The small island state of Tasmania has some of Australia’s most extensive and best-conserved wilderness areas and pristine coastlines. Almost 45% of Tasmania lies in reserves, national parks and World Heritage Sites. One of the greatest challenges Tasmania faces now and in the future is around responding to climate change. How can decision makers in government, industry, business and the community, needing to adapt Tasmania to climate change, be provided with the information they need in a form they can understand and apply to decision making?
Tasmania is an island with a varied topography leading to significant differences in local climate on a scale that is far smaller than can be captured using a global climate model. In most global models, Tasmania is represented by at most four grid cells. This level of detail provides very little confidence to users that projections at a local scale are meaningful or helpful.
The Climate Futures for Tasmania project led by the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) addressed the need for relevant, locally specific information about expected changes to climate that reflects the highly variable topography of Tasmania and many strong regional variations at a finer scale resolution than is available from global and national scale models.
Between 2008 and 2011, Climate Futures for Tasmania produced a series of products and reports of anticipated climate change impacts for new audiences, including summaries for local government areas. Key findings in these summaries are assisting end users including Hydro Tasmania and the State Emergency Service in their work with climate change adaptation at a local scale, by helping them to understand key factors influencing risks and impacts that are likely to affect their local area over the coming century.
Key projects aims
The aim was to prepare and present future climate trends in ways that were directly applicable to making operational adaptation decisions for a number of priority sectors in Tasmania. The outputs of the downstream models of impact were very important in the success of the project.
Climate Futures for Tasmania was effective in assisting decision makers in making practical decisions in order to adapting to expected changes in power generation, agriculture, infrastructure design and other sectors. The project triggered a range of flow-on and downstream projects that have adopted similar targeted analyses for other geographic locations and sectors.
The real benefit and success of the Climate Futures for Tasmania project was in demonstrating to other researchers how to interpret assessments of the climate simulations, make them relevant and applicable to specific industries, communities and government, and how to communicate them. A researcher noted the “doors opening” for people, as they start to appreciate how climate change may impact their lives when information is presented in ways that are relevant and directly applicable to grass-roots operations. In the words of one user: “Now we have the diagnosis, we know what we have to work with.”
Risks and impacts addressed
Risk and impact assessments were of catchments and flows, agricultural impacts, extreme events including coastal maximum storm tide events and general climate trends at a small-scale. The first core assessments were of:
- Catchments and river flows
- Impacts on agriculture
- Extreme events including coastal storm tide events
- General climate trends at a local scale
The project provided climate information to others undertaking complementary assessments of impacts on other assets and operations. More than 50 complementary projects occurred subsequently, these were either directly linked to the original project or based on the demonstration effect of the project.
Drivers for adaptation action
A driver to action was the realisation by the users in project development that the key to success was integration of climate models with the downstream models of impacts on operations (catchment models, wind impact models etc. already held by some users) and communication of the results.
Fifty complementary projects used the simulations and/or interpreted results in their research into specific areas of climate change. These complementary projects were not confined to Tasmania, and several projects were based at other universities around Australia using the 60 km grid simulations. Other outcomes include:
- Climate maps, graphs, tables of trends in key climate parameters at a local scale.
- Application of future climate conditions to operational models showing impacts.
- Climate trends for each Local Government Area (LGA).
- Updated assessments of coastal erosion, biosecurity and energy production.
1) Climate Futures for Tasmania was announced as both the National and State (Tasmania) winner of the Education, Training & Research category of the Resilient Australia Awards 2012 (http://www.em.gov.au/DisasterResilientAustralia/Pages/2012ResilientAustraliaAwards.aspx) by the Australian Attorney–General's Department. The awards recognise innovative practices and achievements that make communities safer, stronger, more resilient and better prepared to manage emergency situations, including better preparedness for climate change and extreme events.
2) Climate Futures for Tasmania was named by NCCARF as one of sixteen national exemplar ‘Adaptation Good Practice’ case study projects in 2013 in recognition for the project’s success in the area of climate adaptation and stakeholder engagement (http://www.nccarf.edu.au/localgov/case-study/climate-futures-tasmania).
- There is a need to consult with the users of the results, to present them in the most meaningful way.
- Working as a team on project objectives creates results that are greater than the individual could have achieved.
- Different levels within an organisation need to be engaged; communications and channels may need to be adjusted accordingly.
- Ensuring that other existing and planned tools could intersect well with the Climate Futures outputs improved their utility and transferability.
- Linking climate projections with a range of other models supported long term decision making across a number of fronts and helped make them sustainable into the future.
- The tools support a lot of other tools and initiatives and because a well connected approach was taken can save significant costs in a multitude of fields.
Gaps and future challenges
With more than 140 variables and thousands of possible climate indices to calculate, Climate Futures for Tasmania
assessed only those climate variables requested by stakeholders. As the project progressed, other climate indices and risks were identified by additional stakeholders and these led to subsequent projects and analysis by other researchers as part of complementary projects.