Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Climate change threatens weather havoc for Western Port

Mathew Murphy 
The Age, June 26, 2008

VICTORIA'S Western Port region is at risk of experiencing more bushfires, rising sea levels, higher temperatures and the once-in-a-century storm becoming an annual occurrence unless measures are taken to combat climate change.

The grim warning forms part of a comprehensive two-year study by the CSIRO and economists Marsden Jacob Associates set to be released today.

The report, obtained by The Age, found that a rise in sea levels would "undoubtedly" affect Western Port's low-lying coastline, with the townships on Phillip Island, Tooradin, Warneet and Hastings most at risk.

The impact on the local economy, tourist attractions including surrounding beaches, property and human health could be substantial, it warns.

Fears have also been expressed for the local penguin population, one of Victoria's most popular tourist attractions, with a separate report being undertaken to determine the risks of climate change to the penguin colony.

In the worst-case scenario, the study predicts temperature increases of 1.1 degrees by 2030 and 3.5 degrees by 2070, with heat-related human deaths set to rise to 53 annually by 2100.

"The Western Port region is significantly exposed to climate extremes and natural hazards such as storm surges and coastal inundation, floods, bushfires and extreme temperatures. These hazards are expected to increase in frequency and/or severity," the report says.

"(It will have direct impact on) land use and management, damages and maintenance costs to public and private property and infrastructure, human health and water availability."

The report, which was funded by the federal and state governments and has received local government input, will be used by all levels of government to formulate climate-change policy and comes a week before the Government's climate-change adviser, Ross Garnaut, releases his draft report into emissions trading.

Dr Kathy McInnes, one of the report authors, said the low-lying Western Port region had been selected because it was particularly vulnerable. Many of the findings would be relevant to other coastal areas.

"This information will help prioritise the areas of the community that are particularly at risk and how we climate-proof the area," she said.

The report also projects that:

■ By 2070, extreme rainfall will increase by up to 70%, depending on location. However, average rainfall is expected to decline by up to 8% by 2030 and up to 23% by 2070.

■ Sea levels will rise by up to 0.17 metres by 2030 and up to 0.49 metres by 2070, with vulnerable areas in Western Port to increase by up to 15% by 2030 and 63% by 2070. More than 2000 individuals, more than 1000 dwellings and property worth about $780 million will be affected.

■ The number of "very high" and "extreme" forest fire days in the Western Port region will increase by one or two days by 2030 and two to seven days by 2050.

The modelling did not take into account an emissions trading scheme or the Federal Government's commitment to a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Greg Hunt, executive officer of the Western Port Greenhouse Alliance, which commissioned the report, said it was not designed to be alarmist.

"I would refer to my fridge magnet and be alert but not alarmed. I don't know that people would want to get their house and jack it up on stilts just yet," he said. "What this shows is that we need leadership from all three tiers of government. We are going to need some engineering solutions, and our engineers are looking at that."

Peter Kinrade, of Marsden Jacob Associates, said governments had the power to ensure the forecasts did not eventuate.

"A lot of those impacts outlined are potentially manageable as long as there is a proactive and strategic response to the issue," he said.

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