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EL NIÑO RETURNS: Queensland experts and community voices available to discuss climate impacts during an El Niño summer

Climate Media Centre 5 mins read

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has declared an El Niño event is underway, Queenslanders can expect hotter and drier conditions across the state that could lead to severe heat waves, droughts, bushfires and mass coral bleaching events; climate change is causing El Niño events to become more frequent and intense. 

 

Scientists, farmers, doctors and small business owners from across Queensland are available to comment on the BoM’s announcement. 

 

GREAT BARRIER REEF

 

Professor Jodie Rummer -  JCU, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Location: Townsville, QLD

Jodie can address issues important to conservation, the benefits the reef has for the regional economy, and the effects of climate change on coral reef fish species, sharks, and rays.

“El Niño and La Niña have become more variable in recent decades. This has meant more frequent and stronger extreme weather events that pose a grave threat to the Great Barrier Reef’s health and biodiversity… because the Great Barrier Reef is already struggling under climate change, an El Niño could mean even more pressure… more mass bleaching of coral and, in severe cases, widespread coral death.”

 

Dr Dean Miller - Director of the Great Barrier Reef Legacy 

Location: Cairns/Port Douglas, QLD

Director of a not-for-profit created to address the urgent need to secure the long-term survival of the Great Barrier Reef. Dean can talk about coral reef management, current water temps on the GBR, and what a hot summer means for the reef.  

“This year we already have water temperatures that are well above average, and now that we are entering an El Niño weather pattern, there will be less cloud cover and higher water temperatures; this summer will most likely bring more record high temperatures, further coral bleaching events and the loss of more coral species from the great barrier reef”... 

 

FARMERS

 

Mick Dan, owner of Good Harvest organic farm on the Sunshine Coast and former Organic Farmer of the Year.

Location: Sunshine Coast, QLD

Mick can talk about the impacts of flooding on his farm, as well as the outlook for the agricultural sector.

“We’ve had very wet conditions over La Niña, which caused flooding and disrupted a lot of supply chains, but as the floods subside we have worked really hard to produce as much as possible, so much so that a lot of farms are overstocked, but the oversupply doesn’t see prices drop in supermarkets to help australians get fresh produce for cheaper…  we need to see better policies and business operations that support farmers in times of plenty and in times of need"... "In this area, with the crops we are growing, we will be ok this summer, but if it’s a protracted El Niño event we will start to suffer… with the way the weather systems are being affected by climate change, this El Niño could hurt a lot of farmers further west” 

 

Pete Mailler, grain and cattle farmer.

Location: Goondiwindi, Queensland (reception can be unreliable, can coordinate interview time via text)

“We’ve already been proactively managing for an El Nino this year.  We expect a hotter and dryer spring and summer, we can’t afford to wait for the BoM to make their announcement to begin preparing. I changes crop selections and am busy fencing to make smaller paddocks to better manage our pastures.  Other farmers are already destocking in preparation for El Niño”... “We need better drought policies, we are going into acute droughts faster, and we can't be operating with reactive policies; Governments need to be proactive and planning for a hot, dry summer the same way farmers are expected to”... “farmers can’t keep absorbing the brunt of extreme weather events which is being caused by a changing climate. We have had a pretty severe rainfall deficit since October and it already feels like drought; it’s still green at home at the moment, but that won’t last long when El Niño kicks in properly come Spring”

 

IMPACTED COMMUNITIES

 

Innes Larkin - Mount Barney Lodge

Location: Scenic Rim, QLD (reception can be unreliable, can coordinate interview time via text)

For two generations, the Larkin family has owned and operated Mt Barney Lodge, an ecotourism retreat situated in the Scenic Rim. Innes has experienced compounding climate impacts in the region; Larkins tourism business has had to close on several occasions in the past five years due to extreme weather events. 

“We rely on groundwater for our family and our tourism business, so a hot, dry summer is a big concern for us - during the last El Niño we had to truck in water for over 5 months, which obviously really affected our business operations… another big risk for us is fire, with all the vegetation that has grown during the wet months of La Niña, there’s a lot of fuel for fires; if we move into a drought, grass and scrub fires could take off and move very quickly in certain parts of the scenic rim”

 

Johanna Nalau, adaptation scientist with a PhD in climate change adaptation at Griffith University

Location: Gold Coast

Prof Johanna can talk about research on the role of decision making mindsets in how we adapt to climate change, climate adaptation and the gap between academic theory and real-world practical actions. Johanna was a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report. 

“Each area of the state is unique, so for flood impacted communities there will be some relief that the threat of floods is reduced, however for communities that rely on rainwater, El Niño is a real worry… having to deal with the absence of water during drought is a huge issue for agricultural communities, and in other areas bushfires will become a real threat”... Climate change may also mean that the chance of experiencing heatwaves during El Niño increases, and local health services may be not be resourced to deal with the increased admissions that are caused by the extreme heat”

“We are seeing in other countries heat waves becoming more widespread and intense, so what does that mean for Australia going into an El Niño summer? Our response to the covid pandemic already reveals we don’t have the capacity in our health care system to deal with certain events; we need to be focussed on adaptation, as currently we are not prepared to deal with many of the results of extreme weather events, and to adapt we must become more proactive”

 

FIRE FORECAST

 

Dr Barry Trail - Director, Solutions for Climate Australia

Location: Sunshine Coast

An ecologist by training, he is also the chair of his local rural fire brigade on the Sunshine Coast, and he can talk about how warmer and drier conditions can increase fire risks, and the impact that an increasing frequency of bushfires have on our ecosystem. 

“The traditional pattern of fire in QLD is usually less severe than the southern states, as unlike southern Australia we have wet summer and dry winters.  But as predicted climate change is increasing the extent and intensity of fires in Queensland, especially in El Nino years.”  

“During the catastrophic fires of 2019-2020 fire fighting services were stretched to absolute capacity across the entire eastern seaboard, as the northern (usually in late winter-spring) and southern (usually in summer) fire season overlapped at the end of 2019.  This El Niño could see similar weather patterns during this years fire season”

 

EL NIÑO HEALTH IMPACTS

 

Dr Beau Frigault - QLD State Chair of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

Location: Gold Coast 

Dr Beau can talk about the impacts of climate change on human health through a range of pathways, i.e: health impact from an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, bushfires and extended periods of drought. 

"Heat kills more Australians than all other natural disasters combined. We are all at risk of heat-related illness and some groups of Australians are at greatest risk, including the elderly, people with chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes; children, rural and remote communities, outdoor workers and community members with poor housing conditions eg lack of functioning air conditioners.

 

Climate change is increasing the frequency of heatwaves and we are seeing the impacts of this in our health system with greater numbers of ambulance call-outs, more admissions to hospitals, and presentations to general practice with heat-related illness."

 

For interviews with barrier reef experts, farmers, doctors and bushfire survivors, contact Sean Kennedy, Climate Media Centre, 0447 121 378  sean.kennedy@climatemediacentre.org.au 

 


Contact details:

Sean Kennedy, Climate Media Centre, 0447 121 378  sean.kennedy@climatemediacentre.org.au

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