12 April 2021
  • Australia
  • Climate resilience
  • Warming

Critical warnings for Australia amidst predicted rising temperatures

Outside the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia is suffering from increasingly extreme weather, much of which is linked to rising global temperatures. As the world's driest continent, the country is disproportionately impacted by greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and the concern is that in light of predicted temperatures potentially exceeding 3 degrees Celsius in the next century, the situation will drastically worsen. A new report published by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) tackles precisely this issue; the impending consequences of a rise in global temperatures and the changes needed to be made at all levels of society. 

2020 brought substantial evidence that the climate crisis is causing a severe imbalance to Australia's climate security. With the world struggling to hit targets of limiting rising temperatures to 2 degrees, a likely scenario could occur where temperatures hit a 3-degree rise by 2050. This would have drastic consequences as warmer temperatures influence patterns such as rising sea levels and coastal flooding, more violent storms, desertification and bushfires, such as the fires that devastated large swathes of the country in January 2020.

Underpinning the global context is the fact that Australia is the driest continent on earth and thus warming temperatures are outsized in their impact on extreme weather. Moreover, over 90% of the continent's population reside in coastal urban areas, which are subject to greater levels of flooding. Finally, the sheer size of the continent means that the deployment of resources to problem areas is more complicated and allows greater freedom for extreme weather to wreak havoc.

The report drills into 4 vulnerable areas of Australia's security that rising GHG emissions would severely impact:

1. Ecosystems

2. Food Production & Agriculture

3. Cities & Towns

4. Health & Mental Wellbeing

Extreme weather also has the power to devastate economic and social structures in the country. For example, the country generated $54.7 billion from tourism between 2016-17, with the Top 5 attractions all being nature-based. The collapse of Australia's ecosystem, highlighted by the current state of the Great Barrier Reef, for example, would devastate rural and urban economies and livelihoods alike. Additionally, the impacts of desertification and decline of crop quality heavily impact crop yields and revenues; basic crops such as wheat and barley have reduced in profitability by 22% since 2000. Further declines threaten to not only wipe out rural societies but also trigger climate migration and the issues that bring.

Such stresses require robust policy responses from the national and local governments. However, Canberra has been heavily criticised for its relative inaction in responding to these alarming threats. The Australian government has not yet provided a comprehensive plan of how they aim to hit emissions targets set forward by the Paris Accords. The pervading attitude is that the government of Scott Morrison is ambivalent towards the climate agenda and recent findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were criticised and dismissed by Morrison's cabinet, demonstrating a lack of importance given to the climate mitigation agenda by Canberra. Indeed, the publication of the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, which determines 61 nations and regions based on the strength of national climate action, ranks the country as the 6th worst performing nation on the list across areas such as emissions, renewable energy, energy use and policy. 

That is why the recommendations made by the AAS report requires serious attention. A perfect storm is brewing with climate change worsening Australia's security situation and a national government unmotivated compared to other developed and developing nations. The policies promoted in the report are not necessarily specific in their language, however, they tackle a greater issue of apathy and climate denial. By changing behaviours and opening up policymakers eyes to the seriousness of the situation, steps to mitigate rising temperatures can be more successfully implemented. 

For the full report, click here.

Photo credits: Jo Anne McArthur/Unsplash.com