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On the frontline: climate change and regional communities

By Lesley Hughes, Lauren Rickards, Will Steffen, Petra Stock and Martin Rice

Abstract

Key findings: 1. Rural and regional communities are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. Climate change is worsening extreme weather events such as bushfires and drought and rural and regional communities will continue to be disproportionately affected. Many agricultural businesses surveyed have used financial reserves and/or have taken on increased debt in response to extreme weather events. Australia’s agricultural sector is showing signs of decreasing capacity and faltering productivity gains and the resilience of some rural industries is under threat. 2. The systemic disadvantages experienced by rural and regional communities over those in urban areas are likely to worsen if climate change continues unabated. Rural and regional communities have already seen a significant reduction in population that has prompted further losses in services and unemployment. Climate change will further exacerbate these stresses. Strong climate action is required to protect rural and regional communities from the worsening impacts. 3. Rural and regional communities are already adapting to the impacts of climate change but there are limits and costs. Adaptation to cope with a changing climate may be relatively incremental, such as changing sowing and harvesting dates, or switching to new breeds of livestock and new varieties of crops. More substantial adaptation options may involve changing production systems (eg. from cropping to grazing), or relocating to more suitable areas. The more transformational adaptive changes may be risky and expensive, especially for individual farmers. As the climate continues to change, adaptation will become increasingly challenging. 4. While rural and regional communities are on the frontline of climate change impacts, tackling climate change also provides these communities with many opportunities. In Australia, rural areas receive around 30 - 40% of the total investment in renewables, valued at $1-2 billion per year. Renewable energy projects bring jobs and investment into rural and regional communities. Delivering half of our electricity from renewable sources by 2050 would create more than 28,000 jobs. The transition to clean energy will also reduce the health burden of burning coal, which is almost entirely borne by rural and regional areas, e.g. the Hunter and Latrobe valleys. Farmers can build the climate resilience of their farms by adding additional revenue streams, such as by hosting wind turbines and other renewable energy projects. Across Australia, approximately $20.6 million is paid annually in lease payments to farmers and landholders hosting wind turbines. Community funds and additional rate revenue for rural and regional areas from renewable energy can be used to improve public services such as schools and local infrastructure. Renewable energy can reduce electricity costs for rural and remote communities, who traditionally pay much higher prices than their urban counterparts. It also offers independence from the grid with several towns now racing to be the first to operate on 100% renewable energy

Topics: Climate change mitigation, Renewable energy sources, Agricultural industries, Regional economics, Regional development, Regional disparities
Publisher: Climate Council
Year: 2016
OAI identifier: oai:apo.org.au:66272
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