Australia faces some significant environmental and economic impacts from climate change across a number of sectors in the country. Here are some of the impacts we know of so far from climate change.
The coast is a relatively narrow dynamic zone where the atmosphere, ocean and land interact. The coast is not only the shoreline, it includes estuary systems which are permanently or sometimes connected to the ocean and extend inland. More than 85 per cent of Australians live within 50 km of the shoreline, and the coastal region generates most of the country’s economic activity.
Climate change exacerbates existing climate risks for our coasts and creates new risks:
- Rising sea levels increase the risk of damage caused by storm surges. This in turn exacerbates coastal erosion, with the risk of damage to coastal infrastructure, removal of sediment from beaches and loss of land.
- Coastal settlements may be affected by flooding, particularly in low-lying communities. Rising sea levels, combined with extreme events, like inland flooding, could result in further damage.
- Coastal assets are at risk from other variables and hazards, such as ocean acidification, warmer sea surface temperatures, bushfires, increased wind speeds, and the increased frequency and intensity of heatwaves.
- Coastal assets include both built and natural assets. Built assets include, for example:
- Residential and commercial buildings.
- Ship terminals, ports and harbours.
- Beach protection works such as groynes and jetties.
- Artificial reefs.
- Navigational channels.
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries
Primary industries, such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries, are highly sensitive to weather extremes and variations in climate. Climate change presents new challenges in some locations and industries, while presenting new opportunities in others. Over the coming decades, projected climate change is likely to increase productivity risks for agriculture, forestry and fisheries in different ways:
- The increased frequency of drought conditions in southern Australia has the potential to affect agricultural yields.
- Increasing temperatures and more frequent extreme heat events are likely to place livestock at greater risk of heat stress, reducing livestock productivity and reproductive rates.
- Forestry is facing an increased risk of declining productivity and tree mortality in some regions as a result of reduced rainfall, increased temperatures, natural disasters and water loss.
- Crops and horticulture are facing changes in growing season and changed frequency and intensity of heatwaves and storms.
Health and wellbeing
Human health is linked with environmental factors such as temperature, and air and water quality. Australia’s greatest health threats from climate change are expected to come from extreme weather events (such as heatwaves), rising temperatures and the changing variability of rainfall.
The increasing incidence of heatwaves is leading to a greater risk of injury, disease and death. Heatwaves have caused more loss of life than any other natural hazard in Australia over the past 100 years.
The increasing frequency and intensity of other extreme weather events poses risks to human health, including injuries, disease and death, and disruption to health services.
Drought has been linked to decreased mental health, particularly in rural communities.
The 2016 State of the Environment report found climate change is one of the main pressures on the Australian environment and exacerbates other pressures including land-use change, habitat fragmentation and degradation, and invasive species.
Climate change, particularly rising temperatures, increases the impact of these existing pressures, undermining the resilience of native species.
Scientists expect climate change to cause changes to the abundance and geographic range of many species, restrict or alter species movement and interfere with their lifecycles (such as the timing of germination). Climate change presents a biosecurity risk for Australia’s ecosystems by altering the distribution of pest and weed species.
Ecosystems have a limited capacity to manage these multiple pressures compared to human systems. Rates of climate change, together with other pressures, limit the capacity of species to adapt in situ or migrate to more climatically suitable areas, where such areas exist.
A lot of the action against climate change needs to come from government agencies making new laws to ensure things start to change for all of us to enjoy happy healthy lives on a healthy planet.
For us as individuals these are some actions we can take to start to make a difference: Actions such as installing solar panels on roof tops, citizen science activities like monitoring the condition of the Great Barrier Reef, buying fuel efficient cars and appliances, and supporting companies that have cut greenhouse gas emissions.