12.2. Key Regional Concerns
This section summarizes some key regional concerns regarding vulnerability
to climate change and impacts in Australia and New Zealand. They have not been
prioritized. Supporting details and references are provided in Sections
12.3 through 12.8.
Drought, Flood, and Water Supply: Climate variability is a major factor
in the economies of both countries, principally through the flow-on effects
of ENSO-related major droughts on agriculture. Farmers in drought-sensitive
parts of both countries will be increasingly vulnerable if interannual droughts
occur more frequently or are more intense in the future. Less secure water supplies
would accentuate competition between users and threaten allocations for environmental
flows and future economic growth. Adelaide and Perth are the main cities with
water supplies that are most vulnerable to climate change; increasing salinity
in the Murray River is an increasing concern for Adelaide. Any increase in flood
frequency would adversely affect the built environment. In New Zealand, floods
and landslides are natural hazards that could increase in frequency and severity.
Ecosystem Uniqueness and Vulnerability: Australia and New Zealand have
been isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years until relatively
recent human settlement. Some species exhibit quite limited ranges of average
climate. These two factors leave many of the region's ecosystems vulnerable
to climatic change and to invasion by exotic animal and plant species introduced
by human activity. This vulnerability has been exacerbated by fragmentation
of ecosystems through land-use changes.
Coral Reefs: Australia has one of the greatest concentrations of coral
reefs in the world. Rising sea level by itself may not be deleterious. However,
the combination of sea-level rise with other induced stressesnotably,
increasing atmospheric CO2 (which leads to a decrease in calcification
rates of corals); increasing sea temperatures, leading to coral bleaching; possibly
increased riverine outflow events (low salinity and high pollution); and damage
from tropical cyclonesmay put much of this resource at risk.
Alpine Areas: In Australia, significant warming will raise snowlines,
diminish the ski industry, and threaten alpine ecosystems. In New Zealand, snowline
changes and the advance or retreat of glaciers also depend on changes in the
strength and local orientation of mid-latitude westerlies. Options for relocation
of the ski industry are limited by the relatively low altitude of Australia's
alpine regions and by rugged terrain and conservation estate regulations in
Agricultural Commodities and Terms of Trade: A major fraction of exports
from both Australia and New Zealand are agricultural and forestry products,
production of which is sensitive to any changes in climate, water availability,
CO2 fertilization, and pests and diseases. Returns from these commodities
could be affected by the projected increase in agricultural production in mid-
to high-latitude northern hemisphere countries and resulting impacts on commodity
prices and world trade.
Increasing Coastal and Tropical Exposure: Major population and economic
growth in coastal areas, especially the tropical and subtropical east coast
of Australia, are leading to greatly increased vulnerability to tropical cyclones
and storm surges, as well as riverine and estuarine flooding. Rising sea level
will accentuate these problems, as would any increase in storm intensities or
a more poleward movement of tropical cyclones. Rising sea level also will increase
the salinity of estuarine and coastal aquifer groundwater.
Indigenous People: In both countries, indigenous peoples (Aborigines
and Torres Straits Islanders in Australia, Maori in New Zealand, as well as
Pacific islanders) are among the most disadvantaged members of the population.
They generally have lower incomes, and many live in isolated rural conditions
or in the sometimes poorly serviced and low-lying margins of large towns and
cities. They are more exposed to inadequate water supplies, climatic disasters,
and thermal stress and are more vulnerable to an increase in the prevalence
of pests and diseases.