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Massive Current And Future Climate Impacts For Australia

A new report from Australia’s CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology has found massive current and future climate impacts for the country, and highlights the need for ambitious post-2020 pollution reduction targets — targets that are sorely missing in the current national political climate.

According to Australia’s Climate Institute, “the report highlights the need for ambitious post 2020 pollution reduction targets, a transition plan to decarbonise our economy, and far greater integration of climate resilience in planning and assessment.”

The overarching key findings from the report are:

  1. It has become hotter since 1910, with warming across Australia of 0.9°C
  2. Rainfall has increased in northern Australia since the 1970s and decreased in south-east and south-west Australia
  3. More of Australia’s rain has come from heavy falls and there has been more extreme fire weather in southern and eastern Australia since the 1970s.
  4. Sea levels have risen by approximately 20cm since 1900.

“There is very high confidence that hot days will become more frequent and hotter”, said CSIRO principal research scientist, Kevin Hennessy. “We also have very high confidence that sea levels will rise, oceans will become more acidic, and snow depths will decline. We expect that extreme rainfall events across the nation are likely to become more intense, even where annual-average rainfall is projected to decline.”


The natural resource management clusters analysed in this new study.
Image Credit via CSIRO

The projections made in the report “are the most comprehensive ever released for Australia” and are presented in an attempt to emphasise informing impact assessment and planning in the natural resource management sector. Specifically, the projections are based on up to 40 global climate models and four scenarios of greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions during the 21st century.

More than that, these latest projections provide greater levels of detail and confidence compared to previous projections, and are consistent with previous projections research and analysis for Australia.

“This comprehensive report and interactive database from our premier scientific and weather agencies should reset the climate debate in Australia, it shows how climate change is and will be slugging Australia,” said John Connor, CEO The Climate Institute.

“This report graphically illustrates why it is in Australia’s national interest to drive ambitious climate action in its post-2020 climate action package due to be shared internationally by mid-year, ahead of the 2015 international climate negotiations in Paris.

“The report also shows why we should be planning an economic decarbonisation strategy as well as integrating climate resilience far more seriously into planning and approval processes.”

Specific Findings

There are a number of findings which verge on the utterly-terrifying, especially for me, as a resident of Australia.

Temperatures are expected to increase over the 21st century — that’s a given. However, the extent of these increases are yet to be determined, and are utterly reliant upon the work done to cut global emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols. If emissions are lowered, then Australia’s average temperature is expected to increase by 0.6 to 1.7°C. A high emissions scenario, however, could see average Australian temperatures grow by 2.8 to 5.1°C.

Unsurprisingly, drought is also expected to increase, with a greater frequency of severe droughts over southern Australia, and more time spent in drought.

Winter and Spring rainfall in southern Australia is projected to decline, while changes in other areas of the country are less certain. The report concludes that natural climate variability will be the dominant factor over rainfall trends across the rest of Australia — by 2090, a winter rainfall decrease is expected across eastern Australia.

Conversely, sea levels around Australia are expected to continue to increase over the 21st century, with projections by 2090 comparable to, or slightly larger than, the projected global mean sea level rise of up to 82 cm under a high emissions scenario.

Interestingly, tropical cyclones may occur less often, but when they do occur, they will be more intense. Down the other end of the continent, fire weather in southern and eastern Australia is expected to harshen, including an increase in the number of days with a ‘severe’ fire danger rating — projections for fire weather in northern Australia and some inland areas are less certain.

Speaking again for the Climate Institute, John Connor at once commended the Australian Government for releasing this report, while blasting the Queensland government, saying that “it makes downright reckless the current Queensland Government’s effort to airbrush climate change from reports and actively remove sea level rise from planning instruments.”

“This new data reinforce earlier analysis for Treasury that showed large chunks of the Australian economy will be whacked by global warming. Under scenarios of un-, or part-checked pollution, sectors like agriculture, health, and ecosystems are hit well beyond their ability to adapt.”

“This shows starkly how deep pollution reductions and decarbonisation of the economy is squarely in Australia’s national interest—this needs to be the guiding principle in the government’s decision this year on Australia’s post-2020 pollution reduction targets.”

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