Climate change impacts on biodiversity in Australia
Outcomes of a workshop sponsored by the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, 1-2 October 2002
Department of the Environment and Heritage, August 2003
ISBN 0 9580 8456 4
About the report
Climate change is happening – the extensive and critically accepted reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have removed any remaining doubt.
One particularly visible sight that brings climate change to the attention of the public is the series of large tracts of bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef resulting from unusually warm summers. The Great Barrier Reef is an Australian icon, symbolic of the wealth of Australia's biological diversity. It is the nursery to fishing industries and is visited by thousands of tourists each year, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into our community. While the high visibility of coral bleaching has made us aware of this impact of climate change we should be equally concerned about the many other, less obvious but perhaps equally damaging impacts of climate change on biological assets and ecosystem processes. Are there more subtle responses hidden in our Gondwanan rainforests and extensive rangelands that we are failing to see? Will these responses only become apparent when it is too late to act and we have already lost ecosystem services and biological assets forever?
Although the Earth has gone through episodes of climate change in the past, this is the first time such major changes can be attributed to human-induced causes. The Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment 2002 and State of Environment reports have shown that as a direct consequence of continuing human activities, many of our natural systems are already under severe stress. There is no doubt that we are facing real and serious threats to our biodiversity. Our modification of the landscape has reduced habitat. At the same time, introduced species and diseases threaten many species in the restricted and modified habitats that remain. These threats are likely to be even more damaging to native biodiversity under the influence of changing climates. We must respond with adequate and timely policy and management action. The Biological Diversity Advisory Committee (BDAC) is concerned that investment in ameliorating known threats and repairing current damage will be inadequate if climate change is not taken into consideration in future policies and management actions.
The BDAC has been established to advise the Minister on matters relating to the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biodiversity. The Committee believes that these four questions are important for governments:
- What are the current and future impacts of climate change on biodiversity?
- What can we do to buffer these climatic impacts?
- Who needs to make the relevant policy and management decisions?
- What information is out there to help with these decisions?
To begin to answer these questions, we brought together climate change researchers, biodiversity researchers and policy-makers, covering a wide range of expertise.
We recognise that, while much valuable work on biodiversity conservation is being undertaken, there are many research gaps in Australia. There is an enormous amount of information on biodiversity, but very little has been put into the context of climate change-the required linkages have not yet been made. It is up to policy-makers to describe their information needs clearly to researchers, and to help direct research towards filling these needs.
The resulting workshop report has collated up-to-date information on the impacts climate change is having on a range of Australian ecosystems and how we might go about measuring these impacts. It provides a first and vitally important contribution demonstrating where we should be directing our attention, both in research and in policy. The report is a fine example of researchers, decision-makers and their institutions working together.