Climate change in the North West region

Understanding the impacts of climate change is vital for regional planning. The impacts of climate variability on the environment and society will depend not only on the response of the Earth’s systems but also on how humankind responds through changes in technology, economy, lifestyle and policy.

Preparing our community - a report on climate change

We are collating and analysing the latest climate change data. We are also looking at ways to adapt to variations in climate to increase agricultural productivity while enhancing the resilience of the landscape.

We acknowledge the Australian Government for funding this project through the Stream 1 of the Regional Natural Resource Management Planning for Climate Change Fund.

This report is a summary of our findings. The report is an addendum to the North West Local Land Services Transitional regional natural resource management plan, which provides detailed data modelling results on climate change and its impacts on the region.

What can we expect in the North West region?

  • More hot days
  • Fewer frosts
  • Less rain
  • More time in drought
  • A harsher fire-weather climate.

Climate change is no longer something of the future

It’s with us now.

Despite ongoing debate about climate change, there is scientific evidence that major changes in climate
have already taken place over the past few decades.

There is also strong scientific evidence to suggest that this change is a result of human activities, such as the
burning of fossil fuels.

For example, we know for a fact that over the past 15 years in Australia, the frequency of very warm months has increased five-fold. We know that rainfall has been declining and that the duration, frequency and intensity of heatwaves has increased. We have also experienced more extreme fire events across large parts of Australia.

Climate projections help us plan for a positive future

Although it can be difficult to know exactly what will happen with our climate in the future, scientists use techniques known as ‘modelling’ to try to work out how the climate will change under varying emissions scenarios (the different concentrations of greenhouse gases and other pollutants in the atmosphere).

Projections give us useful information to help us generate wealth.

Should we keep doing what we’re doing? Do we need to make changes? If so, do we need to make small
changes or do we need to transform the way we interact with our environment?

Climate projections help farmers, policy makers, conservationists, individuals and communities:

  • adapting farming methods helps farmers stay productive under different climate conditions
  • protecting animal and plant species encourages biodiversity, which is essential for our survival
  • storing carbon, such as through planting trees, lessens the effects of climate change
  • understanding the risk of climate change helps landholders and farmers take practical steps to manage these risks.

Hotter temperatures and a more variable climate will affect the way we manage our region’s wealth and the way we live our daily lives.

Australia’s changing climate doesn’t just affect the natural environment. It affects us all. It affects the farmers who grow the food we eat; it affects the amount of water we have; it affects the survival of animal and plant species.

The impact of climate change depends largely on how we respond as human beings. It depends on new technologies to generate clean and renewable forms of energy, such as wind, solar and hydro. It depends on the choices we make as individuals, such as how much electricity we consume and what form of transport we use. And it depends on the willingness of governments and policy makers to recognise and respond to the challenges.

Trading carbon credits

In the future, landholders and managers of permanent plantings of mixed native species may be able to make money by trading carbon credits. Known as carbon sequestration, carbon dioxide is captured from the atmosphere and stored.

One type of sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon in trees and plants. Permanent plantations of native trees are essential to lessen the impact of climate change. These plantations will help biodiversity by creating valuable wildlife habitat.

There is the potential for carbon storage in the North West region.

How is variability in climate affecting our agricultural industry?

Variabilities in climate affect how crops grow, the quality of the crops and how much the crop yields.

Different crops are affected in different ways. Some crops, such as canola, are more sensitive to climate variations, while wheat and barley are more drought-resistant.

We can’t project exactly how climate change will affect farming in our region. We do know with a fair degree of certainty that cropping will be affected by less rainfall and that there will be fewer opportunities to plant.

For example, cotton yields could fall in parts of New South Wales around Moree and the quality of the cotton affected.

Our farmers are optimistic they have the support and tools to manage the risk of climate variability on their property.

Changing practices; managing risk

Many of our farmers are already changing the way they manage their property to prepare for long-term climate changes by:

  • planting a greater variety of crops
  • changing species of crops
  • planting at different times
  • using no or low tillage
  • conserving moisture
  • using controlled traffic systems.

Water management, conservation and efficiency are the most common risk strategies farmers are using in our region.

Biodiversity and climate change

Why is biodiversity so important?

Loss of biodiversity is a major threat facing life on Earth.

Biodiversity – the presence of many different living things – is essential for our survival. The more variety of animal, bird, insect, marine and plant species we have on our planet, the more all life forms can be sustained.

If we lose this intricate balance of living things, our very existence becomes threatened. We need biodiversity for our food supply. We need it for medicines and raw materials (such as oil, timbers and fibres). We need biodiversity to detoxify and decompose waste, to purify the air, to pollinate, and to control pests.

How is climate change affecting biodiversity?

Historically, animal and plant species have been able to adapt to natural changes in climate as change has been slow. But with the recent rapid changes in our climate, the planet’s living creatures, and the plants they rely on, are struggling to adapt quickly enough.

Changes in temperature and rainfall are causing plants to bloom and fruit to set at unusual times. More birds are dying during heatwaves and animals are leaving their regular habitats to seek cooler climates.

These are just some of the ways climate change is affecting the interconnected web of life on our planet. Increasingly, some native species will decline in number and distribution.

In some cases, changes in climate could lead to new opportunities for the establishment of invasive species, such as weeds and pest animals.

Protecting biodiversity in our region

Our ecosystems are in stress and need our help. Strong biodiversity gives the best chance for a species to adapt.

One way we can strengthen the capacity of biodiversity to adapt to climate change is by protecting and enhancing existing vegetation and increasing the extent of vegetation in our region. We can also ensure vegetation is connected through corridors, such as along waterways.

Native vegetation and the vegetated corridors that go with them are critical for the survival of our region’s biodiversity.

Vegetated corridors provide habitat for species and create a ‘connect’ allowing species to move freely as the climate changes. This ability to move freely helps to ensure species’ survival and to increase the ability of biodiversity to persist in our region.

Native vegetation is good for agricultural productivity too.

Native vegetation helps control erosion, reduces land degradation and salinity. It improves both the availability and quality of water and protects stock and crops from harsh weather conditions.

Native vegetation creates financial incentives

In the future, landholders and managers of permanent plantings of mixed native species may be able to make money by trading carbon credits.

Known as carbon sequestration, carbon dioxide is captured from the atmosphere and stored. One type of sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon in trees and plants.

A research team from the North West Local Land Services has studied carbon storage potential across the North West region. Although we need to investigate this potential further, the possibilities for carbon sequestration are there.

Native vegetation stores a significant amount of carbon which in turn lessens the impact of climate change.

We’re researching ways to protect our region’s biodiversity

To find out how climate change affects biodiversity in our region, the North West Local Land Services collaborated on several major scientifically-based research projects in 2014–2015.

We used the results of these studies to work out how we can reduce and manage the risks of potential climate change to our region’s biodiversity.

Our Biodiversity Prioritisation Plan 2015 guides us in the decisions we make to help protect biodiversity in the region.

We’re analysing the latest data

One of the North West Local Land Service’s critical projects for the past two years has been to collate and analyse the latest climate change data. We then look at the data to work out ways we can adapt to variations in climate in our region.

This work will provide valuable information for farmers to increase agricultural productivity. It will also help us make decisions about how we can help our landscape adapt to these changes and become more resilient.

For more information about climate change and the North West region contact Dr Bronwyn Cameron on 02 6764 5908.

North West Local Land Services

We’re here to help our region’s farmers, landholders and communities by providing advice on agricultural production, biosecurity, natural resource management and emergency management.

We’re local people with local knowledge – veterinarians, rangers, and livestock, agronomy and natural resource management advisors.

Our focus is on local issues and delivering quality services in your region that bring positive social, economic and environmental outcomes to the community and our landscape.

What can you do to help?

There are many things you can do as an individual, community, school or business to help lessen the impact of climate change.

For more information about what you can do, go to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage website

You can find out more about climate change in Australia at the Australian Government’s website.

Source: The projections presented on this page have been drawn from the CSIRO’s Central Slopes Cluster Report, Climate Change in Australia Projections for Australia’s Natural Resource Management Regions. The evidence for climate change is from IPCC Fifth Assessment Working Group 1 report.

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