Considering Climate Change from a Country on Fire


Three recent events have made Australia a flashpoint for the global discussion around severe weather. The first: a rash of record temperatures and raging bushfires that has garnered international attention over the last several weeks. The second: a series of extreme floods that have displaced thousands in eastern Australia. And the third: the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met recently in Hobart to vet its fifth major paper, scheduled for release later this year.

The paper will undoubtedly warn us against what our recent experiences have already indicated: that our climate is warming, and that the danger posed to human and animal life is deadly serious.

It’s been nearly 30 years since our world saw a month that was cooler than average. In that time, average temperatures across Australia have uniformly risen—in some places, by more than half a degree centigrade. Our coastlines are confronted by rising sea levels; once-verdant agricultural regions grapple with decreased rainfall and drought.

Climate change is already happening; we are now reeling from its impacts. In recent weeks, it has often seemed as though we are powerless against it.

But we are not. We have at our disposal an array of powerful conservation strategies that will help us cope with a changing climate while we simultaneously reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

One of these strategies is mitigation. We can create offsets, such as those set up by Australia’s groundbreaking carbon pricing system. Monetizing carbon emissions has given us an enormous incentive to reduce the production of greenhouse gases.

This mechanism affects not only major corporations but farmers and Indigenous groups as well. In northern Australia, where the Conservancy has worked with Traditional Owners and the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance on reinstating traditional fire practices that significantly reduce carbon emissions and the danger of dangerous bushfires, Indigenous landholders are earning the first terrestrial carbon credits handed out under the government’s Carbon Farming Initiative.

It’s a creative solution, and one that we prefer because it not only furthers the battle against climate change but also helps Indigenous people and creates ecological benefits for iconic Australian landscapes.

Another strategy for dealing with climate change is adaptation. The Conservancy has long supported and helped Australia’s National Reserve System to create and secure large protected areas across Australia. Protecting vast stretches of land like the Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area creates important space for the biodiversity most threatened by climate change to reproduce and thrive and gives us the best chance of protecting native Australian species like the beloved Gouldian Finch and Northern Quoll well into the future.

A third strategy for addressing climate change is resilience. By learning from those communities and habitats that have best weathered the effects of climate change, we can reapply those lessons to better protect weakened or vulnerable communities. For example, we can study and replicate the defenses developed by coastal towns responding to rising oceans in those that have yet to strengthen their coasts.

The Conservancy is a global organisation working to apply these strategies across the planet—from the coral reefs of Indonesia to the rainforests of Brazil to the steppes of Mongolia—because only worldwide action can fully address climate change.

But Australia is now suffering the brunt of our changing world—and while we’ve shown inspiring leadership on the issue in passing a nationwide carbon pricing scheme and dedicating national resources to the strategies described above, there’s still more that we can do.

Climate change is quickly becoming the issue of our century, yet few have recognised its urgency and movements to address it have stalled. We hope that you’ll stand with us in calling for stronger action on climate change and growing Australia’s successes against climate change into a global movement for change.

Visit to learn more about how we can conserve Australia’s lands and waters together. You can also sign up today to become a Conservation Champion—your monthly gift will enable The Nature Conservancy to make progress toward a cleaner, healthier planet for our generation and generations still to come.

[Image: Arid lands in Western Australia. Image credit: Ami Vitale.]

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