Climate change in Australia

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Australian annual average temperature anomaly from 1910 with five-year locally weighted ('Lowess') trend line. Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Climate change in Australia has been a critical issue since the beginning of the 21st century.[1] Australia is becoming hotter, and more prone to extreme heat, bushfires, droughts, floods and longer fire seasons because of climate change.[2][3]

Since the beginning of the 20th century Australia has experienced an increase of nearly 1 °C in average annual temperatures, with warming occurring at twice the rate over the past 50 years than in the previous 50 years.[4] Recent climate events such as extremely high temperatures and widespread drought have focused government and public attention on the impacts of climate change in Australia.[5] Rainfall in southwestern Australia has decreased by 10–20% since the 1970s, while southeastern Australia has also experienced a moderate decline since the 1990s.[6] Rainfall is expected to become heavier and more infrequent, as well as more common in summer rather than in winter.[7] Water sources in the southeastern areas of Australia have depleted due to increasing population in urban areas coupled with persistent prolonged drought.

A carbon tax was introduced in 2011 by the Gillard government in an effort to reduce the impact of climate change and despite some criticism, it successfully reduced Australia's carbon dioxide emissions, with coal generation down 11% since 2008–09.[8] It was subsequently repealed by the Abbott government on 17 July 2014 in a heavily criticised move.[9] The renewable energy target (RET), launched in 2001, was also modified.[10] However, under the government of Malcolm Turnbull, Australia attended the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and adopted the Paris Agreement, which includes a review of emission reduction targets every 5 years from 2020.[11]

Predictions measuring the effects of global warming on Australia assert that global warming will negatively impact the continent's environment, economy, and communities. Australia is vulnerable to the effects of global warming projected for the next 50 to 100 years because of its extensive arid and semi-arid areas, an already warm climate, high annual rainfall variability, and existing pressures on water supply. The continent's high fire risk increases this susceptibility to change in temperature and climate. Additionally, Australia's population is highly concentrated in coastal areas, and its important tourism industry depends on the health of the Great Barrier Reef and other fragile ecosystems. The impacts of climate change in Australia will be complex and to some degree uncertain, but increased foresight may enable the country to safeguard its future through planned mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation may reduce the ultimate extent of climate change and its impacts, but requires global solutions and cooperation, while adaptation can be performed at national and local levels.[12]

Pre-instrumental climate change[edit]

Paleoclimatic records indicate that during glacial maxima Australia was extremely arid,[13] with plant pollen fossils showing deserts as far as northern Tasmania and a vast area of less than 12% vegetation cover over all of South Australia and adjacent regions of other states. Forest cover was largely limited to sheltered areas of the east coast and the extreme southwest of Western Australia.

During these glacial maxima the climate was also much colder and windier than today.[14] Minimum temperatures in winter in the centre of the continent were as much as 9 °C (48 °F) lower than they are today. Hydrological evidence for dryness during glacial maxima can also be seen at major lakes in Victoria's Western District, which dried up between around 20,000 and 15,000 years ago and re-filled from around 12,000 years ago.[15]

During the early Holocene, there is evidence from Lake Frome in South Australia and Lake Woods near Tennant Creek that the climate between 8,000 and 9,500 years ago and again from 7,000 to 4,200 years ago was considerably wetter than over the period of instrumental recording since about 1885.[16] The research that gave these records also suggested that the rainfall flooding Frome was certainly summer-dominant rainfall because of pollen counts from grass species. Other sources[17] suggest that the Southern Oscillation may have been weaker during the early Holocene and rainfall over northern Australia less variable as well as higher. The onset of modern conditions with periodic wet season failure is dated at around 4,000 years before the present.

In southern Victoria, there is evidence for generally wet conditions except for a much drier spell between about 3,000 and 2,100 years before the present,[18] when it is believed Lake Corangamite fell to levels well below those observed between European settlement and the 1990s. After this dry period, Western District lakes returned to their previous levels fairly quickly and by 1800 they were at their highest levels in the forty thousand years of record available.

Elsewhere, data for most of the Holocene are deficient, largely because methods used elsewhere to determine past climates (like tree-ring data) cannot be used in Australia owing to the character of its soils and climate. Recently, however, coral cores have been used to examine rainfall over those areas of Queensland draining into the Great Barrier Reef.[19] The results do not provide conclusive evidence of man-made climate change, but do suggest the following:

  • There has been a marked increase in the frequency of very wet years in Queensland since the end of the Little Ice Age, a theory supported by there being no evidence for any large Lake Eyre filling during the LIA.
  • The dry era of the 1920s and 1930s may well have been the driest period in Australia over the past four centuries.

A similar study, not yet published, is planned for coral reefs in Western Australia.

Records exist of floods in a number of rivers, such as the Hawkesbury, from the time of first settlement. These suggest that, for the period beginning with the first European settlement, the first thirty-five years or so were wet and were followed by a much drier period up to the mid-1860s,[20] when usable instrumental records started.

Instrumental climate records[edit]

Development of an instrumental network[edit]

Although rain gauges were installed privately by some of the earliest settlers, the first instrumental climate records in Australia were not compiled until 1840 at Port Macquarie. Rain gauges were gradually installed at other major centres across the continent, with the present gauges in Melbourne and Sydney dating from 1858 and 1859, respectively.

In eastern Australia, where the continent's first large-scale agriculture began, a large number of rain gauges were installed during the 1860s and by 1875 a comprehensive network had been developed in the "settled" areas of that state.[21] With the spread of the pastoral industry to the north of the continent during this period, rain gauges were established extensively in newly settled areas, reaching Darwin by 1869, Alice Springs by 1874, and the Kimberley, Channel Country and Gulf Savannah by 1880.

By 1885,[22] most of Australia had a network of rainfall reporting stations adequate to give a good picture of climatic variability over the continent. The exceptions were remote areas of western Tasmania, the extreme southwest of Western Australia, Cape York Peninsula,[23] the northern Kimberley and the deserts of northwestern South Australia and southeastern Western Australia. In these areas good-quality climatic data were not available for quite some time after that.

Temperature measurements, although made at major population centres from days of the earliest rain gauges, were generally not established when rain gauges spread to more remote locations during the 1870s and 1880s. Although they gradually caught up in number with rain gauges, many places which have had rainfall data for over 125 years have only a few decades of temperature records.

Climate history based on instrumental records[edit]

Australia's instrumental record from 1885 to the present shows the following broad picture:

Conditions from 1885 to 1898 were generally fairly wet, though less so than in the period since 1968. The only noticeably dry years in this era were 1888 and 1897. Although some coral core data[24] suggest that 1887 and 1890 were, with 1974, the wettest years across the continent since settlement, rainfall data for Alice Springs, then the only major station covering the interior of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, strongly suggest that 1887 and 1890 were overall not as wet as 1974 or even 2000.[25] In New South Wales and Queensland, however, the years 1886–1887 and 1889–1894 were indeed exceptionally wet. The heavy rainfall over this period has been linked with a major expansion of the sheep population[26] and February 1893 saw the disastrous 1893 Brisbane flood.

A drying of the climate took place from 1899 to 1921, though with some interruptions from wet El Niño years, especially between 1915 and early 1918 and in 1920–1921, when the wheat belt of the southern interior was drenched by its heaviest winter rains on record. Two major El Niño events in 1902 and 1905 produced the two driest years across the whole continent, whilst 1919 was similarly dry in the eastern States apart from the Gippsland.

The period from 1922 to 1938 was exceptionally dry, with only 1930 having Australia-wide rainfall above the long-term mean and the Australia-wide average rainfall for these seventeen years being 15 to 20 per cent below that for other periods since 1885. This dry period is attributed in some sources to a weakening of the Southern Oscillation[27] and in others to reduced sea surface temperatures.[28] Temperatures in these three periods were generally cooler than they are currently, with 1925 having the coolest minima of any year since 1910. However, the dry years of the 1920s and 1930s were also often quite warm, with 1928 and 1938 having particularly high maxima.

The period from 1939 to 1967 began with an increase in rainfall: 1939, 1941 and 1942 were the first close-together group of relatively wet years since 1921. From 1943 to 1946, generally dry conditions returned, and the two decades from 1947 saw fluctuating rainfall. 1950, 1955 and 1956 were exceptionally wet except 1950 and 1956 over arid and wheatbelt regions of Western Australia. 1950 saw extraordinary rains in central New South Wales and most of Queensland: Dubbo's 1950 rainfall of 1,329 mm (52.3 in) can be estimated to have a return period of between 350 and 400 years, whilst Lake Eyre filled for the first time in thirty years. In contrast, 1951, 1961 and 1965 were very dry, with complete monsoon failure in 1951/1952 and extreme drought in the interior during 1961 and 1965. Temperatures over this period initially fell to their lowest levels of the 20th century, with 1949 and 1956 being particularly cool, but then began a rising trend that has continued with few interruptions to the present.

Since 1968, Australia's rainfall has been 15 per cent higher than between 1885 and 1967. The wettest periods have been from 1973 to 1975 and 1998 to 2001, which comprise seven of the thirteen wettest years over the continent since 1885. Overnight minimum temperatures, especially in winter, have been markedly higher than before the 1960s, with 1973, 1980, 1988, 1991, 1998 and 2005 outstanding in this respect. There has been a marked decrease in the frequency of frost across Australia.[29]

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia's annual mean temperature for 2009 was 0.9 °C above the 1961–90 average, making it the nation's second-warmest year since high-quality records began in 1910.[30]

Current effects of climate change on Australia[edit]

Protesters from the Climate Action Summit outside of Parliament House, Canberra

According to the CSIRO and Garnaut Climate Change Review, climate change is expected to have numerous adverse effects on many species, regions, activities and much infrastructure and areas of the economy and public health in Australia. The Stern Report and Garnaut Review on balance expect these to outweigh the costs of mitigation.[31]

Sustained climate change could have drastic effects on the ecosystems of Australia. For example, rising ocean temperatures and continual erosion of the coasts from higher water levels will cause further bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. Beyond that, Australia's climate will become even harsher, with more powerful tropical cyclones and longer droughts.[32]

The impacts of climate change will vary significantly across Australia. The Australian Government appointed Climate Commission have prepared summary reports on the likely impacts of climate change for regions across Australia, including: Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.[33]

Climate Commission reports[edit]

David Karoly is an Australian expert on climate change and member of the board of the Climate Change Authority.
Will Steffen was the principal author of the report The Critical Decade: Extreme Weather.

According to the Climate Commission (now the Climate Council) report in 2013, the extreme heatwaves, flooding and bushfires striking Australia have been intensified by climate change and will get worse in future in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment.[34] The summer of 2012/2013 included the hottest summer, hottest month and hottest day on record. The cost of the 2009 bushfires in Victoria was estimated at A$4.4bn (£3bn) and the Queensland floods of 2010/2011 cost over A$5bn.[35][36][37]

By 2014, another report revealed that, due to the change in climatic patterns, the heat waves were found to be increasingly more frequent and severe, with an earlier start to the season and longer duration.[34] The report also cited that the current heat wave levels in Australia were not anticipated to occur until 2030. All these underscored the kind of threat that Australia faces. As a developed country, its coping strategies are more sophisticated but it is the rate of change that will pose the bigger risks.[38]

Sea level rise[edit]

Melbourne population density and low elevation coastal zones

The Australian Government released a report saying that up to 247,600 houses are at risk from flooding from a sea level rise of 1.1 metres. There were 39,000 buildings located within 110 metres of 'soft' erodible shorelines, at risk from a faster erosion due to sea level rise.[39] Adaptive responses to this specific climate change threat are often incorporated in the coastal planning policies and recommendations at the state level.[40] For instance, the Western Australia State Coastal Planning Policy established a sea level rise benchmark for initiatives that address the problem over a 100-year period.[40]


In 2008 the Treasurer and the Minister for Climate Change and Water released a report that concluded the economy will grow with an emissions trading scheme in place.[41]

A report released in October 2009 by the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, studying the effects of a 1-metre sea level rise, quite possible within the next 30–60 years, concluded that around 700,000 properties around Australia, including 80,000 buildings, would be inundated, the collective value of these properties is estimated at $155 billion.[42]

In 2019 the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences published a report about the impact of climate change on the profitability of the Australian agriculture, saying that the profit of the Australian farms was cut by 22% due to climate change in the years 2000–2019.[43]

Water (droughts and floods)[edit]

Bureau of Meteorology records since the 1860s show that a 'severe' drought has occurred in Australia, on average, once every 18 years.[44]

In June 2008 it became known that an expert panel had warned of long-term, maybe irreversible, severe ecological damage for the whole Murray-Darling basin if it did not receive sufficient water by October of that year.[45] Water restrictions were in place in many regions and cities of Australia in response to chronic shortages resulting from the 2008 drought.[46] In 2004 paleontologist Tim Flannery predicted that unless it made drastic changes the city of Perth, Western Australia, could become the world's first ghost metropolis—an abandoned city with no more water to sustain its population.[47] However, with increased rainfall in recent years, the water situation has improved.[citation needed]

In 2019 the drought and water resources minister of Australia David Littleproud, said, that he "totally accepts" the link between climate change and drought in Australia because he "live it". He says that the drought in Australia is already 8 years long. He called for a reduction in Greenhouse gas emission and massive installation of renewable energy. Former leader of the nationalists Barnaby Joyce said that if the drought became more fierce and dams will not be built, the coalition risk "political annihilation".[48]


In 2009, the Black Saturday bushfires erupted after a period of record hot weather resulting in the loss of 173 lives[49] and the destruction of 1,830 homes, and the newly found homelessness of over 7,000 people.[50]

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said that the fires were "a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority the need to tackle climate change".[51] The Black Saturday Royal Commission recommended that "the amount of fuel-reduction burning done on public land each year should be more than doubled".[49]

In 2018, the fire season in Australia began in the winter. August 2018 was hotter and windier than the average. Those meteorologic conditions led to a drought in New South Wales. The Government of the state already gave more than $1 billion to help the farmers. The hotter and drier climate led to more fires. The fire seasons in Australia are lengthening and fire events became more frequent in the latest 30 years. These trends are probably linked to climate change.[52][53]

In 2019 bushfires linked to climate change created air pollution 11 times higher that the hazardous level in many areas of New South Wales. Many medical groups called to protect people from "public health emergency" and moving on from fossil fuels.[54]

Heavy smoke from fires reached Sydney delaying many flights and fires blocked roads around Sydney. The prime minister Scott Morrison experienced an hour's delay attempting to land in Sydney because of runway closures.[55]

From September 2019 to the end of January 2020, 34 people and one billion animals, possibly including entire species and subspecies died from the fires. Around 2,000 homes were destroyed.[56]

According to the United Nations Environment Programme the megafires in Australia in 2019–2020 are probably linked to climate change that created the unusually dry and hot weather conditions. This is part of a global trend. Brazil, United States, Russian federation, Democratic Republic of the Congo, face similar problems. By the second week of January the fires burned a territory of approximately 100,000 square kilometres close to the territory of England, killed one billion animals and caused big economic damage.[57]

Researchers claim that the exceptionally strong wildfires in 2019–2020, where impossible without climate change, that surely made temperature higher. More than one fifth of the Australian forests was burned in one season, what is completely unprecedented. They say that: "In the case of recent events in Australia, there is no doubt that the record temperatures of the past year would not be possible without anthropogenic influence, and that under a scenario where emissions continue to grow, such a year would be average by 2040 and exceptionally cool by 2060.".[58] Probably climate change also caused drier weather conditions in Australia by impacting Indian Ocean Dipole what also increase fires. In average, below 2% of Australian forests burn annually.[59] Climate change has increased the likelihood of the wildfires in 2019–2020 by at least 30%, but researchers said the result is probably conservative.[60]

Approximately 3 billion animals were killed or displaced by the bushfires in the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season what make them one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. The chance of reaching the climatic conditions that fuels the fires became more than 4 times bigger since the year 1900 and will become 8 times more likely to occur if the temperature will rise by 2 degrees from the preindustrial level..[61]


According to Australian Climate Council in 2017 Australia had its warmest winter on record, in terms of average maximum temperatures, reaching nearly 2 °C above average.[62]

Summer 2013–14 was warmer than average for the entirety of Australia.[63] Both Victoria and South Australia saw record-breaking temperatures. Adelaide recorded a total of 13 days reaching 40 °C or more, 11 of which reached 42 °C or more, as well as its fifth-hottest day on record—45.1 °C on 14 January. The number of days over 40 °C beat the previous record of summer 1897–1898, when 11 days above 40 °C were recorded. Melbourne recorded six days over 40 °C, while nighttime temperatures were much warmer than usual, with some nights failing to drop below 30 °C.[64]

Overall, the summer of 2013–2014 was the third-hottest on record for Victoria, fifth-warmest on record for New South Wales, and sixth-warmest on record for South Australia.[63] 2015 was Australia's fifth-hottest year on record, continuing the trend of record-breaking high temperatures across the country.[65]

Future effects of climate change on Australia[edit]

Analysis of future emissions trajectories indicates that, left unchecked, human emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) will increase several fold during the 21st century. Consequently, Australia's annual average temperatures are projected to increase 0.4–2.0 °C above 1990 levels by the year 2030, and 1–6 °C by 2070. Average precipitation in southwest and southeast Australia is projected to decline during this time period, while regions such as the northwest may experience increases in rainfall. Meanwhile, Australia's coastlines will experience erosion and inundation from an estimated 8–88 cm increase in global sea level. Such changes in climate will have diverse implications for Australia's environment, economy, and public health.[66]

Projected effects by Major Event[edit]


Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of bushfires.

Firefighting officials are concerned that the effects of climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of bushfires under even a "low global warming" scenario.[67] A 2006 report, prepared by CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Bushfire CRC, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, identified South Eastern Australia as one of the 3 most fire-prone areas in the world,[68] and concluded that an increase in fire-weather risk is likely at most sites over the next several decades, including the average number of days when the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index rating is very high or extreme. It also found that the combined frequencies of days with very high and extreme FFDI ratings are likely to increase 4–25% by 2020 and 15–70% by 2050, and that the increase in fire-weather risk is generally largest inland.[69]

Extreme weather events[edit]

Australian annual land temperature anomalies from 1910
Heatmap of Australia's land temperature anomalies since 1910

Globally, the World Meteorological Organization has claimed that extreme weather events are on the rise as a result of human interference in the climate system,[70] and climate models indicate the potential for increases in extremes of temperature, precipitation, droughts, storms, and floods.[71] The CSIRO predicts that a temperature rise of between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius on the Australian continent could incur some of the following extreme weather occurrences, in addition to standard patterns:

  • Wind speeds of tropical cyclones could intensify by 5 to 10%.[72]
  • Tropical cyclone rainfall could increase by 20–30%.
  • In 100 years, strong tides would increase by 12–16% along eastern Victoria's coast.[73]
  • The forest fire danger indices in New South Wales and Western Australia would grow by 10% and the forest fire danger indices in south, central and north-east Australia would increase by more than 10%.[74][75]

Biodiversity and ecosystems[edit]

Australia has some of the world's most diverse ecosystems and natural habitats, and it may be this variety that makes them the Earth's most fragile and at-risk when exposed to climate change. The Great Barrier Reef is a prime example. Over the past 20 years it has experienced unparalleled rates of bleaching. Additional warming of 1 °C is expected to cause substantial losses of species and of associated coral communities.[66]

The CSIRO predicts that the additional results in Australia of a temperature rise of between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius will be:

  • 97% of the Great Barrier Reef bleached annually.[76]
  • 10–40% loss of principal habitat for Victoria and montane tropical vertebrate species.[77]
  • 92% decrease in butterfly species' primary habitats.[78]
  • 98% reduction in Bowerbird habitat in Northern Australia.[79]
  • 80% loss of freshwater wetlands in Kakadu (30 cm sea level rise).[80]

Projected effects by Industry[edit]

The climate change protest in Melbourne on 24 October 2009 was attended by thousands.

Agriculture forestry and livestock[edit]

Small changes caused by global warming, such as a longer growing season, a more temperate climate and increased CO
concentrations, may benefit Australian crop agriculture and forestry in the short term. However, such benefits are unlikely to be sustained with increasingly severe effects of global warming. Changes in precipitation and consequent water management problems will further exacerbate Australia's current water availability and quality challenges, both for commercial and residential use.[66]

The CSIRO predicts that the additional results in Australia of a temperature rise of between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius will be:

  • 32% possibility of diminished wheat production (without adaptation).[81]
  • 45% probability of wheat crop value being beneath present levels (without adaptation).[81]
  • 55% of primary habitat lost for Eucalyptus.[82]
  • 25–50% rise in common timber yield in cool and wet parts of South Australia.[83]
  • 25–50% reduction in common timber yield in North Queensland and the Top End.[83]
  • 6% decrease in Australian net primary production (for 20% precipitation decrease)
  • 128% increase in tick-associated losses in net cattle production weight.[84]

Water resources[edit]

Healthy and diverse vegetation is essential to river health and quality, and many of Australia's most important catchments are covered by native forest, maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Climate change will affect growth, species composition and pest incursion of native species and in turn, will profoundly affect water supply from these catchments. Increased re-afforestation in cleared catchments also has the prospect for water losses.[85]

The CSIRO predicts that the additional results in Australia of a temperature rise of between only 1 and 2 degrees Celsius will be:

Public health[edit]

Refugees from Pacific Islands such as Tuvalu are projected to increase.

The CSIRO predicts that the additional results in Australia of a temperature rise of between only 1 and 2 degrees Celsius will be:[88]

  • Southward spread of malaria receptive zones.
  • Risk of dengue fever among Australians increases from 170,000 people to 0.75–1.6 million.
  • 10% increase in diarrhoeal diseases among Aboriginal children in central Australia.
  • 100% increase in a number of people exposed to flooding in Australia.
  • Increased influx of refugees from the Pacific Islands.

Settlements and infrastructure[edit]

Global warming could lead to substantial alterations in climate extremes, such as tropical cyclones, heat waves and severe precipitation events. This would degrade infrastructure and raise costs through intensified energy demands, maintenance for damaged transportation infrastructure, and disasters, such as coastal flooding.[66]:5 In the coastal zone, sea level rise and storm surge may be more critical drivers of these changes than either temperature or precipitation.[66]:20

The CSIRO describes the additional impact on settlements and infrastructure for rises in temperature of only 1 to 2 degrees Celsius:

  • A 22% rise in 100-year storm surge height around Cairns; as a result, the area flooded doubles.[72]
  • A 1% decrease in peak electricity demands in Melbourne and Sydney.[89][90]
  • 4–10% increase in peak electricity demands in Adelaide and Brisbane.
  • 20% increase in methane from bushfires.

Human settlements[edit]

Climate change will have a higher impact on Australia's coastal communities, due to the concentration of population, commerce and industry. Climate modelling suggests that a temperature rise of 1–2 °C will result in more intense storm winds, including those from tropical cyclones.[91] Combine this with sea level rise, and the result is greater flooding, due to higher levels of storm surge and wind speed. Coleman, T. (2002) The impact of climate change on insurance against catastrophes. Proceedings of Living with Climate Change Conference. Canberra, 19 December.) Tourism of coastal areas may also be affected by coastal inundation and beach erosion, as a result of sea level rise and storm events. At higher levels of warming, coastal impacts become more severe with higher storm winds and sea levels.


A report released in October 2009 by the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the arts, studying the effects of a 1-metre sea level rise, possible within the next 30–60 years, concluded that around 700,000 properties around Australia, including 80,000 buildings, would be inundated. The collective value of these properties is estimated at $150 billion.[42]

A 1-metre sea level rise would have massive impacts, not just on property and associated economic systems, but in displacement of human populations throughout the continent. Queensland is the state most at risk due to the presence of valuable beachfront housing.[92]

Projected effects by location[edit]


Adelaide will get hotter and drier with rainfall predicted to decline 8% to 29% by 2090 and average temperature to increase between 4 and 0.9 degrees.[93] The number of days above 35 degrees will increase by 50% in 2090 and the number of days above 40 degrees will double.[94] Bringing it close to Northampton, Western Australia for temperature and Kadina, South Australia for rainfall.[93]

Sea levels will rise with predictions between 39 to 61 cm by 2090.[94] And extreme seas are predicted to rise as well, with the CSIRO predicting buildings in Port Adelaide would need to be raised by 50 to 81 cm to keep the amount of flooding incidents the same as recorded between 1986 and 2005.[94]


In a RCP 4.5 scenario Brisbane's temperature will be similar to that of Rockhampton today while rainfall will be closest to Gympie. The CSIRO predicts rainfall in Brisbane will fall between -23% (235 mm) and -4% (45.3 mm) annually by 2090 while temperature will rise between 4.2° and 0.9°.[93] The number of hot days and hot nights will double by 2050, with many people needing to avoid outdoor activity in Summer. Further urban growth increases the number of hot nights even further.[95] Hot nights increase deaths amongst the elderly.[95] Rainfall will be deposited in less frequent more intense rain events, fire days will also get more frequent while frost days will decrease.[96] Sea levels are predicted to rise by 80 cm by 2100 and there will be more frequent sea level extremes.[96]

Low-lying canal development on the Gold Coast


In a RCP 4.5 scenario Darwin's temperature will be similar to that of Daly River now, with its rainfall most like that of Milikapiti. In a RCP 8.5 scenario, indicating higher greenhouse gas emissions, Darwin's temperature loses any close comparison in Australia being significantly hotter than every town in Australia is today (with the exclusion of Halls Creek in Autumn).


Suburbs of Sydney like Manly, Botany,[97] Narrabeen,[97] Port Botany,[97] and Rockdale,[97] which lie on rivers like the Parramatta, face risks of flooding in low-lying areas such as parks (like Timbrell Park and Majors Bay Reserve), or massive expenses in rebuilding seawalls to higher levels. Sea levels are predicted to rise between 38 and 66 cm by 2090.[94]

Temperature in Sydney will increase between 0.9° and 4.2°, while rainfall will decrease between -23% and -4% by 2090.[93] Bringing Sydney's climate close to that of Beaudesert today (under a RCP 8.5 scenario).[93] Different parts of Sydney will warm differently with the greatest impact expected in Western Sydney and Hawkesbury, these areas can expect 5 to 10 additional hot days by 2030.[98] Similarly future rainfall patterns will be different to those today, with more rain expected to fall in summer and autumn and less expected in Winter and Spring. Fire danger days will increase in number by 2070.[99]


Sea levels are projected to rise between 0.37 cm and 0.59 cm at Williamstown (the closest covered point) by 2090.[94] At the higher end of this scale areas in and around Melbourne would be impacted. With some of the most vulnerable areas being the Docklands development and several marinas and berths in Port Phillip. Melbourne's climate will become similar in terms of total rainfall and average temperature to that of Dubbo today, with temperatures warming between 0.9° and 3.8° and total annual rainfall falling between -10% and -4% by 2090.[93] Rainfall patterns will also change with 20% less rainfall predicted during spring in 2050, which may impact the severity of summer bushfires.[100]

The increases in temperature and decrease in rainfall will have a series of follow on effects on the city, including a possible 35% reduction in trees in Melbourne by 2040.[100] And more frequent ambulance callouts and more deaths due to heatwaves. Climate change will cost Melbourne City $12.6bn by 2050.[100]


In 2090 Perth is predicted to have the rainfall of Yanchep today and the temperature of Geraldton using the RCP 4.5 scenario.[93] Rainfall is predicted to fall between -29% (-226 mm) and -8% (-66 mm) and temperature predicted to rise between 0.9° and 4°.[93] Perth may see the number of days above 35° increase from 28 per year on average to 36 in 2030, and to between 40 and 63 in 2090.[101] While frost days will decrease. Rainfall will increase in intensity while decreasing on average.[101] Drought days in the south west as a whole may increase by as much as 80% versus 20% for Australia.[101] The danger from fire will increase with more fire days for all of Western Australia.[101]


By 2090 Hobart's climate will warm between 3.8° and 0.9°, rainfall will decline between 4% and 10%.[93] The temperature pattern will be similar to Port Lincoln while rainfall will be closer to Condoblin's today in a RCP 8.5 scenario.[93] Warm spells are likely to last longer and rainfall will trend to more intense rain events dumping less rain annually, increasing the risk of erosion and flooding.[102] Flooding on the Derwent river will become more regular and extreme with a current 1-in-100-year event being possibly a 2-to-6-year event in 2090.[102] Hobart's fire season will get longer.[102]

Great Barrier Reef[edit]

The Great Barrier Reef could be killed as a result of the rise in water temperature forecast by the IPCC. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reef has experienced unprecedented rates of bleaching over the past two decades, and additional warming of only 1 °C is anticipated to cause considerable losses or contractions of species associated with coral communities.[66]

Lord Howe Island[edit]

The coral reefs of the World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island could be killed as a result of the rise in water temperature forecast by the IPCC.[103] As of April 2019, approximately 5% of the coral is dead.[104]

Action on climate change[edit]


Federal Government action[edit]

Howard government[edit]

The Howard government was resistant to taking action to prevent global warming that would harm Australia's economy, a policy continued from the prior Keating government.[105] In 1996 in the lead up to the Kyoto treaty this slow going attitude caused conflict with the US and EU who at that time were proposing legally binding emissions targets as part of Kyoto. Australia was unwilling to accept stricter timeframes and emissions reductions targets, such as the 20% cut (from 1990 to 2005) proposed by smaller pacific island states, because of its carbon intensive economy.[105] Increasingly, in the lead up to the Kyoto conference, the Howard government became internationally isolated on its climate change policy. With Australia's opposition to binding targets "figur[ing] prominently in the prime minister's [recent] discussions in Washington and London" as highlighted in a Cabinet memo.[105] In 1997 the Cabinet agreed to establish a climate change taskforce to strengthen its Kyoto bargaining position.[105] In 1998 the Australian Government, under Prime Minister John Howard, established the Australian Greenhouse Office, which was then the world's first government agency dedicated to cutting greenhouse gas emissions,[106] And, also in 1998, Australia signed but did not ratify the Kyoto protocols.[107]

The Australian Greenhouse Office put forward proposals for emissions reductions in 2000 (rejected in cabinet), 2003 (vetoed by Howard) and 2006 which was accepted by Howard and became the basis for his pre election emissions trading scheme proposal.[105]

Rudd government

In 2007, after the first Rudd government was sworn in, the new Department of Climate Change was established under the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio and entrusted with coordinating and leading climate policy.[107] The Kyoto protocol was ratified nine days after.[107] The 2009 budget committed the government to a 25% reduction by 2020 on 2000 levels if "the world agrees to an ambitious global deal to stabilise levels of CO2 equivalent at 450 parts per million or lower by mid-century".[107]

In December 2009 Malcolm Turnbull the then opposition leader is unseated by Tony Abbot, voiding a speculated deal on an emissions trading scheme between the opposition and the government.[107] This happens a day before the second rejection of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bill by the Senate on the 2 December 2009. On 2 February the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation is introduced for the third time, it is voted down again and the Liberal party unveils its own climate mitigation legislation, the Direct Action Plan.[107]

On 27 April 2010, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the Government has decided to delay the implementation of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) until the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (ending in 2012).[108] The government cited the lack of bipartisan support for the CPRS and the withdrawal of support by the Greens,[109][110][111][112] and slow international progress on climate action after the Copenhagen Summit, as the reasons for the decision.[113] The delay of the implementation of the CPRS was strongly criticised by the Federal Opposition under Abbott[114] and by community and grassroots action groups such as GetUp.[115]

Gillard (and second Rudd) government

To reduce Australia's carbon emissions, the government of Julia Gillard introduced a carbon tax on 1 July 2012, which required large businesses, defined as those emitting over 25,000 tons of[116] carbon dioxide equivalent annually, to purchase emissions permits. The Carbon Tax reduced Australia's carbon dioxide emissions, with coal generation down 11% since 2008–09.[8]

Abbot government

The subsequent Australian Government, elected in 2013 under then Prime Minister Tony Abbott was criticised for being "in complete denial about climate change".[117] Abbott became known for his anti-climate change positions as was evident in a number of policies adopted by his administration. In a global warming meeting held in the United Kingdom, he reportedly said that proponents of climate change are alarmists, underscoring a need for "evidence-based" policymaking.[118] The Abbott government repealed the carbon tax on 17 July 2014 in a heavily criticised move.[9] The renewable energy target (RET), launched in 2001, was also modified.[10]

Turnbull government

However, under the government of Malcolm Turnbull, Australia attended the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and adopted the Paris Agreement, which includes a review of emission reduction targets every 5 years from 2020.[11]

Australia's Clean Energy Target (CET) came under threat in October 2017 from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. This could lead to the Australian Labor Party withdrawing support from the Turnbull government's new energy policy.[119][120]

Climate policy continues to be controversial. Following the repeal of the carbon price in the last parliament, the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is now Australia's main mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, two-thirds of the ERF's allocated $2.5 billion funding has now been spent. The ERF, and other policies, will need further funding to achieve our climate targets.[121]

Morrison government

Under the Morrison Government, Australia experienced some criticism as it plans to use a carbon accounting loophole from the expiring Kyoto Protocol agreement to fulfill its (already modest) Paris commitments. According to Climate Analytics, Australia pledged in Paris to cut its emissions between 26% and 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 but it is currently on track for a 7% cut.[122]



A protest on World Environment Day in Victoria

The state of Victoria, in particular, has been proactive in pursuing reductions in GHG through a range of initiatives. In 1989 it produced the first state climate change strategy, "The Greenhouse Challenge". Other states have also taken a more proactive stance than the federal government. One such initiative undertaken by the Victorian Government is the 2002 Greenhouse Challenge for Energy Policy package, which aims to reduce Victorian emissions through a mandated renewable energy target. Initially, it aimed to have a 10 per cent share of Victoria's energy consumption being produced by renewable technologies by 2010, with 1000 MW of wind power under construction by 2006. The government legislated to ensure that by 2016 electricity retailers in Victoria purchase 10 per cent of their energy from renewables. This was ultimately overtaken by the national Renewable Energy Target (RET). By providing a market incentive for the development of renewables, the government helps foster the development of the renewable energy sector. A Green Paper and White Paper on Climate Change was produced in 2010, including funding for a number of programs. A Climate Change Act was passed including targets for 50% reduction in emissions. A recent review of this Act has recommended further changes.

The supreme court of Australia stopped a logging project in Victoria because it will be particularly destructive after the bushfires. The premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews announced that by 2030 logging in the state will be banned.[123]

South Australia[edit]

Former Premier Mike Rann (2002–2011) was Australia's first Climate Change Minister and passed legislation committing South Australia to renewable energy and emissions reduction targets. Announced in March 2006, this was the first legislation passed anywhere in Australia committed to cutting emissions.[124] By the end of 2011, 26% of South Australia's electricity generation derived from wind power, edging out coal-fired power for the first time. Although only 7.2% of Australia's population live in South Australia, in 2011, it had 54% of Australia's installed wind capacity. Following the introduction of solar feed-in tariff legislation South Australia also had the highest per-capita take-up of household rooftop photo-voltaic installations in Australia. In an educative program, the Rann government invested in installing rooftop solar arrays on the major public buildings including the Parliament, Museum, Adelaide Airport, Adelaide Showgrounds pavilion and public schools. About 31% of South Australia's total power is derived from renewables. In the five years to the end of 2011, South Australia experienced a 15% drop in emissions, despite strong employment and economic growth during this period.[125]

In 2010, the Solar Art Prize was created by Pip Fletcher, and has run annually since, inviting artists from South Australia to reflect subjects of climate change and environmentalism in their work. Some winning artists receive renewable energy service prizes which can be redeemed as solar panels, solar hot water or battery storage systems.

Western Australia[edit]

On 6 May 2007, the Premier of Western Australia, Alan Carpenter announced the formation of a new Climate Change Office responsible to a Minister, with a plan that included:[126]

  • a target to reduce emissions by at least 60% below 2000 levels by 2050
  • a $36.5 million Low Emission Energy Development Fund
  • a target to increase renewable energy generation on the South West Interconnected System to 15% by 2020 and 20% by 2025
  • a clean energy target of 50% by 2010 and 60% by 2020
  • State Government purchase of 20% renewable energy by 2010
  • a mandatory energy efficiency program that will require large and medium energy users to invest in cost effective energy efficiency measures
  • tripling the successful solar schools program so that over 350 schools will be using renewable energy by 2010
  • a new $1.5 million Household Sustainability Audit and Education program that will provide practical information to households about how they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • investing $8.625 million to help businesses and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change
  • the development of new climate change legislation
  • a commitment to establishment of a national emissions trading scheme

This plan has been criticised by Greens MP Paul Llewellyn who stated that short-term programmatic targets rather than aspirational targets to greenhouse gas emissions were needed, and that renewable energy growth in the state was still being driven entirely by federal government policy and incentives, not by measures being made by the state government.

Youth Climate Movement[edit]

Australian Student Environment Network[edit]

Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN) is a non-profit, grassroots network of student activists from universities, TAFEs and secondary schools across Australia. The network aims to create a generation of change-agents actively working to achieve environmental and social justice within the Australian and world context. The network has a strong focus on equipping young people with organising and facilitation skills and provides first-hand campaigning experience in environmental advocacy and grassroots organising. Annually, the ASEN summer training camp brings together students for one week of facilitated skill sharing, workshopping, campaign planning and strategising.

ASEN has multiple campaign foci including climate change, coal mining, green jobs, campus sustainability (energy/emissions & recycled paper), nuclear power, Gold and Uranium mining and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. In addition, the network builds and lives-out alternative ideas and lifestyles through community projects such as co-operatives (food, housing and transport), on-campus permaculture gardens and by investing in community supported agriculture.

Campaigns and events[edit]


  • Adopt a Politician

The AYCC supports numerous projects by harnessing the knowledge, skills and experience of its coalition member groups. In August 2007, the AYCC launched their federal election campaign "Adopt a Politician" providing young voters and non-voters a platform on which to engage with their local community on the issue and pressure their federal candidates to save their future by committing to better policies.

  • Switched On

In October 2007, the AYCC and ASEN organised the largest gathering of young climate activists from around the country at the conference "Switched On" in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The conference aimed to facilitate critical thinking on climate change and its solutions, share knowledge and skills for organising around climate change and provide support and networking opportunities for the growing youth climate movement in Australia.

  • Kyoto

In November 2007, youth delegates from the AYCC attended the Kyoto negotiations in Bali where they collaborated with other national youth networks and young climate activists from around the world.

  • Community awareness

SYCAN-the Sydney Youth Climate Action Network was founded at OzGreen's Youth Leading Australia Congress in 2009. SYCAN is working in local communities to reduce emissions through education and practical solutions. SYCAN is a non-profit, non-partisan group of youth volunteers. SYCAN as of January 2011 currently has two branches (Northern Beaches and Inner-West areas).


Walk against warming in Melbourne, December 2009
  • Walk Against Warming: annual community event supported by several NGOs and Australian Conservation Councils. Drew 40,000 in Sydney in November 2006 and 2007, 2008, December 2009 and August 2010. Forty thousand attended the 2009 Melbourne walk.[127]
  • Sustainability Convergence – a joint project based in Melbourne, Australia that involves a range of individuals and community groups from cross movements and sectors aiming to harness the momentum for action on climate change. The Sustainable Living Foundation provides the basic platform of the event and works with a range of groups to co-host the activities.
  • The Rainforest Information Centre plans a road show of Eastern states in the first half of 2007. The workshops will comprise a brief summary of the problem and forty-minute presentation on despair and empowerment before encouraging participants to consider how to get active at a neighbourhood or community level. The intention is to establish new climate action groups and, where they exist already, to provide support, direction and connections.[128]
  • The Gaia Foundation in Western Australia has been running a series of "Climate Change: Be the Change" workshops around Perth, aimed at getting individuals to undertake personal projects to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • GetUp! Organised online action around nine key campaigns, including climate action. Promoting five policy asks.
  • Say Yes Australia campaign including Say Yes demonstrations of 5 June 2011, in which 45,000 people demonstrated in every major city nationwide in support of a price on carbon pollution.[129]

Community organising[edit]

In the Hunter Valley, alliances are being developed between unionists, environmentalists and other stakeholders. The Anvil Hill Alliance includes community and environment groups in NSW opposed to the expansion of coal mines in his high conservation value region. Their 'statement' has been endorsed by 28 groups.

Community engagement[edit]


  • WWF recruited companies to participate in Australia's first Earth Hour on 31 March 2007. Participating companies turned off their lights for one hour from 7:30 pm. Cities across Europe turned off lights on public buildings including the Eiffel Tower and Colosseum during January 2007 to mark the release of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Householders were also encouraged to switch off electrical appliances.
  • Another WWF initiative called Climate Witness recruits individuals who can share their stories of climate change impacts and their efforts to adapt to changes.[130]
  • With support from the Uniting Church and Catholic Earthcare, ACF and the National Council of Churches Australia have produced a brochure, Changing Climate, Changing Creation, which is being distributed to churches across the country.[131] The brochure encourages Australian Christians to: write to or visit their federal MP and ask what they are doing to address the threat of climate change; find out more about reducing energy and water usage and waste at home; and take action on climate change within churches and small groups.
  • Ipswich Green was formed by an automotive dealer to provide like minded businesses a way of engaging the community regarding carbon emissions.
  • The Wildlife Hospital, founded by Steve Irwin and managed by his daughter Bindi Irwin help rescue animals hurt by the bushfires in 2019–2020.[56]

Literature Janette Hartz-Karp writes that "to deal with the complexity of climate change and oil dependency, we need a radical rethink of how to engage citizens in meaningful, influential dialogue" Deliberative democracy presents a wide range of strategies to involve communities in these important decisions.

Legal action[edit]

  • Groups including Rising Tide and Queensland Conservation have initiated legal challenges to coal mines under the Commonwealth EPBC legislation. In late 2006, Queensland Conservation lodged an objection to the greenhouse gas emissions from a large coal mine expansion proposed by Xstrata Coal Queensland Pty Ltd. QC's action aimed to have the true costs of the greenhouse gas emissions from coal mining recognised. The Newlands Coal Mine Expansion will produce 28.5 million tonnes of coal over its fifteen years of operation. The mining, transport and use of this coal will emit 84 million tonnes of CO
    into the atmosphere. Queensland Conservation aims to have reasonable and practical measures imposed on new mines to avoid, reduce or offset the emissions from the mining, transport and use of their coal. The Land and Resources Tribunal ruled against the case.[132]
  • Peter Gray's win in the NSW Planning and Environment Court pushing the state government to consider climate change impacts in its assessment of new developments—in particular in relation to its failure to do so with Centennial Coal's proposed Anvil Hill mine.

Coalitions and alliances[edit]

  • The Climate Action Network of Australia (part of Climate Action Network) coordinate communication and collaboration between 38 Australian NGOs campaigning around climate change.
  • is an initiative of the Nature Conservation Council. The web site includes is a hub for Climate Action Groups around Australia to connect with each other, access resources, share success stories and collaborate. It is structured around a collective blog for Climate Action Groups as well as a directory and mapping of all the community climate groups in Australia, a community events calendar and a resources section. The project encourages people to start and register new climate action groups.
  • Friends of the Earth's Climate Justice campaign and work with Pacific Island and faith-based communities.
  • The Six Degrees campaign is building collaborations with coal affected communities across Queensland, particularly in agricultural areas that are threatened by new coal mines and other extractive activities. The collective has also organised a number of community-led direct actions to highlight Queensland's dangerous dependence on the coal industry, including the disruption of the Tarong Coal-fired power station which supplies electricity to the Brisbane metropolis


  • Rising Tide, a Newcastle-based crew, have organised actions to build pressure for a shift from coal dependence. In February 2007, more than 100 small and medium-sized craft, including swimmers and people on surfboards, gathered in the harbour as well as on its shores as part of the peaceful demonstration. No-one was arrested even though the group attempted to surround a large freight ship as it entered the port.[133]
  • In 2005, Greenpeace activists chained themselves to a loader in a Gippsland power station's coal pit.
  • Young people from the Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN) shut down two coal-fired power stations in October 2007.[citation needed]
  • In January 2020, protests were held in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Victoria, Brisbane, Hobart, and outside the Australian High Commission in London. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was criticized for climate denial in the wake of the bushfires.[134][135] Extinction Rebellion held rallies in London, Berlin, Madrid, Copenhagen and Stockholm calling for stronger climate action.[136]

Policy advocacy[edit]

  • WWF Australia's 'Clean Energy Future for Australia' outlines a range of policy recommendations for meeting electricity needs sustainably.[137]
  • TEAR Australia has joined with other aid and development organisations on the Climate Change and Development NGO Roundtable.[138]


Misleading the media on climate change emissions and impacts[edit]

The Coalition Government repeatedly claimed in 2019 that it turned around Australia's greenhouse gas emissions that it inherited from the Labor Government. Scott Morrison, Angus Taylor and other senior Coalition figures repeated this claim. The Coalition actually inherited a strong position from the Labor Government which had enacted the carbon tax.[139]

There are suggestions that disinformation is spread about the cause of Australia bushfires.[140]

Proposal to outlaw climate boycotts[edit]

On 1 November 2019, Scott Morrison outlined in a speech of mining delegates at the Queensland Resources Council that he planned to legislate to outlaw climate boycotts.


According to the polluter pays principle, the polluter has ecological and financial responsibility for the climate change consequences. The climate change is caused cumulatively and today's emissions will have effect for decades forward.

Cumulative CO2 emissions, 1850–2007, per current inhabitant (tonnes CO2) : 1) Luxembourg 1,429 2) UK 1,127 3) US 1,126 4) Belgium 1,026 5) Czech Republic 1,006 6) Germany 987 7) Estonia 877 8) Canada 779 9) Kazakhstan 682 10) Russia 666 11) Denmark 653 12) Bahrain 631 13) Kuwait 629 15) Australia 622 tonnes CO2 16) Poland 594 17) Qatar 584 18) Trinidad & Tobago 582 19) SSlovakia 579 and 20) Netherlands 576[141]

In footprint per person in the top were by PNAS 2011: 1. Singapore 2. Luxembourg 3. Belgium 4. the US 5. Canada 6. Ireland 7. Estonia 8. Malta 9. Finland 10. Norway 11. Switzerland 12. Australia 13. Hong Kong 14. Netherlands and 15. Taiwan.[141]

Further reading[edit]

  • Burton, Paul 2014, Responding to Climate Change, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, ISBN 9780643108615.
  • Goldie, Jenny & Betts, Katharine 2014, Sustainable Futures, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, ISBN 9781486301898.

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