Unique Australian ecosystems threatened by global warming

It could be too late to protect some of Australia’s most unique ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier reef and the Daintree Rainforest, from the destructive effects of climate change, according to a report released by the Federal Government today.

Australian ecosystems most vulnerable to greenhouse gas induced climate change include alpine regions, reefs, tropical rainforests and coastal wetlands, according to a report commissioned by the Australian Greenhouse Office.

Allen Consulting, which wrote the report, said particular priority should be given to World Heritage listed systems.

“However, there is a need to face the prospect that, in some cases, there may be little that can be done,” said the report.

“Climate change might overwhelm some fragile species and remnant habitats (such as those in alpine regions) that literally have nowhere else to go, or for which effective options for supplementing their natural adaptive and coping capacities … are extremely limited,” it said.

The 159-page report said there was little doubt Australia faced some degree of climate change over the next 30 to 50 years irrespective of international or Australian efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

“Much of the climate change likely to be observed over the next few decades will be driven by the action of greenhouse gases already accumulated in the atmosphere,” it said.

Figures released by the Federal Government earlier this year showed more greenhouse gases were being produced in Australia as people consumed increasing amounts of energy.

Australia, along with the US, has refused to ratify the international climate change agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, which sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government has also refused to extend support to the struggling renewable energy industry, which has found it difficult to compete against coal. The coal industry is not penalised for being a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal, and the country’s coal-intensive electricity sector makes Australia among the world’s highest per capita emissions producers.

Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell said Australia needed to look no further than the economic and social impacts of prolonged periods of drought to understand the importance of climate.

“What governments, industry and communities need to do now is think more strategically about how to respond to the changes in climate that are likely over the next 20 to 30 years. This report is an important part of that process,” he said.

Senator Campbell said the next step was to begin adaptation planning in key sectors and regions.

Senator Campbell told ABC Radio Australians should not panic about climate change.

“It could be painted as alarming but the reality is that these changes will happen over time,” he said.

However, Opposition environment spokesman Anthony Albanese said the Howard Government had been complacent about climate change and said it had to ratify the Kyoto Protocol or risk being responsible for an “environmental tsunami”.

“It’s one thing to say it’s not a cause for alarm, it is another thing to say it’s not a cause for action,” AAP quoted Mr Albanese as saying.

“Australia needs to be part of the international efforts to combat dangerous climate change, we need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, we need to increase our mandatory renewable energy targets and we should have a national emissions trading scheme.”

Greenpeace said there was little point in the Government publishing a report about the seriousness of climate change but doing nothing to cut emissions.

“We challenge the Federal Government to show us what serious action they are taking to avoid dangerous climate change,” said Greenpeace energy campaigner Catherine Fitzpatrick.