More frequent floods, more severe bushfires and unpredictable weather events could cause as much as $100 billion in damage every year by mid-century, according to a new report published by the Climate Council.
In its latest report, the Climate Council assessed the past and projected impacts if extreme weather events, which are being amplified by climate change, finding that the costs of damage caused by these events over the last decade totalled an estimated $35 billion, more than doubling since the 1970s.
“There is no doubt that we have entered an era of consequences arising from decades of climate inaction and delay,” lead author and Climate Council spokesman, Professor Will Steffen, said.
“No developed country has more to lose from climate change-fuelled extreme weather, or more to gain as the world transforms to a zero-carbon economy, than Australia does.”
The Climate Council cited events like last summer’s damaging bushfire season as an example of the kinds of climate-fuelled impacts that are becoming more frequent, and are being mirrored in other parts of the world.
“In the 2019-20 bushfires, a tipping point was likely crossed, with the burning of one fifth of Australia’s temperate broad-leafed forests,” the report says.
“This extreme event clearly shows abrupt and unprecedented change behaviour, and the analysis of the antecedent climatic conditions strongly supports the conclusion that a tipping point had been crossed.”
The think tank warned that this damage could grow to as much as $100 billion every year by 2038, as global warming drives more intense and frequent extreme weather events, and that these impacts could be becoming unavoidable.
The Climate Council says Australia sits amongst the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change, both due to the expected impacts on Australia directly, as well as the predicted, locked in, impacts on some of Australia’s regional neighbours.
“Because many climate impacts are already locked-in, we must learn to live in a new era of drought, floods, and megafires. It’s equally clear that far greater dangers lie ahead if we fail to act with the urgency and determination that the science demands,” former Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and report contributor, Dr Robert Glasser said.
“The regional impacts of climate change will profoundly undermine Australia’s national security. Unlike most other wealthy countries, Australia is in a region with many densely populated, near-neighbour, developing countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change.”
The Climate Council pointed to projections prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that showed that even under scenarios with rapid responses to climate change, temperature rises were largely locked in for the next few decades.
“Based on the momentum in the climate system, primarily due to the massive amount of heat that is being stored in the ocean, and the fact that it is now impossible to achieve what science said we should – net-zero emissions within a decade – there is worse to come,” the Climate Council report says.
“Emissions have continued to climb through the 2010-2019 decade. Based on the range of emission scenarios beginning from 2020 onwards, we cannot expect a significant difference in the rise in global average temperature until at least 2040. This implies that worsening extreme weather is locked in for the next decade at least, and very likely until 2040.”
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison recently made a unilateral declaration that the political debate over carbon emissions “has ended”, but has been steadfast in a refusal to commit Australia to stronger emissions reduction targets or set a specific deadline for a transition to zero net emissions.
This week, federal resources minister Keith Pitt, celebrated a significant increase in Australian coal exports. An estimated 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by Australian coal exports.