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Climate change threatens SA tourism, health and business: industry leaders

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Tourist numbers will drop, cases of malaria could emerge in hospitals and business productivity will plummet as a result of climate change, some of South Australia’s leading industry and health bodies have warned.

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A panel of experts from South Australia’s tourism, health, business, infrastructure, science and emergency service sectors converged at the Adelaide Town Hall last night to discuss how a hotter and drier climate is likely to impact the state.

According to latest figures from the state’s Environment Protection Authority, the number of days reaching over 40 degrees in Adelaide has more than doubled in the past 10 years, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting maximum daily temperatures for South Australia will rise by between 1 and 2.1 degrees by 2050.

Bureau of Meteorology state manager John Nairn told last night’s audience he was “sick” of having weather records broken.

“Me and my colleagues at the moment, year on year we keep finding ourselves breaking records at remarkable rates and I’m getting sick of it because basically we just find ourselves writing new records all the time,” he said.

“If you care to care for the science, you will recognise that we have just recently broken the state’s heat record – in fact, it’s a 160-year record.”

That record was set late last month, with Adelaide temperatures reaching 46.6 degrees during an extreme heatwave across the state.

The soaring temperatures have the tourism industry worried, with Events South Australia executive director Hitaf Rasheed saying there was “no doubt” that an increase in the number of days over 40 degrees in Adelaide would impact tourism dollars.

She said more extreme weather events were also making it increasingly difficult for Events SA to afford insurance for major tourism events including the Tour Down Under and Tasting Australia.

“Last year we had two weather conditions that we dealt with – we had the Santos Tour Down Under tour where we cancelled the Challenge Tour and the public ride because of the heat and we had Tasting Australia where we had to shut down Victoria Square because of another weather condition – 80 to 90-kilometre winds, which we felt would make the site unsafe,” she said.

“We can insure only for our public ride, the Challenge Tour, and this year, because we cancelled last year, it became very difficult and very expensive to insure against cancellation.

“Getting insurance is getting harder and harder for major events and I know that it’s probably putting people out of business… because if you’re cancelling you have to refund and most businesses can’t cope with that.

“We’re the government, we can cope with that, but equally it’s getting harder and harder for us to insure against weather events.”

Increased temperatures are already impacting South Australia’s health sector, with SA Health deputy chief medical officer Nicola Spurrier saying last month’s three-day heatwave resulted in 224 extra ambulance call-outs, 152 presentations to hospital directly related to heat problems and an extra 53 admissions also related to heat.

Hotter weather is a particular concern for the elderly, those with chronic health conditions and those on medications that can be influenced by the heat.

“We would definitely expect to see more people present to emergency departments,” Spurrier said, referring to the temperature projections for Adelaide.

“We have direct heat-related health problems, but we also see after a heat event, if we look back at the data, increases in strokes, heart attacks and breathing and respiratory problems.

“The other thing that we’re expecting to see in the future and are already seeing is an increase in food-borne illnesses – people getting gastro from food infections – because when it’s hot it’s very difficult to make sure that food hygiene is up to scratch.”

Spurrier said it was also likely mosquito-borne viruses – including malaria – could become a reality in Australia as a result of climate change.

“When you’ve got changes in temperature across the nation, when you’ve got climate change, we will be seeing other emerging infections such as those carried by mosquitos such as dengue and Ross River (virus),” she said.

“We don’t have malaria in Australia and I don’t know what it’s going to be like in the future, but we’re certainly very aware of these gradual infections.”

Business SA executive director of industry and government engagement Anthony Penney said South Australian businesses were also already bearing the brunt of climate change.

He cited research from the United States involving 64 automobile manufacturers, which found severe weather events such as wind, snow and rain led to an approximate 1.5 per cent reduction in productivity. Incidences of extreme heat led to about an 8 per cent reduction in productivity.

“During the 2014 heat wave in Melbourne when there was four days over 40 degrees, Melbourne City Council looked at businesses and found a 10 per cent reduction in revenue – about $34 to $37 million that those businesses weren’t putting in the till,” Penney added.

“Closer to home, when that 46-degree day occurred just recently, the café by the Business SA building called Whistle and Flute shut at 1.30, so, you’ve got roughly five to six hours when they’re not trading, people aren’t working or getting paid, suppliers aren’t delivering and that leads to a flow on impact to the overall economy.

“That is why it is so crucially important that climate change gets addressed.”

According to SA Power Networks emergency manager Frank Crisci, South Australia’s electricity sector is currently going through “a metamorphous that it hasn’t seen since the creation of the electricity industry”.

He said the spike in the number of households investing in home batteries and solar panels to combat rising power prices and reduce fossil fuel output was putting strain on the sector.

“Once upon a time it used to be a big generator at Torrens Island supplying energy into the grid and we would take electricity off that grid but now we’ve got what we call distributed energy resources – people have got batteries,” Crisci said.

“The challenge we have as an industry in which we’re working through at the moment is the incorporation and integration of those distributed energy resources, including batteries, solar panels, into a grid that was designed for one-way transmission of energy.

“These are challenges that we face but face them we must because these sorts of temperatures that are forecast will certainly put stress on the big generators and certainly put stress on the infrastructure in general.”

Prominent environmental scientist and explorer Tim Jarvis said the way in which South Australia adapts its energy sector to climate change would set an example for other jurisdictions.

“Adelaide is right in the crosshairs of the climate change crisis, in terms of our agriculture, our liveability in our city and the price of electricity,” he said.

“It’s really important for us to set an example, both here in South Australia and across the country more generally, as to what can be done.

“Even though Australia’s only the 13th largest emitter (of carbon dioxide) in the world, everyone is watching to see what a developed country like Australia can actually do.”

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