A NEW REPORT by the Climate Council has found the severe drought gripping much of Australia has been exacerbated by climate change.
“Climate change is shifting our rainfall patterns and increasing the severity of droughts and floods. We’ve always been a sunburnt country, but things are getting worse,” said Climate Councillor, Professor Will Steffen.
“We’ve seen temperatures rising in Australia over the long term. This has been driven primarily by the burning of coal, oil and gas,” he said.
“Climate change means severe droughts are expected to become more frequent, increasing the risk of water shortages for agriculture and urban water supplies,” said Professor Steffen.
The Climate Council’s report “Deluge and Drought: Australia’s Water Security in a Changing Climate” has been co-authored by seven climate change experts, including former head of the Bureau of Meteorology, Professor Rob Vertessy.
“Australia will have to face up to some significant water security challenges as a result of climate change,” said Professor Vertessy.
The report found that the Murray-Darling Basin, which produces more than a third of our food, has experienced a 41% decline in streamflow over the past 20 years.
“We’re very concerned that streamflow in the Basin will reduce even further, affecting everybody who depends on the river as well as fish and bird life,” said Professor Steffen.
Report Key Findings:
- Australia’s water security has been significantly influenced by climate change.
- Less water is likely to be available for agriculture, urban water supplies and ecosystems in coming decades across southern Australia, including regions surrounding Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.
- Less water is likely to flow into dams in southern Australia as a result of human-driven climate change.
- Short-term drought solutions will be ultimately futile without concerted and rapid action to tackle climate change.
- Australia’s long-term water security is dependent on action on climate change, particularly on the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.
Professor Steffen said Australia’s water-related infrastructure, such as dam spillways and river levees, had been designed for historic rainfall patterns.
“Upgrading this infrastructure to cope with increased flooding and drought, as well as building new facilities, is expensive. We’ve already spent billions of dollars on desalination plants,” he said.
The Climate Council report also examined the health impacts of climate change.
“Severe droughts, heavy rainfall and floods all affect our health in many ways – contaminating water supplies, increasing mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and ross river virus, and increasing psychological stress in rural communities,” said Professor Steffen.
“We must act urgently to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution levels, which have been rising for three years in a row,” he said.
“Australia’s water security is dependent on global action on climate change and we must do our fair share,” he said.
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The Climate Council is Australia’s leading climate change communications organisation. We provide authoritative, expert and evidence-based advice on climate change to journalists, policymakers, and the wider Australian community.
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