[ASC-media] Media release: warning of 'catastrophic change'

CRCA Media crca-media at starclass.com.au
Sun Mar 28 22:43:19 EST 2004

CRCA Media Release 04/14

Embargo: 1AM March 29, 2004


A new Cooperative Research Centre Report commissioned by the Queensland Government predicts potentially catastrophic results of climate change along Australia's eastern seaboard.

The report "Environmental Crisis: Climate Change and Terrestrial Biodiversity in Queensland" will be presented to Queensland's Premier Beattie today.

"Scientists worldwide agree that global climate change is already happening," says Chief Executive Officer of the Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre, Professor Nigel Stork.

"The consequences of climate change for Australia are very serious and potentially catastrophic, and it is our concern that ministers fail to recognise the severity of the situation.  The funding for the production of this report by the Queensland Government however, indicates that they are taking the situation seriously."

"The first effects of climate change are already apparent in Australia and around the world," says Professor Stork.  "Heat alone killed hundreds of people in the northern hemisphere in 2003 and we can already see changes in biological systems."

Professor Stork says that while the report concentrates on the effects of climate change in Queensland, the coming physical and biological changes will take no account of man-made boundaries.  However in Queensland, the effects on the rich and unique biodiversity of the Wet Tropics ecosystems could be particularly severe.

Dr Steve Williams, CRC researcher who co-authored a recent paper on climate change in the international weekly journal of science Nature, says "Median predictions of a rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius over the next fifty to one hundred years will severely threaten most of our icon species of rainforest birds, reptiles, frogs and mammals, possibly sending many of them extinct.  At the same time, as population balances are upset, there is a severely increased risk of the spread of pest and weed species."

The report details how at the ecosystem level, functions such as nutrient cycling, soil development and the provision of clean water will be damaged, with reduced runoff, loss of habitat, and deterioration of water quality leading to increased blooms of toxic algae.

Increased droughts, high winds, dust storms and bushfires are also predicted.

"Even under the mildest possible climate change scenario, ecosystems are going to be redistributed," says Professor Stork.  "We will need a 'whole-of-landscape' approach in Australia, which in turn requires a 'whole-of-government' response."

Professor Stork says that although Australia's tropical rainforests are among the best-documented landscapes in the world, the report draws urgent attention to the fate of arid rangelands, mountainous areas, rivers and wetlands.

Dr Andrew Krockenberger, primary author of the report points out that it is important to remember that the effects of climate change will exacerbate the many other serious threats to natural systems, such as clearing of vegetation and invasive species.

"Any strategy for dealing with global climate change must start with two things," says Dr Krockenberger.  "Firstly, effective local and international CO2 emission control to limit the eventual extent of change; and secondly, to minimise the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, we have to halt the widespread clearing of vegetation.  In this light, we congratulate the Queensland Government for their program to halt tree clearing.  Conserving areas of regrowth is the next issue that must be tackled."

Professor Stork says that the looming threat to biodiversity must not be seen as a matter of concern only to scientists.

"The better we understand complex relationships within the various ecosystems, the better we realise how human well-being and economic activity depend on a healthy environment," he says.  "Human-induced climate change and damage to biodiversity are not just regrettable in themselves, but lead to a chain of potential unwanted effects ranging from physical damage to property (and ensuing insurance claims), to weed infestation, water shortages, loss of agricultural productivity and the spread of disease.

In the longer term, the major direct threat to human health in Australia will be the spread of insect-borne tropical diseases such as dengue and malaria."

"In Australia, the driest continent, we should be especially sensitive to the issue of decreasing rainfall brought about by forest clearance," he says.  "Clearing of natural vegetation also worsens greenhouse gas build-up and reduces the resilience of the landscape to climate change."

Professor Stork argues that the certainty of climate change makes it imperative that Australia takes a 'whole-of-government' approach.

The Report suggests a number of measures that it recommends should be brought into immediate effect.  These include:

"	Integrated management of reserves and off-reserve conservation, to maximise landscape resilience to climate change;
"	Rapid phasing out of landscape clearing;
"	Environment and water management planning to take account of climate change;
"	A review of weeds, feral animals and pests that might profit from climate change; and
"	Preparation for probable increased bushfire activity.

Professor Stork says "There is no doubt that there is now enough scientific information about climate change to warrant an immediate and comprehensive response from Federal and State governments.  The research addresses the Federal Government's national research priority one - sustainability."

"It is crucial that managing the impacts of climate change be informed by an on-going, comprehensive and strategically-prioritised program of research with clearly identified funding and links that trigger management actions," he says.  "In this way, the best management will be founded on the best scientific knowledge."

Funding for the Climate Change Forum which preceded the report was through 
a Queensland Premiers Department grant to participate in the Global Canopy 
Program. Mr Andrew Mitchell, Director of the Global Canopy Program says "Throughout geological time, climate change has been earth's most potent weapon of mass destruction extinguishing at times up to 90% of all life on earth.

"This time it appears that humans are causing the change but we also have a chance to mitigate the problem, if we act now.  The Queensland Government has taken a valuable step, by commissioning this report and by linking pioneering efforts in Queensland into a new global network of targeted research being co-ordinated by the Global Canopy Programme, which will help to monitor and asses the impact of climate change on forests," says Mr Mitchell.

"Climate change is a global phenomenon and will impact biodiversity most severely, where most biodiversity is located - in the forest canopies of the world," he says.

"Queensland is rich in biodiversity beyond most countries' dreams.  Millions of people visit its forests and reefs to experience their magnificence.  These are riches Australians and the world cannot afford to lose."

Professor Stork added "The release of the report is timely, as this week the Rainforest CRC will submit its preliminary business case to the Commonwealth Government for continued funding for the next seven years.  The new proposed 'Rainforest Futures CRC' will focus on the development of sustainable industries and the management of the environment on the east coast of Australia, from the Hunter River to Cape York.  Understanding and managing the impacts of climate change in these environments will be one of the critical issues."

The report addresses National Research Priority 1 - an environmentally sustainable Australia.

The report Environmental Crisis: Climate Change and Terrestrial Biodiversity in Queensland, published by the Rainforest CRC, is available from the Rainforest CRC, PO Box 6811, Cairns, QLD 4870.  Phone 07-4042 1246.  Email: rainforestcrc at jcu.edu.au.

More information:

Professor Nigel Stork, Rainforest CRC
Phone:  07-4042 1246;  Email:  Nigel.Stork at jcu.edu.au

Dr Andrew Krockenberger, James Cook University
Phone:  07-4042 1238;  Email:  Andrew.Krockenberger at jcu.edu.au

Dr Steve Williams, James Cook University
Phone:  07-4781 5580;  Email: Stephen.Williams at jcu.edu.au

Prof. Julian Cribb, CRCA Media, 0418 639 245

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