By JIMMY COCKING
Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC)
Records are being broken across the country as we in Central Australia swelter through another week of the “heatwave” that continues to dominate the national conversation.
The heatwave is not only igniting fires across the eastern seaboard and the Centre but is also providing another strong reminder that climate change continues unabated.
In Central Australia, raised temperatures and increased intensity of extreme weather will increase the likelihood of devastating fires, floods and droughts across the region. The high temperatures we are experiencing in Central Australia are also driving the temperature across the country. This heatwave is what many commentators are referring to as “the new normal”.
So, what are we doing about it?
In the Northern Territory, we had a Climate Change Policy, Climate Change Minister and a Climate Change Unit under the previous government.
However, none of these remain and besides funding a number of small local projects and providing increased support for ecoBIZ, it is not clear what the Northern Territory Government’s approach to climate change will be but early indications are not encouraging.
Locally, a number of initiatives are underway including Alice Solar City, Alice Water Smart, Alice Springs Community Garden and desertSMART COOLmob.
These projects are characterised by collaborative partnerships between various levels of government and the community sector and are thus far proving quite successful.
In July this year, however the Alice Solar City and Alice Water Smart projects will reach the end of their funding periods and without more funds secured, the momentum gained by these projects will be lost.
It is uncertain times.
We have an inexperienced government with experienced Departmental chiefs brought back in from the 20th century to run things in the 21st.
Utility prices have been increased, the impacts of which will be determined by how people respond to them. The NT Government has raised the prices to raise revenue, yet there may be unintended environmental benefits.
Many people have become more interested in solar panels and energy and water efficiency since the announcement and are pre-empting the increases by seeking to reduce their consumption.
Many other people will get a rude shock in March-April when their summer cooling and watering bills come and some will be pushed into poverty. Climate change is only just beginning to make its presence felt.
Where can we go from here?
Dealing with climate change is not an “us” versus “them” battle as some would have us believe. It is “we” who need to be making sure that our decisions and decisions made on our behalf are for the long-term.
Short-term political decisions are not what we need. We need decisions being made on the basis of economic, social, environmental and cultural needs without trading off one for the other. This requires well-thought through policy that ensures that developments are well-planned and address greater needs than simply the economic.
We need to be making smart decisions that won’t have costly consequences. We need to be moving towards a more resilient economy and social system while reducing our impact on the environment and indigenous cultures.
Climate change is a global challenge but provides an opportunity for Central Australia to shine.
The harshness of this desert environment creates adaptations in the plants, animals and people to survive the extreme temperatures and environmental conditions.
If we are to move forward together, we need to be thinking and acting on a range of areas including energy, water, waste, the built environment, local food and transport options.
These focal areas are also part of the desertSMART Roadmap that was created as part of an exhaustive community engagement process in 2004-5.
This year, we have the opportunity to review the desertSMART Roadmap and produce an action plan for the next five years. If we are serious about working out the social, environmental and economic challenges we face in the region – we need to be addressing climate change locally.
We need to be creating opportunities for the business, government and community sectors to work together on addressing the key challenges we face.
Solar energy, water efficiency, arid agriculture, building design and town planning, turning local waste into local resources and exploring post-fossil fuel transport systems are but some of the big opportunities for our region.
As the 2013 heatwave continues – we need vision and we need leadership from our politicians. The abolition of all things climate change by the NT Government needs to be addressed by bringing climate change planning and resilience (including disaster management) into every government department and every development decision.
Every delay, every backwards step we take on climate change preparedness is failing the next generation. We have a visionary and resilient bunch of people out here and to succeed, we need to work together.
The heat is on … so, let’s get on with it.