RGSQ Lecture Series
RGSQ recommends that all attendees at this event be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or exempt.
Dr Stephen M Turton, DFIAG, RGSQ Thomson medallist
Adjunct Professor in Environmental Geography, CQUniversity
Photo credit: CQUniversity News
Australia has been classified as a “climate change hotspot”, with its natural, economic and social systems considered vulnerable or highly vulnerable to climate change (IPCC 2023). It has long-held the global distinction of being the driest continent with permanent habitation, with most of its population located in the more temperate coastal southeast, south and southwest of the country. Sixty-six per cent of Australia is arid and semi-arid. Over the past 50 years, there has been a detectable drying and warming of continental south-eastern and particularly south-western parts of the country in response to climate change. In the face of climate change, Queensland has been identified as being the most highly exposed and vulnerable jurisdiction in Australia. This dire status is due to its dominant tropical climate, a highly decentralized population and a strong reliance on the health and sustainability of its natural capital for its main industries (particularly agriculture and tourism).
International media attention has featured Australia’s world heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef (GBR), a global icon considered one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Over the past seven years, four mass coral bleaching events have affected the GBR in varying degrees (2016, 2017, 2020 and 2022). The first three events resulted in a decision by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2020 to re-classify the conservation outlook status of the GBR from “significant concern” to “critical” due to a deteriorating trend in the condition of its outstanding universal values. This decline in the GBR’s conservation status is due to oceanic warming and associated marine heatwaves driving mass coral bleaching events.
Record-breaking east coast floods (including Brisbane) in 2022 have also propelled Australia into the international arena as a country at the frontier of climate change. Climate change is set to triple the cost of natural disasters in Australia without urgent government spending on resilience, according to a 2021 report by CSIRO.
This lecture will address three compelling questions:
1. How has Australia’s climate changed since reliable records began in 1910? What are the likely future changes in regional climate attributes this century, including land and sea temperatures, rainfall patterns, sea level rise and severe climate-driven events, such as heatwaves, storms, floods, droughts and bushfires?
2. How can Southeast Queensland cope with a changing climate and increasing climatic variability? What are the options to build climate-resilient development pathways for the region’s natural, economic and social systems?
3. How can policy- and decision-makers integrate these pathways with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a range of planning scales?
Steve is now retired and an Adjunct Professor in Environmental Geography in the Research Division at Central Queensland University. From 2005 to 2016, he held several senior roles as Director and Professor of Geography at James Cook University in Cairns. From 2003 to 2005, he was an Associate Professor and Director of Research for the Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre. From 1984 to 2003, he was a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in Geography at James Cook University. He is a former Councillor of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland, the Institute of Australian Geographers, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation and a former member of the Wet Tropics Management Authority’s Scientific Advisory Committee. He is a Past President of the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, the Institute of Australian Geographers and a Past Chair of the National Committee for Geographical Sciences, Australian Academy of Science. He was also an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth and Sixth Assessment Reports, Working Group 2 (Impacts and Adaptation). He is a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Australian Geographers and was a recipient of the J.P. Thomson Medal from the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland. He has published over 130 scientific reports, book chapters and journal articles in rainforest ecology, environmental geography and climate change adaptation in tourism and natural resource management. His latest book, Surviving the Climate Crisis: Australian Perspectives and Solutions was published by CRC Press (Taylor & Francis: New York and London) in December 2022.
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