Climate and Sustainable Industries

Major industries in the Wet Tropics region, such as tourism and agriculture, are dependent on the natural environment and so will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

The sustainability of industries in the region will be challenged by changes in weather patterns, including the occurrence and severity of extreme events and also indirectly via impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem services and infrastructure.

Scientists from James Cook University and CSIRO have worked with Regional NRM groups to carefully consider the likely impacts of climate change and actions needed to adapt to climate change for sustainable industries in Wet Tropics region. This information is presented in the fact sheet.

Climate change and sustainable industries in the Wet Tropics region

There is a considerable risk that some current industries may not remain viable as climatic conditions continue to change.

Climate change will alter the conditions that support sustainable horticulture and livestock grazing, while different rainfall patterns and temperature conditions will affect the breeds, varieties and even species of stock and crops that are most suited to production in the Wet Tropics region.

Although the specific nature of likely changes in rainfall patterns is not clear, evaporation is expected to increase and when this is combined with changes in rainfall patterns, it will likely reduce availability and predictability of fresh water supply.

Climate impacts on primary industries

Specific risks to primary industries include direct loss of crops and livestock during extreme events such as heatwaves, floods and cyclones, as well as increased failure and sedimentation of dams and damage to farms and other critical infrastructure.

The situation in coastal areas will be compounded by increased river flooding, inundation from sea level rise, the upstream extension of tides and the intrusion of saltwater into wetlands and groundwater.

The types of weeds and diseases that are currently problematic for agricultural industries may also change, either as they respond to the changing climate or because new agricultural products have different pest problems.

Some crops may no longer be viable with changes in the climatic conditions. In particular, those crops that currently exist here at the limits to their climatic range, may no longer be commercially viable with an increase in temperature and evaporation.

Importantly, the minimum overnight temperatures are expected to rise, which will have an impact on some species that require a ‘chill’ period for growth or fruiting.

Climate impacts on fishing and tourism

There are also substantial risks to the commercial fishing and reef tourism industries. Warmer and more acidic ocean waters will change the numbers and distribution of marine fish and other organisms, as well as the amount and diversity of coral. Warmer water temperatures also risk increasing the number of coral bleaching events, which will eventually result in the death of extensive areas of the reef.

Large pulses of freshwater onto the reef during flood events, as well as damage caused during cyclones, will affect the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Higher sea levels plus floods and cyclones affect the health of wetlands, seagrass beds and mangroves and will then impact on breeding and other processes in fish. These risks could have a major influence on the viability of commercial fishing operations.

More frequent and more intense extreme weather risks changing people’s perception of the safety of the Wet Tropics region and any damage to the reef will compound this risk.

What can be done to help industries to adapt to climate change

As well as considering the likely impacts of climate change on industries of the Wet Tropics, scientists from James Cook University and CSIRO have considered the potential options for industry adaptation to climate change. Key messages include:

  • The main industries in the region are highly susceptible to climate change impacts because they have a high degree of dependence on the natural environment and this is particularly the case for long-lived crops (e.g. horticulture).
  • Diversification will be key due to the high level of uncertainty facing industry.
  • Adaptation options for farming and fishing are largely consistent with current ‘best practice’ management, including good natural resource management. Adaptation will probably require diversification and the production of new crops and breeds and harvesting different target species.
  • Adaptation for the tourism industry is likely to require new enterprises and changed marketing.
  • Based on the latest information, proactive planning and an openness to change will be a key adaptation strategy for farmers of this region.
  • There may be some production benefits associated with higher levels of CO2, but data is unclear and should be scrutinised as CO2 is only one factor of the environmental conditions that needs integrated consideration.

For more information

  1. The full adaptation pathways report  is available from the Wet Tropics Stream 2 Cluster undertaken by James Cook University and CSIRO scientists. 
  2. Recent CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology work has resulted in an exciting new website (www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au), which has both detailed information about climate change and interactive tools available to the public. 
Last updated 16/11/15 2:28 pm