Primary industries, enterprises and communities adapting to climate change

Climate impacts and how to adapt

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What climate change impacts are primary industries facing?

Climate changes seem to be happening faster than expected, especially in southern Australia, where there have been recent long-term declines in rainfall.

The changes that are already happening are consistent with expected, larger changes in the future, and are due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

The projected ongoing changes in rainfall, temperature and other climate factors will likely severely challenge Australian agriculture, resulting in lower production of key foods and fibres that will increasingly be in demand in the world.

Importantly, the changes we have already seen have had significant and generally negative impacts on agriculture in southern Australia. So, while our farmers are resilient and capable, they are still sensitive to climate risks.

However, not all the changes have been negative. In a few areas, lower rainfall has reduced waterlogging, nutrient leaching and other problems associated with too much water.

The mining industry is likely to be facing impacts from climate change in the form of hotter, drier and extreme weather events (such as storms and flooding) resulting in increased operational and maintenance costs. 

Adaptation is simply changing management practices, technologies, institutions and expectations to fit the prevailing or projected climate.

Although most stages of mining are typically already influenced by climate and extremes, the production stage is most at risk from climate change.

Climate change, combined with other issues such as population growth, reduced availability of natural resources and changes in consumption patterns, puts more pressure on Australia's primary industries and the communities that support them.

How can primary industries adapt to climate change?

Adaptation is simply changing management practices, technologies, institutions and expectations to fit the prevailing or projected climate.

Adapting primary industries effectively will not only offset negative impacts of climate change, but will allow producers to take advantage of opportunities afforded by our changing climate.

Adaptation can occur at many scales. Technical and managerial adaptations in existing systems can have significant positive outcomes.

For example, in cropping systems under projected climate changes, implementing technical and managerial adaptations, could increase yields by about 15 per cent above what they would otherwise have been.

In the Australian wheat industry alone, this could be worth between A$150 million and A$500 million per annum.

The opportunities for these in-system adaptations are limited, and transformative options such as changes in policy, land use and resource allocation are also critical to the ongoing viability and success of the sector.

These options will not only reduce the residual impacts of climate change, but will identify and multiply opportunities for primary industries.

1. Data from ABARE-BRS: http://www.abare-brs.gov.au/data 

Stokes C & Howden M. (eds). 2010. Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: Preparing Australian Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for the Future. CSIRO PUBLISHING. 296 pp.