Drought to be­come more fre­quent and se­vere due to cli­mate change – gov­ern­ment re­port

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Amy Re­meikis

Drought is not a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter and must be ac­cepted as an en­dur­ing fea­ture of the Aus­tralian land­scape which cli­mate change is only go­ing to make worse, the drought co­or­di­na­tor has re­ported, warn­ing the na­tion may see some ar­eas be­come “more mar­ginal and un­pro­duc­tive” as a re­sult.

The Mor­ri­son gov­ern­ment re­leased the drought strategy re­port by Maj Gen Stephen Day at the same time it an­nounced its lat­est drought sup­port mea­sures, hav­ing struck a deal with the South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment for another 100GL of water from the Mur­ray River.

In re­turn for the ad­di­tional water flow, which the gov­ern­ment an­tic­i­pates will help be­tween 4,000 and 6,000 farm­ers grow 120,000 tonnes of fod­der and cost the bud­get $100m, the Mor­ri­son gov­ern­ment will help the South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment turn on its Ade­laide de­sali­na­tion plant.

The water re­lease, which will be re­viewed in April, with the Snowy as a con­tin­gency plan, was a cor­ner­stone of the lat­est drought mea­sures an­nounce­ment, which also in­cluded con­ces­sional loans of up to $2m for farm­ers and $500,000 for small busi­nesses, and a boost to the drought com­mu­ni­ties pro­gram.

The gov­ern­ment also an­nounced $5m to as­sist child care cen­tres with in­creased de­mand and $10m for schools suf­fer­ing hard­ship be­cause of the drought’s im­pact.

Another $200m from the Build­ing

Bet­ter Re­gions fund will be quar­an­tined for drought-stricken re­gions, with a $139m top up for road projects.

The gov­ern­ment re­jected part of the Na­tional Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion drought strategy call for exit pack­ages, with Scott Mor­ri­son point­ing to the land hav­ing held its value, de­spite the drought.

“If they make their own de­ci­sions about what they want to do with their prop­er­ties, their prop­er­ties are val­ued at strong levels at present, and that ac­tu­ally as­sists them, if that’s the de­ci­sion they want to take,” Mor­ri­son said.

“But where those sorts of things have been ap­plied in the past, that has been when you’re go­ing through in­dus­try re­struc­tur­ing ar­range­ments, and where there has been a de­ci­sion to fa­cil­i­tate peo­ple off the land.

“We’re not seek­ing to fa­cil­i­tate peo­ple off the land. We’re try­ing to as­sist them to stay on. And those who know that they have a fu­ture in the sec­tor, then these mea­sures will greatly as­sist them.”

Mor­ri­son said the gov­ern­ment would con­tinue to re­act to the drought as it went on, with drought-stricken coun­cils el­i­gi­ble for another $1m in pay­ments to boost lo­cal spend­ing.

But in his re­port to the gov­ern­ment, the rec­om­men­da­tions of which the cabi­net has had since April but only re­leased on Thurs­day, Day high­lighted the role cli­mate change would have in ex­tend­ing and wors­en­ing Aus­tralia’s droughts.

“As a con­se­quence of cli­mate change, drought is likely to be more reg­u­lar, longer in du­ra­tion and broader in area,” Day re­ported.

“It means that farm­ers and com­mu­ni­ties who rarely see drought are likely to see it more of­ten. And those that have been man­ag­ing drought for many years may now see it in­ten­sify beyond their lived ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Ul­ti­mately, the na­tion could see some ar­eas of Aus­tralia be­come more mar­ginal and un­pro­duc­tive.”

Day made 18 rec­om­men­da­tions to the gov­ern­ment in terms of en­act­ing a long-term drought strategy, to which the gov­ern­ment has re­sponded to 14 al­ready. The re­main­ing four have been noted but drought minister David Lit­tleproud said the long-term na­ture of the rec­om­men­da­tions meant they would take a lit­tle longer to act on.

They in­cluded lead­er­ship pro­grams for re­gional and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and de­vel­op­ing bet­ter drought in­di­ca­tors, in lieu of a new def­i­ni­tion of drought.

Day also wants reg­u­lar as­sess­ments of the na­tion’s nat­u­ral re­sources to bet­ter in­form long-term use and man­age­ment, and an as­sess­ment of avail­able sur­face and ground­wa­ter, so the gov­ern­ment knows what each area is work­ing with, as population­s and uses ebb and flow.

The re­port ad­vises Aus­tralia to main­tain drought prepa­ra­tions, even in times of nor­mal rain­fall, with a fo­cus on in­evitable fu­ture dry spells.

“While droughts are nor­mal for Aus­tralia, drought con­di­tions are likely to be­come more fre­quent, se­vere and longer due to cli­mate change,” Day ad­vised.

“Farm­ing is a busi­ness and drought is one of the many busi­ness risks that should be man­aged.”

Day laid out a long-term strategy which in­cluded bet­ter stew­ard­ship of the na­tion’s re­sources, in­cen­tives for good prac­tices, im­proved plan­ning and de­ci­sion making, fo­cus­ing on com­mu­nity re­silience and bet­ter in­for­ma­tion flow across all sec­tors of gov­ern­ment, into com­mu­ni­ties.

The lat­est an­nounce­ment came as the gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to de­fend its re­sponse to the dry so far, which it says in­cluded at least $7bn in fund­ing, count­ing the $5bn fu­ture drought fund, which will be­gin making pay­ments in 2020.

Lit­tleproud also vig­or­ously de­fended the gov­ern­ment’s drought com­mu­ni­ties pro­gram, af­ter a Vic­to­rian coun­cil re­jected a $1m grant, as it was not in drought, with re­ports a South Aus­tralian coun­cil was also con­sid­er­ing for­go­ing the funds for the same rea­son.

Lit­tleproud said the coun­cil grants would con­tinue to be as­sessed as in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing rain­fall, was up­dated, but lashed out at crit­ics of grants that had been spent on lo­cal projects not di­rectly con­nected to the drought, in­clud­ing pub­lic toi­lets, ceme­tery up­grades, mu­sic fes­ti­vals and a vir­tual gym.

“Let me say, with re­spect to the pro­grams … a toi­let in a ceme­tery [is ben­e­fi­cial] and you know why?

“Be­cause you know who built that? A lo­cal tradie. You know where he got his goods from? A lo­cal hard­ware store. That’s new money into that econ­omy.

“I’m sorry, with all due re­spect, you may want to be­lit­tle some­thing like a toi­let block, but to those peo­ple, to those economies, that is new money that keeps that tradie go­ing, keeps his ap­pren­tice go­ing. And to not un­der­stand the ... in­tri­ca­cies shows ig­no­rance.”

Drought con­di­tions are likely to be­come more fre­quent, se­vere and longer due to cli­mate change

Stephen Day

Pho­to­graph: David Gray/Reuters

‘As a con­se­quence of cli­mate change, drought is likely to be more reg­u­lar, longer in du­ra­tion and broader in area,’ says Stephen Day in the gov­ern­ment’s drought strategy re­port.

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