A new report confirms that the extreme heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires that have wracked Australia over the past decade have been exacerbated by climate change. The report, commissioned by the Australian government’s Climate Commission, makes clear that these weather events will only get worse in the coming years, and warns that health and emergency professionals as well as citizens must prepare for their impacts now.
The study’s chief commissioner Tim Flannery said the study’s results mean Australia needs to take action to slow climate change.
FLANNERY: Records are broken from time to time, but record-breaking weather is becoming more common as the climate shifts. Only strong preventative action, with deep and swift cuts in emissions this decade, can stabilize the climate and halt the trend towards more intense extreme weather.
The study examines five impacts of climate change that have already begun to affect Australia:
- Heat: Australia broke 123 weather records in 90 days this summer. In January, Sydney hit a record 114 degrees, and the south Australian town of Moomba hit 121.3 degrees. The report notes that in Australia, there has been more than three times the number of record hot days than record cold days in the past 10 years. The heat has majorly impacted the country: in 2009, a heatwave led to 980 heat-related deaths, which is three times the average mortality rate for heatwaves, and heat has contributed to bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.
- Rainfall: Extreme rainfall in Queensland in 2010 and 2011 led to record-breaking and damaging floods, which broke river height records at more than 100 observation stations. As temperature increases, the report found that the likelihood of torrential rainfall events will increase as well in some areas — a finding consistent with climate change predictions.
- Drought: Australia emerged from a decade-long drought in 2009, which was said to be the worst in the country’s history. The report states the drought was estimated to have caused an 80 percent reduction in grain production and a 40 percent reduction in livestock production, and climate models predict that rainfall in southern and eastern Australia will continue to decrease as the century progresses.
- Bushfires: Australia has seen an increase in fire weather (hot, dry, windy days) over the last 30 years, and the fire season in southeast Australia has extended into November and March. The Black Saturday fires of 2009 killed 173 people and cost about A$4.4 billion. As the duration of hot, dry days is likely to increase in much of Australia, wildfire risk is also predicted to go up.
- Sea level rise: Climate change has already contributed to a 21 centimeter rise in global sea levels, the report states, and major flooding in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010 in Australia’s Torres Strait Islands were likely made more damaging by the increases in sea level.
The study confirms what climate scientists have warned for years — that climate change will likely lead to an increase in extreme weather events. It comes at a time when the effects of climate change are being felt not just in Australia, but around the world: Drastic melting of Arctic sea ice has been linked to a bitterly cold Spring in parts of Europe and North America that has devastated sheep farmers, and the record-breaking drought that affected more than half of the continental U.S. in 2012 is expected to continue into this spring and summer.