Facing up to climate change risks

Tasmania RiskClimate Tasmania held the third of its information forums on August 24. Here we looked into the major risks that Tasmania faces as the world’s climate heats up, and likely implications for Tasmanian society.

Our 1st forum had previously looked at some economic risks – for example to Hydro Tasmania’s energy output and for sea fisheries management. Our 2nd forum addressed likely implications that extreme temperatures, unseasonal weather and droughts may impose on agricultural production.

This 3rd forum, chaired by UTAS professor Jan McDonald, focussed on three other major risks that Tasmania is likely to face – an increase in the incidence and severity of wildfires, an accelerating increase in sea level rise and significant implications for human health. To explore these themes we invited expert speakers in each of these three areas to provide presentations.

Risk 1:

How should Tasmania minimise and defend against catastrophic bushfires?

SandyChrisSandra Whight and Chris Collins are officers of the Tasmanian Fire Service (TFS). Sandra and Chris have impressive hands on experience in general fire management issues and provided some fascinating insights into Tasmania’s changing climate and how this is being expertly incorporated into the TFS’s strategic planning.

Bushfires imageTake home messages: Since the bushfire threat is arguably Tasmania’s most immediate and dynamic risk stemming from climate change the Fire Service is acting accordingly – identifying areas of Tasmania that are at most risk, contributing to various processes such as reform of building codes, educating the Tasmanian community (half of which has no fire plan in place), engaging with fire prone communities and engaging with other governmental agencies in reducing fuel levels in risk prone areas.

Chris and Sandy’s two presentations can be downloaded here:

1. Climate aspects
2. General fire strategies

The audio track is here.

The TFS displays very little climate change information on its otherwise informative website, but is well versed in the issues and takes them very seriously.

For a national overview of bushfire risk the Climate Council has issued a number of excellent reports on bushfire risk during the past year.

Here is a US based documentary that looks at climate change and increased incidence of bushfires.

Risk 2:

How will our coasts and infrastructure be affected?

1 John HDr John Hunter is a member of Climate Tasmania. He is an oceanographer working in an emeritus position at the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre – based within UTAS. His current focus of interest is sea-level rise induced by climate change.

John’s presentation explored the IPCC’s forecasts on the range of sea level rises that we can expect in the coming century and some consequences for coastal systems and human infrastructure globally and around Tasmania’s shorelines.

Sea levelTake home messages: Tasmania will experience a rise in sea level rise of between about 0.5 and 1 metre by the end of this century. Planning under such uncertainty requires the application of risk management techniques which, in this case, indicate that planners should allow for a higher sea-level rise (i.e. of around 1 metre) rather than a lower one. This illustrates the general and important principle, based on an objective application of risk assessment that, in order to keep our risks the same as they are at present, we should plan for the worst projections of climate change.

John’s slide presentation (in two parts) can be downloaded here:

John Hunter 1
John Hunter 2.

The audio track is here.

For more specific information about the Tasmanian situation readers are invited to look up:

• the work of Dr Chris Sharples.

• the Tasmanian Shoreline Monitoring and Archiving Project .

• the current status of planning allowances for coastal developments.

Risk 3:

How will climate change impact on human health?

Anna_lythAnna Lyth is Senior Research Fellow based at UTAS. She has had an abiding interest in the development of sustainable cities and regions and in exploring the complex problems for societies that will be affected by climate and other challenges.

Heat stroke imageTake home messages: Climate change poses wide ranging, systemic challenges to world health, ranging from mortalities and ill health stemming from heat waves, floods, bushfires and droughts to the spread of diseases such as dengue fever, to the livelihoods of disadvantaged people, to general mental anguish and growing global insecurity.

Tasmania has its own set of health risks.

Despite these concerns, research into climate impacts in Australia has been mostly focussed on the more direct, physical risks. To date there is a paucity of research data on the health link but a recognition that urgent work is needed in this area.

Anna’s slide presentation can be downloaded here.

The audio track is here.

A useful summary document that itemises a range of implications for health in Australia can be downloaded here.

Q & A Session

The audio track for this session is here.

Recommended background reading.

Atmosphere-of-HopeClimate Council riskBy happy coincidence, Professor Tim Flannery has just released his latest book on climate change risks and responses “Atmosphere of Hope”.

Meanwhile, the national Climate Council has also issued its own report “Growing Risks, Critical Choices” in the past week.

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