A brutal new climate report says Australia faces heightened bushfire and drought risk. But it’s not too late to avoid the worst outcomes.

A brutal new climate report says Australia faces heightened bushfire and drought risk. But it’s not too late to avoid the worst outcomes.
  • Australia will face extreme temperature increases, stronger bushfire seasons, and more common droughts unless global greenhouse gas emissions are radically reduced, a new report states.
  • In a landmark paper, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it is too late to undo some impacts of climate change.
  • But strong and sustained attempts to reduce emissions will have appreciable benefits, limiting the damage wrought by a heating planet.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australia’s bushfire seasons will become longer, stronger, and more frequent, while devastating droughts across the eastern states are likely to become more common, according to a harrowing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report charting the impact of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions.

But it is not too late to stave off the most extreme impacts of climate change through rapid, wide-reaching, and sustained action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the report states.

In a landmark paper, released Monday night, the IPCC outlines “unequivocal” evidence that human activity has influenced the climate, warming it at a rate “that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years.”

Considering five different scenarios, ranging from a world in which emissions double by the year 2100 to one with negative emissions past 2050, the report predicts there is no world in which the planet avoids 1.5°C of global average temperature growth by 2040.

Global surface temperatures towards the end of this century are likely to rise between 1.0°C to 1.8°C under low emission scenarios, or 3.3°C to 5.7°C under high emission scenarios.

via IPCC

Some knock-on effects will be unavoidable in the long-term, the report states.

“Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level,” the authors say.

Australia will be at the forefront of the climate crisis unless the planet’s emitters take significant corrective action.

Annual maximum temperatures could rise up to 6°C across most of the country by the end of the century if global average temperatures grow by 4°C, with similar growth in average minimums.

via IPCC

“The intensity, frequency and duration of fire weather events are projected to increase throughout Australia,” the report adds, with a decline in annual rainfall, plus increasing drought conditions, likely through much of southern and eastern Australia.

Heavy rainfall and river flooding is projected to increase across the continent’s north. Devastating cyclones are predicted to drop in regularity, but grow in intensity.

The IPCC predicts up sandy shoreline erosion of up to 200m by 2100 will be commonplace across the continent under a high emissions future.

While the report makes clear that time is running out to curb the most brutal impacts of climate change, the authors assert that serious attempts to wind back on greenhouse gas emissions will have an appreciable impact — improving the planet’s livability in the near-term and for in generations to come.

“Scenarios with very low or low [greenhouse gas] emissions lead within years to discernible effects on greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations, and air quality, relative to high and very high [greenhouse gas] emissions scenarios,” the authors state,

“Under these contrasting scenarios, discernible differences in trends of global surface temperature would begin to emerge from natural variability within around 20 years, and over longer time periods for many other climatic impact-drivers.”

While some systemic changes, like rising sea levels, are now unavoidable in the long-term, the IPCC states that under a net negative greenhouse gas emissions future, “the global CO2-induced surface temperature increase would be gradually reversed”.

The report emphasises the importance of any and all greenhouse gas reductions, which have the power to mitigate not just average temperature rises, but the potential severity of future weather extremes.

Although the crisis has never been laid out in such clear and urgent terms, the ability to change course will be of particular interest to Australia, which was battling its worst bushfire season in recorded history some 18 months ago.

To date, Australia is yet to commit to a net zero emissions by 2050 strategy, let alone more ambitious targets to reduce its impact on climate change.

The report summary can be accessed here, with Australia-centric data here.