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Habitable Climate

The maintenance of a favourable climate at local and global scales (temperature, precipitation, greenhouse gases) for human habitation and cultivation.

 

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Regulating Services

 

What is a habitable climate and how is it derived?

Regional climate regulation is heavily influenced by global circulation patterns. Management of energy dependent services will play a small role, but globally significant role in ensuring a habitable climate is maintained.

Without sufficient water, heat and carbon, life on earth would not have evolved as it has today. A "habitable climate" is one that provides sufficient amounts of water and heat to maintain life forms without having to rely on large amounts of external inputs. Most importantly, a habitable climate is one that is able to produce food for animals and humans without having to rely on these inputs.

Food production is critical for human survival. The need to import large amounts of water for food production normally means that precipitation is either too low or the temperatures are excessively high and any free water evaporates rapidly. These climates are normally not the most hospitable or habitable for human populations and in many cases place a heavy environmental burden on society through increased energy consumption (for cooling, transportation of water and foodstuffs). With a world where there is an increasing amount of energy consumption and external inputs (e.g. nitrogen fertilisers for cropping systems), increased greenhouse gas emissions and global warming will have impacts on habitable climates, with predicted increases in temperature and in extreme events.

Table 1 below presents the relative magnitude that different ecosystem functions contribute to maintaining a habitable climate. Regional climate regulation is heavily influenced by global circulation patterns, but what characterises a habitable climate is directly related to latitude, geography and position in the landscape, including proximity to coastal influences. Increased elevations normally have cooler temperatures than lowlands, and the amount of precipitation and its variability is also dependent on the position of ranges and prevailing winds, and proximity to the coast or equatorial or sub-tropical influences.

Microclimates also exist which are subtle modifications of surrounding conditions and directly influenced by geographic positioning of landforms (e.g. mountains) or buildings in urban ecosystems and the provision of shade and shelter provided by vegetation. Ensuring erosion is kept to a minimum and retaining soil maintains an environment suitable for growth of vegetation and supporting habitats, which in turn reduces the amount of water lost to the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gas emissions from our urban and rural environments are now having major influences on climate through global warming, therefore the regulation (and reduction) of the primary greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (MH4) and nitrous oxide (NOx) will influence global circulation and weather patterns and our future climate.

 

Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to a Habitable Climate.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
1
2
3
4
5
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation





Climate Regulation





Disturbance Regulation





Water Regulation





Soil Retention





Nutrient Regulation





Waste Treatment and Assimilation





Pollination





Biological Control





Barrier Effect of Vegetation





Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats





Soil Formation





Provisioning Functions
Food





Raw Materials





Water Supply





Genetic Resources





Provision of Shade and Shelter





Pharmacological Resources





Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity





 

ARE HUMAN INPUTS REQUIRED TO FACILITATE a habitable climate?

The built environment creates a heat island effect.

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity have a direct impact on the delivery of a habitable climate and in many cases the development of a less habitable climate. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (MH4) and nitrous oxide (NOx) in our atmosphere contribute to global warming. Whilst increased temperatures may be beneficial in some of the colder parts of the world, in SEQ we have a greater diversity in food, fibre and animal production which depend on our rich environment and favourable climate. 

Small increases in temperature are hallmarks of normal climate variability, however accelerated changes in temperature will have negative impacts on food webs and productivity with major impacts on ecosystem function and the delivery of a wide range of services. Reducing greeenhouse gas emissions by more judicious management of energy dependent services (e.g. a decrease in nitrogen fertiliser use which in turn reduces nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide) will play a small role, but globally significant role in ensuring a habitable climate is maintained.

The urban built environment also creates a heat island effect which has a negative impact on a habitable climate depending on the season. Increased warming in winter may reduce energy consumption (and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere) for heating, whilst an increase in the amount of energy used for cooling purposes may be necessary in summer. The magnitude of the urban heat island effect also depends on the spatial arrangement of the built environment, with interdispersed parks and green spaces potentially reducing temperatures.

 

Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

This service is non-excludable (i.e. the use of this service by one person does not reduce the ability of other people to use this service). There are no social, environmental or economic barriers at this point in time preventing people from receiving this service or contributing to its delivery. The development of emissions reduction schemes (e.g. the Carbon Tax and Carbon Farming Initiative) and links to economic development may provide greater securty and tenure in the delivery of a habitable climate.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.

 

Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Habitable Climate contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
1
2
3
4
5
Existence
Breathing            
Drinking            
Nutrition            
Shelter            
Health
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Security
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            

 

HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE DEGRADING, MAINTAINING OR IMPROVING a habitable climate?

 

Key climate variables include temperature, precipitation, humidity, elevation, prevailing winds and position relative to the caost.

Links to other publications and websites

Dept of Enviro. & Heritage Prot.
BoM Urban Design
Astrobiology Magazine
IPCC
Garnaut Climate Change Review
Stern Review

There are numerous academic articles and esteemed reports discussing our role in managing our climate for human habitation. The Bureau of Meteorology provides detailed sub-regional information on key climate variables (temperature, precipitation, humidity) on a daily basis. The Bureau of Meteorology also provide historical data which allows users to make objective comparisons with the recent past. Whilst SEQ has a relatively well-balanced sub-tropical climate, with some tolerances for change (compared to high latitude environments), the most significant indicator that global warming may be having an impact is to track changes in daily minimum temperatures over the long-term. Consistent, long-term downward shifts in precipitation are also indicators of a less habitable climate.

 

How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

At the national level, the key institutions monitoring this service are the Bureau of Meteorology and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The significant impact that greenhouse gas emissions have on global warming and climate regulation and subsequently on a habitable climate suggests the monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions at regional, national and international levels is critical. At the state and regional level, the key institution monitoring this service is the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.  

Whilst there is currently no direct regulation of greenhouse gas emissions across Australia, the development of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) provides a regulatory framework to some sectors of industry with a particular focus on reducing emissions from power generation and manufacturing. Many communities, companies and households are already assessing their own greenhouse gas emissions and developing voluntary emissions reduction strategies in light of the Carbon Tax. There are numerous greeenhouse gas calculators on the web to assist business and households in assessing their carbon footprint.