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Australia's Kyoto paradox

John Merson

It is ironic that Australia, for reasons of short-term economic interests, has refused to ratify the Kyoto protocols of the UN Convention on Climate Change. Australia, per head of population, is one of the highest producers of CO2 in the world, and yet on the basis of the most recent modelling carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO 2001/2004) climate change is likely to have profound economic, social and environmental impacts.

The southeast and the southwest of the continent where the large majority of the population live, are getting hotter and drier. In the most populous state of NSW, temperature is projected to rise by 1.6 degrees on the coast, 1.8o inland and 2o in the North by 2030.

More intense and frequent bushfires

Hotter and drier summers under more irregular and more extreme El Nino conditions could see extreme fire events occurring in much shorter intervals then has traditionally been the case.

There is usually a high level of regrowth of eucalypts and banksias within three years of a major hot fire. However a second hot fire at that stage in the regeneration process can lead to severe stress and a breakdown in the forest ecosystems.

The intense forest fires have the capacity to undermine the resilience of forest ecosystems in many regions of the world.

In the case of the one million hectare Blue Mountains World Heritage area, which constitutes the watershed for the Sydney basin, over-burning coupled with hotter and drier climatic conditions would be disastrous for the water supply to the cities of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, the largest population base in the country.

Already the dams that supply water to these cities are below 50 per cent of capacity and permanent water restrictions are in place for the region.

Nonetheless the area is the fastest growing urban region in the country with suburban development up to the boundaries of the protected areas.

While this in part provides a corridor for wildlife to move into urban areas, it also increases the risk of forest fire spreading into urban areas with profoundly destructive consequences as occurred in 2002 in both Sydney and Canberra with loss of life and property.


The Evatt Foundation is having a breakfast seminar on Tuesday 15 February at the Vibe Hotel, 111 Goulburn St Sydney on climate Change and the Kyoto protocol, which comes into effect across the world next week. Dr John Merson will be the speaker. John is the Executive Director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute and the Co-ordinator of the research program in Environmental Policy and Management at the University of NSW.


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