Review of climate impact change work undertaken, research gaps and opportunities in the Tasmanian context
Tasmania draws strongly on the natural environment for many sectors of its economy, including agriculture, energy and tourism. Climate change affects the risks of natural disasters such as bushfire, drought and energy security. Research has already shown that Tasmania has already been affected by climate change and has economic impacts. Relative to Australia and many other areas of the world, climate change impacts are likely to be milder in Tasmania and could present both adverse and beneficial economic outcomes.
There has been a broad range of climate related projects carried out for the state of Tasmania. Along with the relatively well known Climate Futures for Tasmania Project, this review has identified 27 major projects and a further 50 complementary projects related to climate change in Tasmania. These projects include studies of general changes to climate, climate extremes, water supply and resources, agriculture, biosecurity, effects of fire, and the incidence of Ross river virus. These research activities have resulted in a suite of comprehensive reports that have informed Tasmanian communities, industry, and state government. Economic analysis, due to be released in early 2018, shows that the state has already benefited from this information.
There are 12 climate change research projects currently underway that are using the latest generation of climate models, which will be completed in the next 12 months. These are significant investments that can be used as the basis of the new research and information on climate change in Tasmania.
Tasmania experienced an extra-ordinary dry spring in 2015 and wet autumn in 2016. The dry spring directly led to significant bushfires and low water-yields. Emergency service responses to the bushfires cost $55m. The dry spring had a significant impact on Hydro Tasmania. The wet autumn of 2016 resulted in extensive, devastating flooding that cost 3 lives and $180m in damages. Together these three events (i.e. bushfire, drought and flood) cost the state about $300 million, or 1% of gross state product. Evidence shows that the dry spring was more intense through rising greenhouses gases in the atmosphere and indicates that climate change is already adding to the costs of natural disasters in Tasmania.
Over the last ten years there have been a significant number of developments in the analysis of climate model simulations and also in the availability of new simulations for Tasmania. There is a new recognition that natural disasters magnify the consequences of climate change. There are also new methods and approaches for examining various questions, including climate impacts on human health (e.g. heat stress, mortality), agricultural supply chains and the financial costs of climate change impacts.
The gaps identified in this review are derived from: recent consulting reports to Hydro Tasmania; stakeholder engagements; surveys carried out by the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Tasmanian Climate Change Office; Tasmanian State Natural Disaster Risk Assessment workshops; and a meta-analysis of the climate change reports, research papers already completed and listed in Tables A1 to A5 in Appendix A.
Water underpins many of the activities in the state and is critical to energy security and the future of agriculture. Tasmania is still vulnerable to seasonal variations, with significant interannual variability in rainfall and temperature. Due to the topographic relief, floods can (and do) cause major damage to private and public infrastructure. Since the last climate impacts assessments, new water infrastructure (namely the Tasmanian Irrigation scheme) has been put in place. The sensitivity of this infrastructure to certain types of climate extremes could be assessed.
Coincident and compounding extreme events have not been considered in any of the earlier work. How the frequency of coincidence will be affected by climate change has led to new questions about their relationships and impacts. Questions arising around the coincidence of bushfire with either flood, drought, or heatwave are a few examples.
Agriculture is currently growing at 8% per annum, faster than the other sectors of the state economy. The Climate Futures for Tasmania Project only covered dairy and wine grapes in detail (about $415 million of the state farm gate value for 2015-2016 year), thus the remaining 80% of this sector is effectively un-assessed and could be expanded.
Biosecurity and invasive pests are a concern for Tasmanian agriculture and also the state’s natural assets. The potential for damaging agriculture pests to establish in Tasmania as a result of climate change has not been adequately assessed. New analytical methods for pest detection, a better understanding of pest life cycles and new, more reliable projections could all be combined to estimate the emergence of viable populations in the different regions of the state. Such information is crucial for policy development in this space.
Currently tourism to Tasmania directly and indirectly generates $2-3 billion, about 10% of the state’s gross state product. Tourism is known to be negatively influenced by natural hazards such as bushfires and floods. The change in bushfire risk across the state has already been assessed, with an extended, more detailed study of the Tasmanian World Heritage Area. However, there is a need to assess more broadly how natural hazards of all kinds (heat waves, storms, floods) will affect Tasmania’s unique and highly valued biodiversity, and if this is likely to impact on tourism opportunities in the long term.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently identified the projected changes in climate as being “overwhelmingly negative” (World Health Organization, 2017). The research community has also recognised climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century” putting the “lives and wellbeing of billions of people at increased risk” representing “an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health” . While broad risk areas have been identified, the health impacts of a changing climate have not been fully assessed, and thus specific issues affecting Tasmania have not been fully identified or researched.
Tasmania is surrounded by ocean. Aquaculture and wild fisheries are about half of the agriculture sector. These areas are likely to grow and increasingly a critical element of the state economy. Climate change (and its extremes) pose a potential risk to food security through increased risks. A comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change on potential risk to the marine environment has yet to be undertaken.
Assessments of climate change and its consequences need to be translated into decisions. At present, the pathway between climate change research outputs and decision making is unclear. Tools that can help decision makers utilise the outputs of research are critical to uptake and impact. Decision making by government and businesses is important from a climate change liability and financial risk perspective. Efforts to develop these tools need to be supported to leverage the enormous amount of work that has already been done, and maximise the benefits of any future work.
It is timely to undertake an update of the future climate assessments to increase the understanding of the risks and consequences for the Tasmanian economy. There is a whole suite of new approaches to climate extremes research, new infrastructure and key sectors of the state economy and natural environment that have yet to be assessed, and taken together make a compelling case for a new statewide climate assessment.
A key success of the Climate Futures for Tasmania Program was the extensive outreach and public engagement that was incorporated into the work plan. Sustained, frequent and broad engagement within both the public and private sectors of the economy resulted in awareness and uptake of relevant climate information by decision makers in Tasmania. Since the Climate Future for Tasmania program was initiated some ten years ago, there have been changes to staff in many of the organisations involved, and it would be timely to review this engagement. Engaging dedicated experts to facilitate the interface between science and the stakeholders would be one example of improving on the past. Leverage through other schemes is required to achieve scale to create a program with an enduring impact.
Department of Premier and Cabinet
Commissioning bodyAntarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
Department/SchoolInstitute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
PublisherAntarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
Place of publicationHobart, Australia
Rights statementCopyright © 2018 The Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. This work is copyright. It may be reproduced in whole or in part for study or training purposes subject to the inclusion of an acknowledgement of the source, but not for commercial sale or use. Reproduction for purposes other than those listed above requires the written permission of the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre.