State of the Climate report details grim consequences of Australia’s rising temperatures

By AAP / AG Staff 23 November 2022
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Australia is facing longer fire seasons, more intense tropical cyclones and oceans riddled with acidity due to rising global temperatures.

The country’s climate has warmed on average by 1.47°C since national records began in 1910, according to the new State of the Climate report.

The eight years from 2013–2020 were the warmest on record, with 2019 taking the top spot for the hottest recorded year.

“Concentrations of greenhouse gases are at the highest levels seen on Earth in at least two million years,” said the director of CSIRO’s Climate Science Centre, Dr Jaci Brown.

Since the 1950s, extreme fire weather has increased and fire seasons are starting sooner and ending later.

The increased rainfall in recent La Niña seasons can heighten fire risks because thick vegetation dries out and creates fuel loads.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report’s findings reinforced the need for further climate action.

“It reminds us that we need to prepare for the worst,” she told ABC TV.

“We have managed to join with like-minded countries to stop that watering down (of international climate targets) but it will take global action, we need to do our share here in Australia.”

Key points:

  • Australia’s climate has warmed by an average of 1.47° ± 0.24 °C since national records began in 1910.
  • Sea surface temperatures have increased by an average of 1.05°C since 1900. This has led to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events over land and sea.
  • There has been a decline of around 15 per cent in April–October rainfall in the southwest of Australia since 1970. Across the same region, May to July rainfall has seen the largest decrease, by around 19 per cent since 1970.
  • In the south-east of Australia, there has been a decrease of around 10 per cent in April–October rainfall since the late 1990s.
  • There has been a decrease in streamflow at most gauges across Australia since 1975.
  • Rainfall and streamflow have increased across parts of northern Australia since the 1970s.
  • There has been an increase in extreme fire weather and a longer fire season, across large parts of the country since the 1950s.
  • There has been a decrease in the number of tropical cyclones observed in the Australian region.
  • Snow depth, snow cover and number of snow days have decreased in alpine regions since the late 1950s.
  • Oceans around Australia are acidifying and have warmed by more than 1°C since 1900, contributing to longer and more frequent marine heatwaves.
  • Sea levels are rising around Australia, including more frequent extremes that are increasing the risk of inundation and damage to coastal infrastructure and communities.

– courtesy CSIRO

The report from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO found Australia in the coming decades will experience increasing air temperatures and decreasing cool-season rain, with short but heavy rains expected.

Sea levels will continue to rise and warmer ocean temperatures will mean coral bleaching becomes more likely across the country’s coastline.

“We’re seeing mass coral bleaching events more often and this year, for the first time, we’ve seen a mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef during a La Niña year,” Jaci said.

Australians will experience fewer tropical cyclones, but the ones that do eventuate will be more intense.

As those in flood-affected areas could attest to, the intensity of short rainfall events has increased by 10 per cent per storm.

Science Minister, Ed Husic, said the Labor government was listening to the science.

“We are acting across government to bring down emissions while creating jobs and economic opportunity,” he said, pointing to $3 billion set aside from the National Reconstruction Fund for renewables and low-emission technologies.

The State of the Climate report has been published every two years since 2010.