Global warming bakes australia's natural treasures

Posted: 15 February 2002

Three of Australia's World Heritage Areas are showing signs of significant damage due to low levels of climate change - Kakadu National Park, the Wet Tropics of Queensland, and the Great Barrier Reef according to a report by Climate Action Network Australia.

Ninety Australian mammals, including rare species of wombat, possum and wallaby, could be wiped out if forecasts of average temperature rise made in the report are accurate.

Another World Heritage Area, the Blue Mountains, will be affected by higher levels of climate change, says the report Warnings from the Bush, authored by Anna Reynolds. Mount Kosciuszko, Australia's highest mountain, will lose its alpine environment due to global warming, she predicts.

Queensland’s koala: at risk from climate change. Credit: Australian Tourist ComissionAt risk from climate change are the animals featured as the state emblems of three Australian states - the koala of Queensland, the Leadbeater's possum of Victoria state, and the hairy-nosed wombat of South Australia.

Reynolds said yesterday that even Australia, the only country that has a continent all to itself, is no longer an island when it comes to global warming. "If we want to avoid environmental damage in Australia, we have to take the lead by getting global reductions," she said referring to greenhouse gas emissions link to climate warming.

Half of the "cloud" rainforests of north Queensland's Wet Tropics would be devastated by a temperature rise of just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees F.), said Dr. David Hilbert, principal research scientist at the CSIRO Tropical Forest Research Centre. The Commonwealth Scientific, Industrial and Research Organization (CSIRO) is the Australian government's research branch.

"CSIRO atmospheric scientists are now predicting two to five degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century, so a one degree change is liable to happen within 30 to 50 years," said Dr. Hilbert.

In another part of Australia, the Murray-Darling Basin faces a 12 to 35 per cent cut in average flow by 2050 as the southern states grow hotter and drier, adding to the pressures on the Basin's over-extracted and salt affected rivers. Climate warming is also being felt by the sensitive corals of the world's longest reef. Australia's Great Barrier Reef runs the risk of heat related coral bleaching, which affected 16 per cent of the world's reefs in 1998, said the Climate Action Network.

Through the Australian Greenhouse Office, the Australian government relies on voluntary emission reduction agreements with companies, although in the first four years of operation, only 209 of Australia's 890,000 businesses signed on.

That is nowhere near enough to reduce climate warming, say the Australian Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace. Despite spending $1 billion on a domestic greenhouse gas limitation program, emission rates from transport and energy have accelerated since Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol, they point out.

The Australian Greenhouse Office says the agency is implementing a range of initiatives with government agencies at all levels to encourage resource efficiency and greenhouse gas abatement throughout the public sector.

But environmental groups object to the policy of the Australian government that supports the expansion of fossil fuel use, for instance, by providing about A$240 million in excise tax exemption to develop oil shale.

To read the report online, click here.