The Council's new report Thirsty country: Climate change and drought in Australia which is based on studies from a variety of sources, including the CSIRO and Australian Bureau of Meteorology, points to changes affecting southern Australia which have become increasingly obvious in recent years.
The report discusses changes in rainfall patterns which are resulting in less rain in areas such as south-western Western Australia and southern South Australia - particularly in winter and spring, the seasons when these regions formerly received their major rainfall. Other parts of the south of the continent are also receiving less rainfall. And in addition temperatures are increasing with longer periods of hot extremes. Diminishing rainfall and increased temperatures will lead to more periods of drought .
Some of the effects of drought which will be exacerbated as a result of their increased frequency are:
- Economic impacts which include a decline in agricultural production which creates difficulties for farmers and damages both regional economies and the national economy. A further impact on the economy is the high cost of provision of drought support to farmers.
- Human health impacts. Included in these is an increase in suicide levels.
- Environmental impacts including loss of biodiversity both terrestial and aquatic. A recent example has been the death of large numbers of River Red Gums along the Murray River during the millenium Drought (1996-2010). Many of these trees were hundreds of years old.
- Impacts on urban water supplies. Diminished rainfall in the south of the continent will have serious ramifications for many urban areas and for the major cities of Perth, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. These major cities have a combined population of 13 million people (more than half of Australia's current population).
The following action needs to be taken in this country as a matter of urgency:
- Encourage the expansion of renewable energy. This means a decision must be made on the Renewable Energy Target (RET) to end the uncertainty for the renewables industry - an important employer of Australians. The RET should be maintained at a high level - not watered down as the Federal Government wants because of its cosiness with the fossil fuel industries.
- Phase out coal-mining. There should be no new coal mines - and that includes proposed new coal mines in the Galilee Basin (Qld) and Liverpool Plains (NSW).
- Close Australia's dirtiest power stations. (The dirtiest is brown-coal fired Hazelwood in Victoria's Latrobe Valley.)
- Phase out unconventional gas production in the areas where it is already operating and ban any further development of unconventional gas-mining (CSG etc.)
- Implementation of a scheme which puts an effective price on carbon -not the wishy-washy "pay the polluter" scheme which is the Federal Government's "Direct Action" plan.