THE tropical parts of the world are where the most is at stake as the world warms - the area most likely to suffer reduced rainfall - and they're also the areas where most of the agriculture in the world occurs.
Australian National University director of the Climate Change Institute, Mark Howden, challenged attendees at the recent TropAg conference in Brisbane to work on transformational changes rather than incremental ones to meet the challenges he laid out.
Looking at the TropAg program, he said only 2 per cent of it had transformational ideas to cope with what he said was the greatest risk emerging, that the range of variation in hotter and colder temperatures had doubled.
For livestock this meant decreased stocking rates and poor animal health as well as a reduced rate of productivity increase, and for cropping, yields would reduce. And yield changes are most often under-estimated, according to research.
"Looking at the future as it stands at the moment, every day in the tropics will be a heat stress day by the end of the century, that is, to go outside will be potentially fatal," he said.
Mr Howden said that almost without exception, changes could be designed that were win-win.
How people adapted depended on their attitude to risk and what they wanted from systems.
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"Focusing on existing systems only may result in missed opportunities," he said. "We don't have to be victims, there are lots of tools in the box."
As well as saying he would like to see more of the people who deal with social and psychological change in the room, Mr Howden said research and development had to be accelerated.
"This is not just about technology but about social change," he said. "We can do it if we work together."
THE need that northern producers have for accurate weather data was reflected in the TropAg session devoted to climate products that are improving risk management in the sub-tropics and tropics, including Tim Cowan's work on predicting the onset of rainfall in northern Australia.
Defined as the date at which 50mm is reached after September 1, Dr Cowan said the Bureau of Meteorology's ACCESS seasonal forecasting tool showed that the further north one was, the earlier the onset was.
"This is not the same as the monsoonal onset and it's not your green date," he said. "Nor is it a good measure for the onset of the rainy season for south east Queensland."
Findings are showing the onset trend is earlier by 75 days in Australia's north west, and that when there was a later onset, rainfall was lower.
As for the coming wet season, he said there was a fairly high chance of a later onset of rain, comparing it to the summer of 2006-7, which was a weak El Nino year.
As an aside, he said the rainfall target had been reached in Darwin that morning, slightly later than usual.
Building on this, fellow University of Southern Queensland presenter Sharmila Sur told the symposium there were distinct variations in rainfall patterns between north eastern and north western parts of Australia.
The north east tended to fluctuate more between wet and dry and had a strong teleconnection with low frequency El Nino-Southern Oscillations.
She said because 80 per cent of the north's annual rainfall happened during the wet season, any differences would have a great impact.
Speaking for Queensland's Agriculture Department, Vern Rudwick commented on the language used to describe drought, contrasting messages about battling adversity with ones about managing risk.
"The government is pushing the resilience message, which is generally less interesting than the crisis message," he said.
He told those gathered from across Africa and Asia that the department's work on climate variability was tied to financial impacts so that producers could remain profitable.
"In a scenario where the temperature has risen 2.7pc most of the time, cattle will be under heat stress in large parts of the country.
"We are thinking about how you manage a business under those circumstances."
A product from The Weather Company making use of artificial intelligence that crunches big lots of data was showcased as a potential tool for producers coping with the most volatile weather of any country in the world.
Its advantages were listed as streamlining the inundation of data available when people worried about how to unlock data efficiently as well as its quality, but an identified barrier was limited technological resources at the user's end.