Hundreds of climate records were broken in just 90 days in Australia as temperatures soared and rainfall dried up, according to a new report.
The findings are detailed in a report by the Climate Council of Australia (CCA), which says climate change is “supercharging extreme weather events, putting Australian lives, our economy and our environment at risk”.
By 2040, researchers warn, temperatures of 50C could become commonplace in Sydney and Melbourne unless global warming is limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – the most ambitious target set under the Paris Agreement.
The UN’s landmark IPCC report warned humanity now has less than 12 years to achieve this aim, which cannot occur without “unprecedented” change.
The hottest temperature on record for Melbourne is 46.4C, logged in February 2009.
While the CCA report found 206 climate records were broken last summer – including record-high temperatures and record-low rainfall – it says that “the summer of 2019-20 is shaping up as another terrible trifecta of heatwaves, droughts and bushfires”.
Temperatures have already soared to a record 40C this spring, sparking deadly bushfires in New South Wales and south Queensland that killed at least six people and up to 1,000 koalas, which are vulnerable to extinction.
Fire season is starting earlier and lasting longer, according to the report, with bushfires seen as early as August this year.
“Climate change is supercharging the extreme weather events we are witnessing,” said the report’s author, Professor Will Steffen.
“We have seen temperature records smashed, bushfires in winter and a prolonged drought. Climate change is influencing all of these things.”
Eastern Australia is currently plagued by drought, said the Climate Council’s chief executive, Amanda McKenzie, with no significant rain in sight to dampen its impact on rural and regional communities, farming, water supplies and the natural environment.
It is the third year in a row that crops have been threatened by drought, with national summer crop production forecast to fall by 20 per cent to 2.1 million tonnes.
“These heatwaves can have severe effects on human health, including both direct heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion and indirect illnesses such as cardiovascular failure,” said Ms McKenzie.
Echoing a message from UN director general Antonio Guterres on Monday ahead of the UN’s climate change conference (COP25) in Madrid, in which he berated world leaders for their inaction on climate change, the report attacks a decade of “rancorous and divisive politics”.
“Nowhere is this tension between the need for urgent action and ideologically driven denial and inaction more evident than in Australia,” Professor Steffen writes.
“At the end of the ‘critical decade’, and after a decade of rancorous and divisive federal politics, we have no credible pathway for reducing emissions in our economy over the next two-three decades. In short, there is no leadership, no national plan, no vision, and no coherent policies.”
But referencing the country’s large-scale transition to renewable energy, and adoption of a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 in the capital region, the report concludes that urgent action is now needed to avoid some of the more potent effects of climate change.
“Fortunately, there are many Australians working at the sub-national level who are showing that ‘the impossible’ is not only achievable, it is also desirable and is happening much faster than many thought possible,” it states.