Implications of climate change for Australia's National Reserve System - A preliminary assessment

CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, 2008

About the document

Globally, and in Australia, concerns have been raised about the impact of climate change on the effectiveness of fixed protected areas.

This report investigates the possible future impacts of climate change on Australia's system of formally protected conservation areas, the National Reserve System (NRS), and the consequences of these impacts for the development and management of the reserve system. It has been prepared by CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems for Parks Australia (within the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts) and the Australian Greenhouse Office (now the Department of Climate Change) to help them scope further analyses and appropriate responses. The report summarises information about the potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity, provides an estimate of which impacts might be more important in different regions, and discusses key implications for conservation policy, management of protected areas and the strategic framework used to develop the NRS. The implications for the reserve system were compiled through extensive consultations with experts, NGOs, conservation policy developers and reserve managers.

The National Reserve System is a network of almost 9000 protected areas including national parks, nature reserves, private conservation reserves, Indigenous Protected Areas and other reserve types covering 88 million hectares (11.5 per cent of the continent). In recent times the NRS has been developed using a bioregional framework based on the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) and the selection criteria of comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness. The NRS aims to strategically protect habitat so that the diversity of all native landscapes, flora and fauna across Australia is conserved.

Increases in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG) will lead to changes in temperature and rainfall, and the occurrence and intensity of storms, wind, run-off, floods, droughts, fires, heat waves, El Nino and other climate cycles. These changes affect primary productivity and many biological processes; hence there is every reason to believe many if not virtually all species on Earth will be affected. Many different types of impact have been hypothesised. Extensive modelling and monitoring studies over the last 20 years provide considerable evidence that global climate change is already affecting and will continue to affect many species and ecosystems, leading to declines and extinctions of many species. However, because of the interacting nature of biological and ecological systems, with their positive and negative feedbacks, and the multifaceted nature of the environmental changes in response to climate change and other pressures, it is not immediately obvious what the net impacts on biodiversity are likely to be.

Climate change will affect many aspects of Australia's biodiversity that are valued by society including the look, sound and smell of ecosystems, as well as tourism and recreational opportunities. Significant reductions of diversity would be likely to also result in interruptions to ecosystem function and loss of ecosystem services. These changes will also have a wide range of implications for biodiversity conservation and the NRS, including managing ever-changing biodiversity, new and changing threats, different information requirements, and a need to reassess the fundamental goals of conservation.

Two reports have been produced as a result of this study—a full technical report of 188 pages and a short 20-page overview designed for more general appreciation. Both are freely available both in electronic or hard copy form.

Access the full report, the appendices, and an overview document.

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