It is already apparent that global warming is affecting our climate and will go on doing so into the foreseeable future. Aside from the environmental costs, there are significant social and economic consequences. The sooner we start reducing our emissions the better.
Irrespective of what we now do, we have already locked in ongoing warming for decades to come. Anticipating and adapting to inevitable climatic changes is essential to minimise future costs
The climate changes already initiated by global warming are having significant impacts on our forests and their inhabitants. As climate change accelerates it will have profound and dramatic consequences (see North East NSW expected climate changes).
Across Australia droughts and rising temperatures are putting forests and woodlands under increasing stress. Stressed trees are more vulnerable to insect and fungal attack, and many are dying. In extensive areas the remnant the big old trees, so vital for animal’s food and homes, are dying out.
In north-east NSW large swathes of forest are being affected by dieback apparently being aggravated by climate change (see: Logging Dieback), while in rural landscapes on the northern rivers Forest Red Gums are rapidly deteriorating. Undoubtedly there are numerous other changes occurring that are not being documented.
As heat waves become more intense animals too become stressed, in extreme events animals may just drop out of the trees dead. Hundreds of thousands of flying foxes died in heatwaves in 2014 across eastern Australian, with 5,000 being killed at just one site at Casino.
Many plants and animals have climatic tolerances beyond which they can not survive. As the climate changes they are being forced to track the changes. If they are unable to move due to inhospitable barriers, or if they run out of suitable habitat, they die.
Increases in extreme weather events are causing more frequent extreme fire weather and thus fires. As fires become more frequent and intense they are causing a change in forest structure and species. These impacts are being accentuated by burning-off and clearing for fire breaks. As fire intensity increase so too does the risk of tree dwelling animals being burnt alive.
Many plants can only regenerate from seeds and take more than a decade to mature, flower and seed. Often a single fire can result in the death of all mature individuals. If the regrowth is burnt before it matures there is no seed left for regeneration. Too frequent fires are causing the loss of some species from large areas. Vast swathes of Alpine Ash forests in the Snowy Mountains have already been eliminated by too frequent wildfires.
Rainforests are particularly vulnerable to fire. In north east New South Wales the increasing frequency of extreme fires will eat into rainforest margins and eliminate many smaller stands. Impacts are being exasperated by logging of buffer areas promoting weeds and making them more fire prone.
Disturbances, such as logging, destabilise and degrade ecosystems, increasing their vulnerability to climate change. We need to build resilience back into our forests by restoring natural processes and ecosystem functions to better enable them to resist the consequences of climate change.
Allowing forests to regrow and recover allows them to sequester and store significant volumes of carbon. What is good for the forests is also good for us. (see Carbon Storage)
North East NSW expected climate changes
Sequestering and Storing Carbon in Forests