Australia at risk | Environment Victoria

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Australia at risk

Climate change is a serious threat to the high standard of living we enjoy. Imagine a future with more heatwaves, bushfires, droughts, floods, and the loss of the Great Barrier Reef. That's the kind of future we'd be leaving for our children.

On a global scale climate change could cost as much as the two World Wars and the Great Depression combined. Yet by acting now, we can prevent the more serious impacts of climate change.

So what’s causing the problem?

Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas releases the greenhouse pollution which causes climate change. Coal power is used to generate about 75 percent of Australia's electricity. The good news is that that figure’s down from a peak of 84 percent at the end of 2008. Coal is our biggest single contributor to greenhouse pollution. Today, Australia's 24 coal-power stations produce one-third of our greenhouse pollution. Australia may have large coal reserves, but we are also blessed with some of the planet's best wind and solar resources.

No one's saying we should turn off our coal power stations overnight. But the solutions for a clean energy future are ready and available right now. The longer we delay this inevitable transition, the more difficult it will be for our children and future generations. As we make this shift to clean, green technology of the future, we can ensure workers and families who are economically reliant on coal have a 'fair go'.


How could climate change affect us?

Climate change will impact our country and our planet is a serious way.


A massive increase in refugees could be a serious problem as people flee areas hard hit by climate disasters and extremes. A U.S. Pentagon analysis concludes that climate change is more than just an environmental threat. It's also a major security risk because of the widespread unrest and global upheaval that would follow massive droughts, floods and famines.

Find out more about the global impacts of climate change


Australia’s climate has already changed. The summer of 2012/13 was the hottest summer since records began. Six of the first seven days of 2013 were among Australia’s hottest 20 days on record. 7 Jan 2013 was Australia’s hottest-ever day with an average maximum temperature of 40.30°C. It was a summer of bushfire, floods and extreme heat.

As the earth continues to warm we can expect more frequent and severe bushfires, droughts, storms and floods to Australia. Global mean air-temperature is projected to warm 2°C – 7°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, depending on future emissions. Rising sea levels will imperil coastal communities with erosion, flooding and landslides. Climate change will also harm our agriculture and tourism industries. Warming will bring more tropical diseases, and destroy world-famous national icons like the Great Barrier Reef. According to the UN, climate change is expected to cost the Australian economy $7 to $14 billion a year.

Australia’s icons at risk

As Australians, we're justifiably proud of world-famous icons like the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu wetlands, the Wet Tropics rainforests and the snowfields of the Australian Alps. Yet our hotter climate and shifting rainfall patterns threaten these natural treasures. Scientists warn that most of the Great Barrier Reef could be 'functionally' extinct within 50 years due to yearly coral bleaching caused by hotter oceans. This also threatens the reef’s $5.8 billion a year tourism industry, along with its equivalent of 63,000 full time jobs. The Australian Alps have warmed at a rate of 0.2°C per decade between 1962 -2001 resulting in decreased snow cover.

The latest CSIRO reports have a lot to say on the risks to Australia from climate change.
Check out what it could mean for our future

Bleak future for farmers

Recent droughts signals what lies ahead for Australian farmers if we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Rural employment lost 80,000 jobs between 2001 and 2005. The 2002-3 drought was estimated to cost the economy around $6.6 billion. Though a 1 °C increase in global temperature may sound modest, it actually represents a huge change in the global climate system that would cause a 70 per cent increase in NSW drought. A 2 °C increase would reduce Australia’s livestock carrying capacity by 40 per cent. Crops like canola, wheat and barley would also be challenged.

Threat to lives and property

Sea-level rise and extreme events such as bushfires put Australians’ property – and lives – at risk in the future. Rising sea levels threaten to drown or put at risk billions of dollars-worth of private and public property before the end of the century, according to University of Sydney researchers. The famous surf beach at Narrabeen, NSW could be obliterated, at a cost of $245 million, according to UN research. Hotter, drier conditions will increase bushfire risk. The tragic Black Saturday Victorian bushfires are a powerful reminder of this threat.

Threat to our health

Climate change could put more of us at risk from tropical diseases such as deadly dengue fever, Ross River fever, malaria and encephalitis. The dengue transmission zone could reach as far south as Brisbane and Sydney, according to the Australian Medical Association. The number of very hot days over 35°C is expected to increase six-fold for Sydney, and more than double for Perth by 2070. Outback towns such as Wilcanna, NSW would have to endure 136 such days by 2070. Excessively hot days take their greatest toll on the health of the young, the ill, and the elderly. This is especially true in urban areas where heat increases smog, which causes asthma. Heat-related deaths in Australia could rise to 6,300 a year by 2050, and up to 15,000 by 2100.


Average temperatures in Victoria have risen approximately 0.8°C since the 1950s, bringing a significant change in the frequency of extreme weather events. As temperatures continue to rise, the number of very hot days is also expected to increase. In Melbourne, the number of days over 35°C is set to rise from the long-term average of 10 to anywhere from 15-26 by 2070. This poses a serious threat to children, the elderly and people with existing conditions – heat-related deaths are projected to increase by 40% by 2050. Infrastructure is also strained by extreme heat and the risk of bushfires is also increased. 

Other impacts

Over the past two decades Victoria has experienced a 10-20% reduction in autumn and winter rainfall. Victoria is expected to be drier in the coming decades than in the last century, with possible impacts on Melbourne’s water supply. 

Sea-level rises
Sea-levels are projected to rise 50-110cm by 2100 as a result of climate change. Even at the lower end of these estimates, this would result in coastal flooding, erosion of coastlines and increase in storm surges. At the upper end, an estimated 27,000 – 44,600 residential buildings would be threatened in Victoria. 

Economic threats and opportunities

As climate change progresses, an increase in extreme weather events, property damage caused by rising sea-levels, and strain on public infrastructure will cost Victoria dearly. According to the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority, the Victorian government faces significantly higher insurance costs and liabilities for government-owned assets including schools, hospitals, roads, rail and bridges. In addition to the increased insurance costs, the government faces growing exposure to personal and professional liability claims from more severe climatic events.

On the other hand, Victoria is in a fantastic position to take advantage of the global switch to clean renewable energy sources. In fact Victoria receives enough energy from the sun to produce double the state’s current energy needs and has some of the world’s best conditions for wind energy. Clean energy means jobs. More than three times as many Victorians are employed in solar as in coal. And there is still enormous potential for growth – with solar still accounting for only 8% of renewable energy in Victoria! Since 2001, the RET has delivered $18.5 billion of investment in renewable energy infrastructure in Australia, with an additional $18.7 billion of investment expected by 2030. 


Freaked out?
Don't be. There's lots you can do about it
And, you're not alone. Check out how people just like you are
beating the climate crisis


more resources

Living with climate change, Australian Greenhouse Office. Get informed
Climate Change - Potential impacts and costs, Victoria
It's not drought, it's climate change, The Age (29 August 2009). Read it



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