‘Listen to the people’: IPCC calls for urgent action as Australia faces fiery future

Australia will have more floods, bushfires and droughts and stands to lose entire ecosystems to climate change, a major international report warns.

Scientists who wrote the Australasian chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report say that the nation is barrelling towards a future that will be full of disasters like the floods currently hitting NSW and Queensland.

They found Australia is lagging when it comes to planning and executing strategies to adapt to the risks climate change will deliver.

National progress on adaptation is uneven, the report says, citing a lack of consistent policy direction and “competing objectives”.

The IPCC report, representing a large-scale review of global warming research, also warns some species and ecosystems are approaching the limit of their capacity to adapt.

The Great Barrier Reef and snow-dependent plant and animal species in Australia’s Alpine region are said to be at critical thresholds, with limited scope for adaptation.

“The region faces an extremely challenging future. Reducing the risks would require significant and rapid emission reductions to keep global warming to 1.5C to 2C, as well as robust and timely adaptation,” the report says.

“The projected warming under current global emissions reduction policies would leave many of the region’s human and natural systems at very high risk and beyond adaptation limits.”

Mark Howden, a professor at the Australian National University and vice-chair of the working group that compiled the report, said Australians must acknowledge that climate change is already here, affecting almost every aspect of life on every continent.

He said it’s embedded in extreme weather events like the current floods and in the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.

Professor Howden said Australia could still help get the world off its current path towards warming of more than 2 degrees and possibly as high as 3 degrees.

“We can go on a high-emissions trajectory which leads us to extraordinary degrees of climate change, effectively equivalent to an ice age – but in reverse.

‘‘Or we can go on a low-emissions trajectory, a trajectory that’s consistent with the Paris agreement.’’

He urged Australia’s political leaders to “listen to the people”, saying 90 per cent of Australians are hungry for more aggressive action to combat climate change.

In the flooded New South Wales city of Lismore, resident Maddy-Rose Braddon is furious.

She spent Monday helping victims salvage possessions from homes swallowed by a so-called ‘‘rain bomb’’ – the type of intense rainfall event the IPCC report says will be more frequent in Australia as the climate warms.

‘‘We’ve never had a flood like this. People in two-storey houses are stranded on their rooftops. People have drowned in their cars,’’ Ms Braddon said.

‘‘We don’t need another report to tell us what we already know. Climate change is destroying our homes. We had once-in-a-century floods five years ago, and now we’re having them again.

AAP sought comment from the offices of the Prime Minister, Environment Minister and Emissions Reduction Minister.

The Scott Morrison-led government has promised to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 under a plan that relies on a technology-led economic evolution to cut emissions, capture and store them, or offset them, while allowing coal and gas exports to continue as long as there is demand.

Mr Morrison faced heavy international criticism at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year for not ramping up Australia’s 2030 emissions target – one of the big appeals to avoid runaway climate change.

The conference ended with a call for all countries to return to the negotiating table in 2022 with stronger 2030 targets.

Observed changes

  • More hot days and heatwaves, less snow
  • More rainfall in the north, less April-October rainfall in the southwest and southeast
  • More extreme fire weather days in the south and east
  • Extreme events included Australia’s hottest and driest year in 2019 with a record-breaking number of days over 39C
  • Three major floods in eastern Australia during 2019-2021
  • Major fires in southern and eastern Australia during 2019-2020
  • Extreme heat has led to excess deaths and increased rates of many illnesses
  • Nuisance and extreme coastal flooding have increased due to sea-level rise superimposed upon high tides and storm surges in low-lying locations
  • The Bramble Cay melomys, an endemic mammal species, became extinct due to loss of habitat associated with sea-level rise and storm surges in the Torres Strait
  • Extensive coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and loss of temperate kelp forests due to ocean warming and marine heatwaves.

Projected effects and key risks

  • Further climate change is inevitable
  • The rate and magnitude will be largely dependent on the emission pathway
  • More hot days and fewer cold days
  • Further sea-level rise, ocean warming and ocean acidification
  • Less winter and spring rainfall is projected in southern Australia
  • Uncertain rainfall changes in northern Australia
  • More droughts and extreme fire weather projected in southern and eastern Australia
  • Increased rainfall intensity is projected, with fewer tropical cyclones and a greater proportion of severe cyclones
  • Ongoing impacts on species and ecosystems.

SOURCE: IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability


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