Tropical resource futures

Three RIEL themes are grounded in the marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. As with Livelihoods, the Tropical Resource Futures theme is an integrating lens for RIEL, intended to illuminate some of the key ‘over the horizon’ issues that may not be as far off as we imagine, and to help us to think about their likely implications in a more constructive way.

Like the rest of the world, northern Australia is facing the rapid convergence of some very big issues: warming oceans and atmosphere leading to rising sea levels and more frequent and intense severe weather events; probable steep rises in energy prices associated with oil depletion and energy security concerns; a likely price on carbon and mandatory renewable energy targets among other responses to the global climate challenge; and potential water shortages late in the dry season as groundwater systems are depleted and/or contaminated.

Energy will be a central issue in developing more sustainable livelihoods and economies in northern and central Australia and neighbouring countries. The CDU and the Northern Territory Government have already recognised this in establishing the Centre for Renewable Energy and Low Emissions Technologies, located within RIEL. The Centre will focus research efforts to help the Territory to build its renewable energy sector -- both in Central Australia and in the Top End -- and to provide leadership on renewable energy and low emissions technologies in the region. In addition to their engineering work on new technologies, researchers within the Centre will work closely with RIEL colleagues in other themes on issues such as carbon accounting, policy options for renewable energy deployment and the link between renewable energy and livelihoods, especially in remote communities.

There is an urgent need for research on these big issues to inform long range strategic planning and policy development, in government, industries and communities. In Northern and Central Australia, additional elements compound this ‘big picture’ climate-carbon-energy-water convergence that are less evident in the south: long, vulnerable supply chains for food and other essentials; and challenging demographic forces, not so much around the health concerns of aging baby boomers, but rather provision of economic opportunities for large cohorts of young Indigenous people, many in tiny remote communities, who will enter the employment market over coming decades. The latter represents a unique opportunity to support research training using a model that combines participatory science and indigenous knowledge systems.

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