Some reports blame Australia’s climate change on tourists, stating that passenger jets are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Others argue that visitors are innocent bystanders in a crisis triggered and maintained by the Australians themselves. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
In 2013, the CSIRO, the country’s national science agency, reported that climate change is making Australia hotter, and that the anticipated byproducts are extreme heat alerts and longer fire seasons. Last year the Bureau of Meteorology logged a dramatic increase in nighttime temperatures as well as more brush fires and droughts.
No matter which agency is doing the reporting, the message is the same: Australia is surpassing the warming rate experienced by the rest of the world, and unless something is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s only going to get worse.
How much worse? Read on.
Massive Heat Waves
Since 2001, the number of extreme heat alerts has exceeded cold weather warnings nearly three to one, and 2013 was the country’s warmest year on record. According to the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, the average annual temperature in Australia will be up to 1.3℃ hotter in 2030 compared to the recorded average between 1986 and 2005.
The country’s interior will heat up more quickly than the coastal regions. The city of Alice Springs is expected to experience 40℃ temperatures for nearly three months a year, up from 17 days in 1995.
While rising temperatures will mean fewer deaths due to cold weather, there will still be negative consequences, such as more heatwave-related casualties, agricultural downturns, and dwindling water resources. Rainfall will also decrease in southern Australia up to 69% by 2090, leading to extreme droughts and greater danger of brush fires.
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Extreme Weather Events
Climate change has responsible for bigger and more damaging storm surges throughout Australia, and meteorologists predict that cyclones will become more common in the southern regions of both the east and west coasts. This has serious implications for the communities and natural environment in these areas, as neither presently have the resources to endure and recover from storms of this type.
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Experts warn that if emissions are not curbed, the sea level will rise anywhere between 45 and 82cm by 2090. If the Antarctic ice sheet collapses, water levels will be even higher.
Rising tides present a risk to coastal cities and communities. Beaches will recede, possibly hundreds of metres over time. As a coastal nation, Australia is extremely vulnerable in this respect. Up to $63 billion worth of residential buildings are potentially at risk of being flooded if the sea level rises only 1.1 metres.
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Compromised Ocean Ecosystem
Excess carbon dioxide absorbed by the waters surrounding Australia will cause their pH level to drop, makes it more challenging for lobsters, clams, crabs, and oysters to develop their shells. Coral reefs are also sensitive to the smallest changes in ocean temperature and even a 1℃ rise would have harsh consequences for the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo reef.
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Australians are justifiably proud of the Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics rainforests, Kakadu wetlands, and snow-capped Australian alps. Erratic rainfall patterns and a hotter climate are now threatening these national gems.
Scientists predicted glumly that large parts of the Great Barrier Reef could be practically extinct within 50 years, thanks to the effects of warmer water on coral. If the reef is compromised, the $5.8 billion a year tourism industry that depends on it will also be on shaky ground, and 63,000 full-time jobs could gradually disappear.
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