Saturday, November 1, 2008

Snow, beaches, jobs to vanish: new pointers to a parched land

WE ALL know about the threat to the Great Barrier Reef from extreme climate change, but the Australian Conservation Foundation wants to ram home to Victorians that the effects of a hotter world will hit much closer to home.

Melbourne now sweats through about nine days of hotter-than-35-degrees each year, but by 2030 this is expected to triple to 27.

In Darwin, the picture is even worse, with a massive 312 stifling days predicted every year.

At these temperatures, not only will the lawn die off; so, too, will the great tradition of the Aussie barbecue.

And thousands more people will also die: in Queensland, scientists predict 4000 more heat-related deaths each year by the end of this century due to climate change.

According to Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry, the report, Saving Australia's Special Places, has brought together scientific data from many sources to show that the dangers of a hotter world are widespread and personal.

"A lot of us probably haven't realised how many of Australia's iconic places and activities are at real risk," Mr Henry said.

"When we go through the science, it's deeply concerning."

Wine drinkers will see the regions that produce their favourite tipple, such as Victoria's Yarra Valley, suffering from less water and more bushfire, weeds, pests and plant diseases.

According to the report, to be released today, Australia's grape-growing areas will decline by 44% by the middle of the century, and grape quality will nose-dive.

Skiers will face the gradual disappearance of snow. By the end of the century, the winter sports industry, which employs 17,000 people and adds $1.3 billion to the economy, will have disappeared as the snow simply fails to fall.

Beaches, near which Australians tend to cluster their housing, and on which we rely heavily for recreation, will suffer erosion and flooding.

The report predicts that "$50 billion to 150 billion worth of houses, property, businesses, and public infrastructure are under threat from flooding due to sea level rises".

The Kakadu wetlands are in danger of inundation by salt water, with a 59-centimetre sea level rise to hit about 90% of the national park and up to 88% of species in the bush facing extinction.

Increasingly fierce and frequent bushfires will sweep areas that were hitherto immune.

The Murray Darling Basin, already suffering an extended drought and over-allocation of water licences, will lose 92% of its agricultural production by the end of the century.

Under these nightmare scenarios, according to Mr Henry, the hundreds of thousands of tourism-related jobs, and $37 billion in exports from tourism could collapse, not to mention the damage to agriculture.

The good news, he says, is that the situation can be redeemed with strong global action, and Australia can, and should, lead the way.

"Australia can play a leadership role in convincing other countries to cut their emissions only if we are doing the right thing here at home.

"The first step is to make sure we have got good, strong targets, then to really exercise our leadership internationally to get a good agreement out of the Copenhagen meeting next December."

He believes the targets can be achieved, and will attract popular support, despite the preoccupation with the global financial meltdown.

"People are realising that they have to care about both short-term, hip-pocket issues as well as the future our children will inherit," Mr Henry said.

The report comes as the Federal Government vowed last week to push ahead with a carbon emissions trading scheme, and Treasury modelling painted an optimistic picture of the cost of deep carbon reductions, saying it would cut the average per-capita economic growth rate by just over 1%.

Under threat

Murray-Darling Basin

Our beaches

Kakadu wetlands

The Australian bush

Great Barrier Reef

The Australian Alps

Our wine regions

South-west Western Australia

The wet tropics (northern Queensland)

The Aussie backyard

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