessment Report).
With the moratorium on fracking having been lifted, if an onshore unconventional gas industry develops in the NT this will significantly increase the emissions of the NT. Resource estimates suggest development of an industry could triple emissions for the NT.
Emissions are projected to rise in the Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry if several large land clearing permits are acted on. There has been a tenfold increase in land clearing applications in the last two years, with the most recent being the largest in history for the NT, potentially emitting 2-3 Mt CO2-e or about 20% of total annual emissions.
Stationary energy emissions are projected to decrease as the Roadmap to Renewables 50% by 2030 policy is implemented. This will also improve the resilience of our energy systems to heatwaves as adaptive responses are expected to put our grid system under increasing strain.
Predicted Climate Impacts
Climate change is expected to impact the north and arid areas greater than southern regions.
The number of days over 35 expected to rise considerably. Average days over 40oc could triple in Alice Springs by 2090 (LEB Assessment report). Average temperatures could rise as much as 7oC by the end of the century under a high emissions scenario.
Current emission trajectories place us on the high scale of warming modelling which could cause of rise of between 2.9-5.3 degrees by 2090 (BOM).
The heating and cooling energy requirement of an average energy efficiency household is project to rise 66% by 2050 and over 200% by 2100 (Want et al 2010). As a certain degree of warming is already occurring, adaptation is now an essential aspect of climate policy.
The table below summaries the latest climate projections for the rangelands of Australia.
Adaptation: what we need to know
Climate change in the arid zone is characterised by high levels of uncertainty. Our understanding of how various elements will interact in response to climate stressors is largely unknown. Our ability to therefore assess the effectiveness and suitability of adaptation strategies is limited.
A holistic, integrated approach to adaptation is required to bring together broad information sources as well as wide public participation.Strategy needs to identify unforeseeable impacts, such as increases in crime during heatwaves. A methodology is needed to evaluate policy actions to ensure inbuilt adaptive capacity when responses are identified. At the same time, it is important to frame adaptation as a positive potential for transformation. Positive opportunities include carbon capture and storage, renewable energy and resilient crops.
If a certain level of industrial activity is inevitably going to progress, then we need to heavily scrutinise offsetting and carbon sequestration strategies. An effective offsets policy is one that priorities prevention and ensures net positive environmental gains over the long term. This could look like the establishment of conservation reserves in perpetuity and the restoration of heavily degraded landscapes.
There needs to be a concerted effort to identify and address the barriers to effective adaptation. Whole of government processes should be reviewed against the ability to facilitate and implement adaptation strategies. For example; the processes around gaining approval for water recycling from Government should be reformed with a view to enabling greater uptake of recycling initiatives.
Where we are headed, what we need to do
Life in the desert under unmitigated warming will see the extremes of weather become more extreme. It is imperative that we commit to reducing our emissions and keep carbon in the ground. There is an urgent need to develop pioneering adaptation strategies that demonstrate the potential for transformational change that maintains liveability in the region and manages environmental risks.
Adaptation strategy must strive for transformational change rather than incremental changes if we are to prevent significant losses and harm. We need to strengthen multidisciplinary, interdepartmental and civil collaboration and communication.
Indigenous engagement with climate policy is vital. The connection between native title and land rights with carbon rights, interests in water and biodiversity is largely unexplored but needs to play a key role in the direction of climate planning.
Human rights must become a key theme in climate discussion and policy formulation. Climate action is as much an issue of justice as it is environmental action. Climate change has serious cultural implications because of the ongoing importance of connecting and caring for country.
Adaptive decision-making processes will need to be incorporated into everyday decision making over all areas of civil, government and corporate affairs. We need to strive for policy and regulatory structures that create incentives for improving adaptive capacity while reducing emissions. Only then will we be able to begin safeguarding our communities and landscapes from a changing climate.