enews Symposium Special Edition

Issue 10 - Special Edition
3 June 2008

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Symposium speakers spark hot debate

CDSS audience

An opportunity to hear some of Australia’s leading water and climate change experts attracted hundreds to a symposium at CDU on Friday 30 May. Read more >>

Vice-Chancellor opens water debate

Professor Helen GarnettVice-Chancellor of Charles Darwin University, Professor Helen Garnett welcomed delegates to the Charles Darwin Symposium, saying that water has now become a major issue for all Australians.

Professor Garnett said the economic, environmental and social issues surrounding water were critical to framing the future for the Northern Territory.

She said the 2008 Symposium was the time to challenge the conventional viewpoints about water held by the southern states of Australia, and explore the diversity of views, so that Territorians could provide constructive input for future discussions.

Listen to Professor Garnett’s welcome address >>

Prepare for a changed world

CDSS audienceSustainability is much more than just environmental considerations, according to CDU’s Director of the School for Environmental Research, Professor Stephen Garnett, during his presentation at Friday’s Charles Darwin Symposium.

Professor Garnett presented a possible scenario for the future, leading up to 2050. He predicted a completely different world in terms of what people would be doing and how they would be living.

Catastrophe, war and wild imagination aside, Professor Garnett said that current evidence indicated the weather pattern for the Northern Territory would not change too much, though the predicted increase in temperature of one degree would have a significant impact on our climate, making cool winter mornings in the Top End a thing of the past. The length of the wet season would also be affected adversely, and be significantly shorter.

But by far the greatest change would be in human activity. Professor Garnett suggested there probably would not be very much mining still occurring in Australia in 2050. He said that buying behaviours would also have changed, with Australians no longer associating economic growth with material consumption. As a result, the retail industry would be dampened, and driven by selective purchases.

Listen to Professor Garnett’s full address >>

Feeding the world the next big thing

CDSS audienceIf climate change is the topic of this decade, then food will be the topic of this century, according to the Director of the Crops, Forestry and Horticulture Division, Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines, Matt Darcey.

Mr Darcey said that while water was the current issue of debate, in 2050 the critical issue could be how to provide enough food to feed the world’s increasing population, with climate change taking a back seat to issues of food and energy.

In his presentation at Friday’s Charles Darwin Symposium, Mr Darcey said he was not making any predictions for the future, but wanted people to consider a possible future of land use in Australia for 2050, and ask the question, “What if?”

He presented a bleak scenario, with the world’s population being consumed by the question of how to produce enough food to feed its inhabitants.

He suggested that even though our food output, through technological advancements, may have increased by 100 per cent on today’s figures, the demand would outweigh supply.

Demand would have increased because of longer life expectancy, by then widespread throughout the world, making food provision a global issue, and affecting people of the developed world.

Mr Darcey said that in this scenario, even moderate crop failures would mean famine for some people, as there would not be any stored crops as surplus.

Listen to Mr Darcey’s full address >>

Top End has ‘untapped potential’

Felicity RobsonThe Top End remains a largely untapped resource in relation to its agricultural potential, despite its obvious qualities, the general manager of sustainability and corporate affairs for the OneHarvest group of companies, Felicity Robson, told the Charles Darwin Symposium on Friday.

Ms Robson said there was a proven market for growing premier quality fruit and vegetables in the Territory.

She said she respected and valued the part and place that the Top End had in the seasonal calendar and that the NT continued to provide a huge window of opportunity for both domestic and export supply.

It was her contention that despite an abundance of resources in Australia’s north, no amount of water would replace the skilled people who would essentially promote this economic development, and as result the onus remained with the employers.

Listen to Ms Robson’s full address >>

Water: proceed with care

Ian LancasterCareful management of the available water resources is essential to ensure our environmental and cultural heritage is maintained in their relatively pristine conditions, the Charles Darwin Symposium was told.

Director of Water Management, Natural Resource Management Division, Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, Ian Lancaster told the gathering that although there were opportunities in northern Australia for water-dependent development, there were also significant constraints.

He explained that there was a common perception that the north has unlimited water, but the perception was exactly that, perception not reality.

Mr Lancaster explored both the intra and inter annual variability of rainfall in the wet and dry seasons and addressed some of the opportunities and constraints to water-dependent development in northern Australia, with an outlook that choices may be constrained by needs.

Listen to Mr Lancaster’s full address >>

NT ‘unlikely’ food bowl

Dr Adam DruckerThe Territory should not be considered a resource frontier, a prominent environmental/ecological economist told the Charles Darwin Symposium on Friday.

Dr Adam Drucker, of Charles Darwin University, told the forum that despite wide-spread interest and expectation, the Top End remained unsuited to large-scale agricultural activities.

He said that with the Northern Territory contributing less than one per cent of Australia’s total agricultural production, it was debatable that the Territory would ever develop into the food bowl of Australia as predicted.

Dr Drucker said that large-scale land clearing and water extraction for agricultural activities may well not be compatible with the protection of the globally significant social and cultural values of the north of Australia.

Listen to Dr Drucker’s full address >>

Top End sea level to rise

The Top End can expect sea levels to rise by about one metre by the year 2100, the Charles Darwin Symposium was told on Friday.

Professor Will Steffen, from the Australian National University, said Australians should bring a sense of urgency to climate change considerations.

He said the climate scenario the world faced at the end of the century would depend on what actions were taken over the coming 20 years.

Australia’s continental temperatures had shown a distinct rise since 1970, with the west and the north-west experiencing more rain and the east becoming drier.

Professor Steffen said that once conditions reached a tipping point, change would quicken. The Great Barrier Reef would be at risk with an increase in temperature of 2 degrees, while temperature increases of 3 degrees would threaten the Greenland ice sheet.

Professor Bob WassonProfessor Bob Wasson, of Charles Darwin University, said the monsoon over the Top End was expected to strengthen as the south of Australia heated more quickly than the ocean to the north of the continent.

The Top End could expect to experience increasing rain for some time, more erosion, and more floods.

Listen to Professor Steffen's address >>

Listen to Professor Wasson’s addresses >>

Encouraging better water management practices on the domestic front

Anne ShepherdThe Mayor of Katherine, Anne Shepherd, told Friday’s Charles Darwin Symposium that southerners thought the Northern Territory had all the water it ever needed, but that was not the case.

Ms Shepherd said that all people needed to better understand how to sustainably use the water resources.

“Many Australians consider water as an infinite resource that simply needs to be tamed,” she said, but conversely, water supply needed to be managed, not tamed.

Ms Shepherd spoke about the work of the Katherine Water Advisory Committee, which has drafted a water allocation plan to protect environmental and cultural requirements of the Katherine district.

She said she thought perhaps water was too cheap, and asked whether lush, green gardens were appropriate to our country and climate.

The Mayor said that water over-use and wastage could perhaps be addressed by increasing its cost to consumers.

Other means of addressing wastage needed to be considered, such as compulsory replacement of antiquated pipes that did not take into account the technological advances of plumbing materials, as well as an education program about water-saving practices.

Listen to Ms Shepherd’s full address >>

Equitable access and rights to water in the NT

Donna JacksonA representative of the Larrakia Nation and coordinator of the Top End Aboriginal Conservation Alliance, Donna Jackson spoke at the Charles Darwin Symposium about the importance of fresh water in Aboriginal culture, particularly in sacred sites and in ceremonies.

Ms Jackson said she was concerned that eroding, sedimentation and shallowing of Northern Territory’s rivers was already evident.

“We will not allow our rivers to become places of sorrow, as has happened to the Murray River,” she said.

Ms Jackson spoke of her concern about non-Indigenous industries and the management of water resources, and made particular reference to mining.

She said that the uranium mining industry was the largest single user of water in Australia, and was particularly critical of uranium mining in the artesian basin in Western Australia.

Mining companies had access to unlimited water without charge, and then ineffectively stored the polluted water so that it sometimes leaked back into the environment.

“Mining companies need to be legally bound to return any used water to the environment in a non-polluted and useable state,” she said.

Listen to Ms Jackson’s full address >>

Droughts hitting home

Dr Merrilyn WassonAttendees at Friday’s Charles Darwin Symposium revisited the outcomes of the 2006 North Australian Water Use Summit in which priority water use issues in the north were identified.

Facilitator to the Consortium for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Tropics, Dr Merrilyn Wasson said Australia had long seen itself as a sunburnt country, but only as the droughts began to last far longer than the flooding rains has the reality of living in an arid land hit home.

Through her presentation, Dr Wasson outlined the outcomes and the policy impact of the North Australian Water Use Summit, with the emphasis on the debate over the use of northern water resources to address southern water resource scarcity and on Indigenous rights to water sources and sites.

Listen to Dr Wasson’s full address >>