Deluge & Drought: Water Security in a Changing Climate

13.11.18 By , , , , , and

Water is essential for life. It shapes where and how we live, determines the availability of food and other services that underpin human well-being and is crucial for healthy natural ecosystems. Yet in Australia and globally the water cycle has been significantly influenced by climate change, leading to more extreme droughts and floods.

Our latest report, “Deluge & Drought: Water Security in a Changing Climate”, has found the severe drought gripping much of Australia has been exacerbated by climate change.

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Australia’s water security has already been significantly influenced by climate change. Rainfall patterns are shifting and the severity of floods and droughts has increased.

Warragamba dam at only 64 percentWarragamba Dam in NSW is currently at 64.9%.

The severe drought being experienced across Queensland, NSW and northern Victoria is being influenced by climate change.

On-going failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil and gas, globally and here in Australia, has already negatively affected Australia’s water security and will increasingly affect it into the future.

Farmer during NSW droughtThe severe drought gripping much of Australia has been exacerbated by climate change.

Significant impacts on and risks to our water security are already evident, and these risks will continue to escalate unless deep and rapid reductions in global greenhouse gas pollution can be achieved.

Health: 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.

Agriculture: Drought has a significant impact on agricultural industries and communities. Severe droughts kill livestock, destroy crops and increase soil erosion, leading to higher food prices and loss of livelihoods.

Water supplies: Less water is likely to flow into dams in southern Australia as a result of human-driven climate change.

Water infrastructure: Water related infrastructure, such as water supply reservoirs, dam spillways and river levees, have been designed for historic rainfall patterns. Upgrading this infrastructure to cope with increased flooding and drought, as well as building new infrastructure like desalination plants, is expensive. Over $10 billion has been spent recently on desalination plants to improve water security in our major cities.

Energy: Coal, gas and hydro power stations require significant amounts of water and can be negatively affected by drought.

Bushfires: Severe drought leads to higher bushfire risk as shown by the current bushfire season across the southeast of Australia. Changes in land cover due to fire can adversely affect catchment water supplies.

Man staring at a submerged car during Brisbane FloodsA warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour, contributing to an increase in heavy rainfall events and an increased risk of flash flooding.

Flooding: The economic consequences of floods and droughts are significant; the extensive Queensland floods of 2010-2011, for example, cost to the state more than $6 billion (directly).

Plants, animals and ecosystems: Declining rainfall in southwest Western Australia has affected freshwater fish species. The Murray-Darling Basin has been under considerable pressure, further reductions in rainfall and runoff will make it even harder to rehabilitate degraded aquatic ecosystems, affecting bird and fish life. In 2016 warmer and drier conditions in Tasmania triggered bushfires that severely damaged over 70,000 hectares of western Tasmania’s World Heritage-listed forests and alpine areas.

Increasing global water insecurity is becoming a ‘threat multiplier’, with significant implications for Australia and other regions.

Australia’s water security is dependent on action on climate change, particularly on the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.

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Climate Council water security repoe