Bruce Duncan

Australia has long known droughts and floods, but they are becoming increasingly frequent and extreme. Since 1950, temperatures in Australia have risen between 0.4 degrees C and 0.7 degrees C, and sea levels have risen by about 70mm. Sea levels are expected to rise increasingly quickly as temperatures continue to rise, possibly by metres, posing a huge threat to coastal towns and cities. Major river deltas will be flooded, displacing hundreds of millions of people, and destroying major food bowls.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released its latest report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, & Vulnerability. It is the collaborative research of over 300 scientists from 70 countries, and policy makers from 115 countries have agreed to its contents line by line.

The IPCC warns that the number of “dangerously hot days” in Australia is likely to increase from 4-6 days to 33-45 by 2070. The heat stress will not only affect humans, but will also take its toll on animals and wildlife. It will have a major effect on food production and crop yields, threatening global food security, and undermining social and political stability.

Fish catches are likely to fall considerably, and increased heat and water shortages will also reduce crop yields sharply, particularly in wheat, as global temperatures advance above 2 degrees C. In the more extreme forecasts, crop yields could drop by 25% between 2030 and 2049 at a time when we need to feed an increasing population. The number of natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 was about three times higher than in the 1980s, and such extreme weather events are likely to increase further.
These are extremely grim warnings from the scientific community, and it is very worrying that in Australia, as Colleen O’Sullivan writes on the SPC website, our governments are moving so slowly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, given the urgency required.

The moral imperatives seem crystal clear. Yet within decades we may come to regard climate-deniers and industries that fail to redress pollution as criminally irresponsible. The consequences of failing to address global warming are truly frightening.

Photo Southeast Asia Second Prize Mr Norman Isaac from Philippines by United Nations Development Programme, flickr cc.
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