Nov 24, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Report: Climate extremes hitting Australia, more intense weather to come

A kayaker passes a submerged bus on a flooded street in Milton, Australia, on Feb. 28. Photo: Patrick Hamilton/AFP via Getty Images

Global warming is leading to more extreme weather in Australia, like the ongoing flooding in the southeast  — and these extremes are happening at an increased pace across the country, per a new climate report.

Threat level: Australia is facing more extreme heat events, intense heavy rainfall, longer fire seasons and sea level rise, according to the biennial State of the Climate Report by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, published Wednesday.

Of note: The report highlights global warming's role in the catastrophic floods that have hit multiple regions of Australia this year, including in the southeast, where deadly floodwaters continue to threaten communities.

  • The Insurance Council of Australia estimates the insurance cost of this year's floods in the states of Queensland and New South Wales is more than AU$5.56 billion (US$3.76 billion) — "making it Australia's most costly natural disaster," the ICA said in a report published Thursday.

The big picture: Heavy rainfall events are becoming more intense and the number of short-duration heavy rainfall is expected to increase in the future.

  • Eastern Australia experienced one of its most significant flood periods ever during La Niña events in 2021 and 2022.
  • There's been an overall decline in rainfall between April and October across southern Australia in recent decades. But in the northern part of the country, rainfall has increased since the 1970s.

By the numbers: Australia’s climate has warmed by an average of 1.47 degrees Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since national records began in 1910, per the report.

  • Sea surface temperatures have increased by an average of almost 1.89°F since 1900, which has led to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events over land and sea, according to the report.

1 big thing: Concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are at the highest levels seen on Earth in at least two million years, according to Jaci Brown, director of CSIRO's Climate Science Centre.

  • "The concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are continuing to rise, and this is causing Australia’s climate to warm," Brown said.

What we're watching: The report projects increases in air temperatures, more heat extremes and fewer cold extremes in coming decades, according to Karl Braganza, the Bureau of Meteorology’s manager of climate environmental prediction services.

Meanwhile, the length of bushfire seasons has increased across Australia in recent decades, per the report.

  • "We're expecting to see longer fire seasons in the future for the south and east, and an increase in the number of dangerous fire weather days," Braganza said.

State of play: Fossil-fuel exports have been in high demand in Australia in recent years, despite Australians experiencing a series of climate-change-related related extreme weather events — from deadly wildfires to the recent flooding.

The bottom line: Michael Battaglia, lead of Towards Net Zero Mission, a division of CSIRO, noted in the statement that Australia faces "significant challenges to support and coordinate the shifts across infrastructure, regulation, skills, technology, finance and investment that is needed for the transition to a low-emission economy."

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