Wednesday, August 22, 2007

North not immune from climate change: WWF
Scientists have ranked it as one of the last remaining natural wonders of the world, alongside the Amazon rainforests and the icy wilderness of the South Pole.
But a new report warns that vast areas of Australia's northern tropics are now at high to medium risk from climate change.
Dr Stuart Blanch heads the northern landscapes division of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which commissioned the study.
"Climate change is not a southern Australian phenomenon," he said.
"Some of the stronger impacts on river flows might be felt in the Murray-Darling Basin, but the best science we have at the moment shows that rivers in the north may be dealing with less water in the future too."
It is the first time scientists have assessed the full impact of climate change on all the major ecosystems in the north, from tropical rivers to coral reefs, wetlands, rainforests, woodland savannah and low islands.
Dr Blanch says the report shows even the most pristine environment is at risk from global warming.
"All aspects of climate change are going to come to bear in northern Australia," he said.
"Hotter temperatures, more variable rainfall, potentially much longer droughts, rising sea levels, much bigger or more intense cyclones."
One of the report authors, Mikila Lawrence, says she hopes the report will curb the rush to exploit water and land in northern Australia as an ill-considered solution to climate change in the south.
"The recommendations were to stop this gut reaction which is happening which is to look at northern Australia as a solution to some of the problems which are already being experienced in the south," she said.
"These are pristine landscapes, that doesn't mean they're not susceptible themselves."
And Dr Blanch says there are clear lessons for politicians and farmers seeking to establish the tropics as the food bowl of Asia.
"If we do try to develop these for farming or intensification for cattle, we risk damaging them," he said.
"With climate change on top of that we might get the double-whammy of climate change and society's response to climate change in the south by sending more farmers north, and that's a real risk."
A prime ministerial task force meets in the remote Kimberley region next week as part of a broad-ranging review of the potential to boost farming in the tropics, to take advantage of the abundant land and rainfall.
But its chairman, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, says his task force is every bit as environmentally conscious as groups like WWF.
"The notion that there's some great mass migration of farmers and the creation of a huge food bowl is some sort of mythical notion," he said.

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