Ground-breaking new analysis sheds light on regional futures
By Chris Swan, Leader – [In]Sight and RAI Data Projects
The Regional Australia Institute welcomes the release of the CSIRO’s Australian National Outlook 2015.
The CSIRO’s analysis integrates a large number of existing scientific and economic models which analyse Australia’s physical economy and natural resource use in the decades ahead. The CSIRO focussed on the critical relationships contained in a ‘water-food-energy’ nexus, viewed as central to the future of regionally-based industries including agriculture.
The outcome is a range of 20 scenarios for Australia’s economic activity, resource use, environmental performance and living standards out to 2050. In running the scenarios, several issues with special relevance to regional Australia are identified. The analysis is ground-breaking in the way it integrates land use, biophysical and economic systems information to create quite pragmatic scenarios for all parts of Australia.
The modelling is based on CSIRO’s expectation that climate change will have significant local impacts on water, food and energy over coming decades. Some of the scenarios flag the opportunities for rural land use and communities posed by potential new land sector markets for carbon sequestration and conservation. Although there remains uncertainty surrounding ‘the potential cascading impacts of future climate change and extreme events on farms, sectors and regions, climate change will mean that profitable rural land use could shift dramatically’.
For agriculture, the outlook is overwhelmingly positive, even in a world of more variable and extreme climatic conditions. Demand for our agricultural produce trebles by 2050 and prices are expected to reverse the long-term downward trend. Development of markets for bio-fuels, ‘carbon farming’ through sequestration and conservation or biodiversity management provide further potential for increasing farm incomes. These measures have the potential to enrich regional communities and restore Australia’s unique and significant ecosystems and consequently the CSIRO reports that ‘sustainability and economic growth can be partners’.
According to the CSIRO each of these developments are determined in large part by the directions set by public policy makers. Research and development (R&D), for example, has long been a critical part of Australian agriculture and will play a vital role into the future. Improved output of food and fibre to meet increasing global demand, for instance, is possible only with continuing R&D to ensure that ‘agricultural productivity growth is restored’.
The report does not pretend to predict the future, recognising there are many drivers not fully measurable, modellable or understood. We ourselves are clearly a big part of this uncertainty. The report recognises that choices by individuals and businesses play a part, and that public policy settings will also play a major role, in determining which of the scenarios dominates our actual future trajectory.
We recommend you get a cup of tea, dig into the work, watch the videos and make up your own mind about the range of possible futures for your district. The report invites you to do so:
“The biggest determinant of our future prosperity is not the sectors which have served us in the past, but how we choose to prepare for and respond to future trends and opportunities.”