PROFESSOR Lesley Hughes from the Australian Climate Commission gave a talk at Bega’s St John’s Anglican Church on Monday night about the effects of climate change on the South East.
Professor Hughes is an ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University and an expert on the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems.
Almost 70 people attended the forum, which also featured Clean Energy For Eternity’s Matthew Nott and Bega Valley Shire Mayor Bill Taylor as guest speakers.
In introducing Professor Hughes, Dr Nott reminded attendees about the unprecedented January heatwave and spoke about the ACC’s recent report The Angry Summer.
“As a farming community, a coastal community and a rural community we are very vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the region,” he said.
“We’ve just experienced the hottest January on record, including the hottest day in Bega ever recorded on January 18.”
Professor Hughes’ presentation took in much of what is contained in The Angry Summer report, but focused on the increased risk of bushfire and low rainfall that climate change presents in the South East.
“Due to warming trends the forest fire danger index in Australia has increased most in the South East and the hazard reduction time has decreased,” she said.
“This is already impacting on your region, as you have seen this summer.”
Professor Hughes also talked about the effects climate change may have on the dairy and forestry industries in the South East.
“There are positives in the prediction models, less frost and longer growing seasons, but these are outnumbered by the negatives, primarily low water availability and increased heat stress for livestock.
“The big unknown for forestry, however, is how pests and diseases will affect trees in a warmer world.”
The effect of climate change on health was another topic that engaged the audience.
Professor Hughes ended her talk by saying, “The truth we must all face about our planet is that it’s finite and we need to take better care of it.”
The question and answer session that followed sparked a lively debate about the role of local government.
Cr Taylor highlighted the many ways in which the BVSC is meeting the challenges of climate change including the solar panels on Bega library and the many studies into impacts on estuaries and wetlands by the council.
“We as a council accept the science, it’s a serious issue for our local community, however we are a creature of state government and we limited in what we can do,” he said.
Professor Hughes disagreed and said local government had an enormous role to play.
“Individually you can’t do much, but collectively you can do a tremendous amount,” she said.
“You can bring about change and that starts with local government, and in the community they need to be the point of focus of education about climate change.”
For more information about the Australian Climate Commission or to download The Angry Summer report, visit www.climatecommission.gov.au.