Senate Inquiry into extreme weather – an opportunity to share your experiences

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Mt Stirling
Mt Stirling

The federal Greens have been successful in getting a Senate Inquiry into extreme weather. This is a significant opportunity for the government to consider the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on local communities, landscapes and economies in the Alpine region.

It would be useful if you or your business or group were be able to make a brief submission to the inquiry about the threat of extreme weather and climate change in your community, and the impacts it has already had or is predicted to have. See below for some ideas on making a submission.

Time is short – we only have until January 18.

You may also want to make a formal request for the committee to visit your area and host a public hearing to take submissions from people who live in or are reliant on good winters to keep the local economy strong.

The snow industry – the canary in the cage when it comes to climate change?

The winter sports industry/community is deeply dependent upon predictable, heavy snowfall, but climate change is expected to contribute to warmer winters, reduced snowfall, and shorter snow seasons.

A recent US study, commissioned by Protect Our Winters (POW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), shows that the U.S. ski and snowmobile winter sports industry is currently worth an estimated $12.2 billion each year, and has already felt the direct impact of decreased winter snowpack and rising average winter temperatures.

As the authors note in the report, “climate change spells trouble for all businesses dependent on winter weather including snowboarding, snowshoeing and skiing. The shrinking numbers of winter sports tourists also affect restaurants, lodging, gas stations, grocery stores, bars” and other businesses.

Bogong High Plains fires, 2007
Bogong High Plains fires, 2007

Here in Australia, winters are already becoming warmer and more erratic, and this impacts on the quality and quantity of snow.

According to Dr. David Bain, in the high Alps from 1950 to 2007 there has been an increase in winter temperatures approaching 1°C, and over much the same period (1957 to 2011), Australia has seen a slow decrease in snow depth. The mid-winter snow depths have only decreased a small amount, whereas spring snow depth has dropped by almost 40%. The obvious impact here is that the resort season becomes shorter, making it more difficult to make a profit on infrastructure that is located in resorts year round.

While resorts have invested in extra snow making capacity and are seeking to build visitation outside of the winter months, the majority of infrastructure is based around winter sports. Snow making will become more expensive in coming years as energy prices rise, and this will impact on resort profit margins and hence viability. As was highlighted in the 2012 document the Alpine Resorts Strategic Plan, “cost pressures are a major problem for many on-mountain businesses and site holders”.

Science suggests that without determined action to reduce climate change, we can expect to see less and less reliable snow falls in coming years.
According to the government commissioned report ‘Caring for our Australian Alps Catchments’, the Alps face an average temperature rise of between 0.6 and 2.9 degrees centigrade by 2050, depending on how much action the international community takes to combat climate change.

Rain, snow and other precipitation is expected to decrease up to 24% over the next four decades, accompanied by more bushfires, droughts, severe storms and rapid runoff, causing heavy erosion. Additionally, what precipitation we get could become more erratic. For instance, it is likely there will be more storm events in summer, which could be expected to impact on outdoor recreation and especially organised events like bike rides and festivals. The 2003 and 2006/2007 fires in Alpine regions are an indicator of what could come with enhanced global warming. These shut down tourism across sections of eastern Victoria, with dramatic impacts on businesses reliant on summer tourism.

The Caring for our Australian Alps Catchments report says that our ski slopes could be completely bare of natural winter snow by 2050 unless concerted action is taken against global warming.

The erratic weather will also be felt in winter, with corresponding impacts on economies. The US report notes that in that country, the downhill ski resort industry is estimated to have lost $1.07 billion in aggregated revenue between low and high snow fall years over the last decade: if the snow is bad, many people will simply cancel their holiday. So even if there is some snow cover, erratic weather can still have impacts.

All of this will be a disaster for skiers, boarders and all who spend their time in the Alps.

Buffalo Plateau from Big Hill
Buffalo Plateau from Big Hill

But it will also be devastating for local economies. In Victoria, the alpine resorts are estimated to have contributed $570 million and 5,800 Full-Time Equivalent jobs to the Victorian economy in winter alone for 2011 (source: Alpine Resorts Strategic Plan 2012, p13). The flow on effects of the industry is felt in towns throughout north east Victoria and around the Snowy Mountains, including the development of niche agriculture economies which is, in part, supported by snow-based tourism. To take one example of local benefits, the ‘gross regional profit’ of Alpine Shire was increased by about $130 million in 2011 because of the presence of the alpine resorts. The negative impacts of the bushfires on Murrindindi Shire in this same period indicate what climate change and extreme weather events could mean in future for all shires across the state.

According to the Economic Significance of the Australian Alpine Resorts report (2011), the combined benefit for the three Australian States with alpine resorts in 2005 is calculated to be $1.3 billion with 17,050 annual equivalent employment opportunities.

As the US report concludes: “all of this translates into less snow and fewer people on the slopes, which results in massive economic hardship for resorts, states, local communities, businesses and their employees.”
Please write a submission

In order to protect the alpine environments that we love and the many thousands of people and businesses who depend on a snow-filled season, we must act now to support policies that protect our climate, and in turn, our slopes.

You can read more about the Inquiry and make a submission here.

Some points you may like to make:

Apart from any direct impacts you are concerned about, you might want to mention that the latest science is showing that the impacts of climate change are happening faster than expected, and that communities will require funding to deal with the worst predicted outcomes. There must be greater community engagement about adaptation to climate change. However, responding to climate change (‘adaptation’) is not enough: we must also respond to the causes of climate change – by reducing emissions (‘mitigation’).

Check here for climate change scenarios for the Alps.

If you would like the Senate Inquiry to visit your town to hear your concerns about climate change and extreme weather, please check here.

Submissions are due on 18 January with the final report due from the Senate Committee on 20th March.

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