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Climate Change Impacts in Australia

Updated on January 21, 2018

Impacts of climate change

Climate change is one of the greatest social, economic and environmental challenges of our time. Human activity is causing the climate to change. This, in turn, is having an impact on Australia's rainfall, temperatures, bushfire frequency, health, heritage and biodiversity for current and future generations.

During the past 100 years, global average surface temperature increased by about 0.7 degrees Celcius. Since 1910 the average temperature of Australia has risen by about 1 degree Celcius. Although these increases sound small, they have a big impact on the world's climate.

How will I be affected?

It is difficult to precisely predict what the impacts of climate change will be, as they vary with each region. Best estimates are that by 2030 Australia will face:

  • a further 1 degree Celcius of warming in temperatures
  • up to 20 per cent more months of drought
  • up to 25 per cent increase in days of very high or extreme fire danger
  • increases in storm surges and severe weather events.

Australia is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We are already the driest inhabited continent on earth, heavily exposed to the dangers of extreme heat and drought. We are home to many globally important and vulnerable ecological systems. Australians are overwhelmingly coastal dwellers. Our industries and urban centres face ongoing water limitations. Our economy, including food production and agriculture, is under threat.

The longer we wait to act on climate change, the more it will cost and the worse its effects will be.

Impacts in Australia

For too long we have poured carbon pollution into the atmosphere and we are continuing to do so at an alarming rate. Science tells us that this pollution is causing climate change.

We are already starting to feel the effects of carbon pollution. And projections show that if we don't act, it will only get worse with changing temperatures and rainfall patterns, more droughts, floods, water shortages, rising sea levels and extreme weather.

Australia—already the driest inhabited continent on Earth—is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The longer we wait to act on climate change, the more it will cost and the worse its effects will be. As a nation with the highest rate of carbon emissions per person in the developed world, we have a responsibility to join the global effort.

Cutting our carbon pollution is a key way to lessen the risks of climate change.

The Australian Government is building a Clean Energy Future through a comprehensive plan to dramatically cut pollution, introduce a carbon price, invest billions of dollars in renewable energy, transform the energy sector away from high polluting sources such as brown coal, and store millions of tonnes of carbon in the land through better land management.

Much work still needs to be done to analyse the regional impacts of climate change and to determine which areas might be most vulnerable.

The Australian Government is investing in this effort, through the CSIRO Adaptation Flagship–and the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.

While we need to continue to build our understanding of climate change, we already have some indication of the potential impacts and costs to our industries, environment, people and infrastructure.

Australian Capital Territory

Approximately 360,000 people live in the ACT, the home of the nation’s capital Canberra. The ACT is located in the south-east of New South Wales and lies within the Murray Darling Basin.

The following information highlights some of the potential impacts and costs from climate change to the ACT’s industries, infrastructure, environment and people.

Water Supply

Climate change is likely to threaten water supply in the ACT through reduced rainfall and runoff into the ACT’s Cotter and Googong catchments. Annual rainfall could decline by up to 10 per cent by 2030 and 25 per cent by 2070, relative to 1990. Decreases in annual runoff are also projected in the ACT region of up to 20 per cent by 2030 and 50 per cent by 2070.

Water resources are likely to be further stressed due to projected population growth and changes in supply for irrigation, cities, industry and environmental flows.

In response to recent droughts, bushfires and potential climate change, in 2007 the Chief Minister announced a suite of measures to develop a sustainable water supply for Canberra, including enlarging the Cotter Dam, transferring water from the Murrumbidgee River to the Googong Dam and smart metering.

Extreme Events

The ACT is likely to experience rising temperatures and a greater number of extreme hot days as a result of climate change. For example, the annual average number of days over 35°C in Canberra could increase from 5 days currently to up to 26 days by 2070 without global action to reduce emissions.

An increase in temperatures and evaporation is also likely to increase the risk of bushfires. By 2020, the number of days with very high or extreme fire danger could increase from 23 days currently to between 26 and 29 days. By 2050 days with very high or extreme fire danger may increase by up to as many as 38 days.

An increase in the number of days of very high or extreme fire danger poses the threat of an increase in the number, frequency and intensity of bushfires across the region. The Canberra bushfires of 2003 resulted in $350 million damage, with more than 500 houses destroyed and 4 deaths. The losses from the bushfires included $60 million from the almost total destruction of commercial forests and $37 million in damage to the Mount Stromlo Observatory.

Human Health

As the number of very hot days (above 35°C) increase, the number of illnesses and heat-related deaths in the ACT could more than double, with the elderly particularly vulnerable. An estimated 14 people aged 65 and over die annually in Canberra from heat-related deaths (1997-1999 average). This could potentially rise to between 37 and 41 deaths a year by 2020, and 62 to 92 deaths by 2050. The population of the ACT is also susceptible to cold-related deaths with 3 people a year currently dying from the cold. The proportion of people dying from the cold is expected to decrease as temperatures increase, however as population growth is also expected, the total number of cold-related deaths is projected to be between 4 and 9 deaths in 2050.

Other climate change related health risks relevant to the ACT include the impact of severe weather events including bushfires and heatwaves, an increase in food-borne infectious diseases, increases in air pollution and mental health consequences. The adverse health impacts of climate change will be greatest among people on lower incomes, the elderly and the sick.

Natural Environment

Changes in water availability, temperatures, bushfires and changes to the distribution of pest species will impact on the ACT’s natural environments.

Agriculture

Agriculture is particularly sensitive to changes in temperature and the availability of water. These projected changes could directly affect the productivity of the ACT region’s agricultural industries including its regional wine industry.

Adaptation

Given the ACT’s high vulnerability to projected climate change, it is important that appropriate actions are taken by government, businesses, communities and individuals to ensure effective adaptation is possible in a changing environment.

© 2018 Dionis Kuliev

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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      10 months ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      You forget about some important things.

      First, that even if Climate Change was caused by human activity, there is no reason to believe that Humans really know the true cause, nor are they capable of reversing it. They have no record of beating Nature.

      Second, you missed any and all impact of the continual Wars waged around the world for the last one hundred years.

      Third, you missed the increase in size and number of Airplanes in our skies.

      Fourth, the cutting down of trees all around the world.

      Fifth, Australia is not a heavily populated country. There are over 32 million people in the city of Tokyo Japan, compared to the Continent of Australia with just under 25 million people.

      And this article provides no real solution.

    • K S Lane profile image

      K S Lane 

      10 months ago from Melbourne, Australia

      This is pretty alarming. I didn't realise that climate change was affecting Australia more than the rest of the world, though I suppose it makes sense that we'd be particularly vulnerable given, as you said, how dry it is here. The increased risk of bushfires is particularly frightening- there's quite enough of those already!

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