Ma­jor chal­lenges ahead

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Contents -

Cli­mate change is likely to worsen the dis­ad­van­tages suf­fered by ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties, a re­cent Cli­mate Coun­cil of Aus­tralia re­port re­veals. On the Front­line: Cli­mate Change & Ru­ral Com­mu­ni­ties finds the in­crease in ex­treme weather events is dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect­ing those in ru­ral ar­eas, caus­ing se­ri­ous so­cial, health and eco­nomic im­pacts.

Di­rect ef­fects such as crop pro­duc­tiv­ity are rel­a­tively straight­for­ward to quan­tify, but in­di­rect im­pacts in­clud­ing changes to the dis­tri­bu­tion and in­ci­dence of pests and dis­eases, al­tered sea­son­al­ity and work sched­ules, and pres­sures on the agri­cul­tural work­force are more com­plex.

Global warm­ing is pre­dicted to re­sult in an in­crease in ex­treme weather events such as droughts, floods and heat­waves. Most crops are de­pen­dent on rain­fall, and rice yields in par­tic­u­lar can be re­duced dur­ing drought.

Higher tem­per­a­tures and less rain­fall from cli­mate change are pre­dicted to have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on South Aus­tralia’s red wine grow­ing re­gions. The re­port es­ti­mates that 70 per cent of Aus­tralia’s wine-grow­ing re­gions with a Mediter­ranean cli­mate will be less suit­able for grape grow­ing by 2050.

The yield and qual­ity of Aus­tralian stone fruit is also pre­dicted to di­min­ish, while an in­creased num­ber of trop­i­cal cy­clones will threaten the sup­ply of north­ern crops, such as ba­nanas. Higher av­er­age tem­per­a­tures and re­duced rain­fall will also make grow­ing veg­eta­bles much more dif­fi­cult.

The chal­lenges of global warm­ing will be wors­ened by the like­li­hood of fewer farm­ers to help ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties deal with the prob­lem. In 2011, there were nearly 20,000 fewer farm­ers in Aus­tralia than in 2006. Over the 30 years to 2011, the num­ber of farm­ers de­clined by 106,200 (40 per cent).

KEY FIND­INGS 1. Ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by the im­pacts of cli­mate change

Cli­mate change is wors­en­ing ex­treme events such as bush­fires and drought, and ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties will con­tinue to be dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected. Many agri­cul­tural busi­nesses sur­veyed have used fi­nan­cial re­serves – or in­creased debt – due to ex­treme weather events. Aus­tralia’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor is show­ing signs of de­creas­ing ca­pac­ity and fal­ter­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity gains, and the re­silience of some in­dus­tries is un­der threat.

2. The sys­temic dis­ad­van­tages ex­pe­ri­enced by ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties over those in ur­ban ar­eas are likely to worsen if cli­mate change con­tin­ues un­abated

Ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties have al­ready seen a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in pop­u­la­tion that has prompted fur­ther losses in ser­vices and un­em­ploy­ment. Cli­mate change will fur­ther ex­ac­er­bate th­ese stresses. Strong ac­tion is re­quired to pro­tect ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties from wors­en­ing im­pacts.

3. Ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties are al­ready adapt­ing to the im­pacts of cli­mate change, but there are lim­its and costs

Adap­ta­tion to cope with a chang­ing cli­mate may be rel­a­tively in­cre­men­tal, such as chang­ing sow­ing and har­vest­ing dates, or switch­ing to new breeds of live­stock or va­ri­eties of crops. More sub­stan­tial adap­ta­tion op­tions may in­volve chang­ing pro­duc­tion sys­tems from crop­ping to graz­ing, or re­lo­cat­ing to more suit­able ar­eas. The more trans­for­ma­tional adap­tive changes may be risky and ex­pen­sive, es­pe­cially for in­di­vid­ual farm­ers. As cli­mate con­tin­ues to change, adap­ta­tion will be­come in­creas­ingly chal­leng­ing.

4. While ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties are on the front­line of cli­mate change im­pacts, tack­ling cli­mate change also pro­vides th­ese com­mu­ni­ties with many op­por­tu­ni­ties

In Aus­tralia, ru­ral ar­eas re­ceive around 30-40 per cent of the to­tal in­vest­ment in re­new­ables, val­ued at $1-2 bil­lion per year. Re­new­able en­ergy projects bring jobs and in­vest­ment into ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties. De­liv­er­ing half of Aus­tralia’s elec­tric­ity from re­new­able sources by 2050 would cre­ate more than 28,000 jobs. The tran­si­tion to clean en­ergy will also re­duce the health bur­den of burn­ing coal – al­most en­tirely borne by ru­ral and re­gional ar­eas. Farm­ers can build the cli­mate re­silience of their farms via ad­di­tional rev­enue streams, such as host­ing wind tur­bines and other re­new­able en­ergy projects. In Aus­tralia, ap­prox­i­mately $20.6 mil­lion is paid an­nu­ally in lease pay­ments to farm­ers and land­hold­ers host­ing wind tur­bines. Com­mu­nity funds and ad­di­tional rate rev­enue for ru­ral and re­gional ar­eas from re­new­able en­ergy can be used to im­prove pub­lic ser­vices and lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture. Re­new­able en­ergy can re­duce elec­tric­ity costs for ru­ral and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, which tra­di­tion­ally pay much more than ur­ban coun­ter­parts. It also of­fers in­de­pen­dence from the grid – sev­eral towns are rac­ing to be the first to op­er­ate on 100 per cent re­new­able en­ergy.

LEFT: Rain­fall deciles for April to Septem­ber 1997-2013 show the deep south of Aus­tralia ob­serv­ing record low lev­els of rain­fall, and the top end re­ceiv­ing record highs (Source: BoM)

RIGHT: Mean tem­per­a­tures have in­creased in Aus­tralia be­tween 1910 and 2013. (Source: BoM)

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