A new report identifies climate change as the most significant threat to the rainforests of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area (the Area) and that it is already impacting parts of the region.
The State of the Wet Tropics Report 2019-2020, released by the Wet Tropics Management Authority, outlines the latest research about what is happening now, what will occur in the future and also what is needed to address it.
Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the Queensland government welcomed the report.
“Our rainforests are famous the world over and we need to protect them not just for future generations but for the health of our economy. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, this is more important than ever,” Minister Scanlon said.
“As the report tells us, climate change is the most significant threat to our rainforests and as a government, we are taking strong action to combat it including setting ambitious renewable energy and emissions targets.
“We will take the time to consider the report fully and take a close look at the research that tells us what is already happening, what will happen and also what is needed to address it.”
The Authority’s Chair, Leslie Shirreffs PSM said: “We are all well aware of how climate change is impacting places like the Great Barrier Reef with coral bleaching, but it is important to know there is an impact of similar magnitude occurring in our rainforests.”
“While significant global action to address climate change is critical, at the regional level emphasis must be on adapting to anticipated climate change, such as higher temperatures, the increased prevalence and intensity of extreme weather events, sea level rises and longer, more intense fire seasons.”
Ms Shirreffs said the Authority’s report is important to not only document the changes in the environment but also to provide a roadmap to how we can build resilience into the region.
This Report builds on the Authority’s Accept, Act, Adapt: Climate Adaptation Plan for the Wet Tropics 2020–2030 launched in November 2019, and its Creating our Climate Future Forum in March 2020.
“This State of the Wet Tropics report reminds us of the need to accept that biodiversity and ecosystems—and the services they provide—are already changing and will continue to do so,” Ms Shirreffs said.
“The imperative is that we act strategically, together and immediately, and take steps to empower action that helps Wet Tropics natural systems, cultures, communities and economies to adapt.”
In September this year the Authority, along with more than 20 other organisations of the region launched the Green and Blue Economic Stimulus Package, designed to expand ‘shovel-ready’ land management and reef restoration projects that could make Far North Queensland a smart green capital of Australia.
“The Authority is already working alongside stakeholders and communities in the Area to establish region-wide responses to climate change in the Wet Tropics,” Ms Shirreffs said.
Professor Iain Gordon, who is on the Authority’s Board and is Chair of the Authority’s Scientific Advisory Committee, said: “While some regional climate projections discussed in this document are dealing with scenarios up to 50 years into the future, there is evidence that climate change is already affecting the Area.”
“For example, long-term monitoring in the Wet Tropics has already highlighted declines in the distribution and populations of many rainforest species due to climate change, and only last year record temperatures at the Area’s mountain peaks were recorded years earlier than climate models anticipated.”
“Fifty upland species could become globally extinct from the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area with only a moderate average temperature increase and invasive species will increasingly impact native species with no natural defences.”
“Bushfire risk will increase, changing fire regimes, and some ecosystems of the Wet Tropics will disappear entirely. Also many species, especially cool-adapted mountaintop endemics, will be displaced,” he said.
As well as covering the extensive scientific research the Authority also consulted with Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples recording the changes in the landscape they noted but also recognising the importance of traditional knowledge and the role it can play in better land management, in particular around controlled, cool burns in the Wet Tropics.
Ms Shirreffs said a collaborative approach was vital.
"For a regional response to be meaningful, all those affected need to be brought together to deliver integrated approaches to natural resource and land management problems, including the neighbours of the Wet Tropics region,” she said.
“This must involve government agencies, industries, Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples and regional communities.”
Ms Shirreffs said the Authority was confident that through collaborative action and commitment, its communities could ensure a secure future for the irreplaceable Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.”
The Report has recommendations of what can be done:
Coordinate with climate change responses in other sectors such as urban and regional planning.
Incorporate the implications of climate change into existing regional management plans, strategies, guidelines and policies.
Promote the Accept, Act, Adapt: Climate Adaptation Plan for the Wet Tropics 2020–2030 as the source of conservation priorities for regional land and environment decision-makers.
Identify social and economic costs of climate change and management response options, including the cost of not taking action.
Expand the scope of monitoring to develop methods to assess and monitor species, communities and ecosystems over the long-term.
Build regional capability and reduce uncertainty, through knowledge and skills sharing.
Promote economic stimulus for regional development that addresses integrated environmental, social, cultural and employment benefits.
Strengthen state and national environmental policy and regulations.
For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:
Wet Tropics Management Authority Media and Communications Team
Jeanette Wormald | Strategic Communication Advisor
Mobile: 0436 949 243 | Jeanette.Wormald@wtma.qld.gov.au
Please note Aaron Smith is currently on leave and is not available this week.