The IPPC Working Group II Sixth Assessment Report Chapter 11 reports the state of climate trends, climate adaptation, and projections of future climate in Australasia.
If you have read the Working Group I report, The Physical Science Basis, you will know that the 1.5°C warming threshold will likely be surpassed in this decade. The Working Group II’s report released seven months after informs and directs how we adapt and reduce our vulnerability to climate change.
Chapter 11 affirms what Australia and New Zealand have already seen: climate change is causing many extreme events with devastating impacts on livelihoods, communities, and ecosystems in the last few years.
The series of extreme events that Australia has experienced confirms that the climate crisis is already taking place even as the IPCC WGII Sixth Assessment Report mentions them.
As of writing, New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland are inundated by one of Australia’s worst floods (Australia flood, 2022). More than a week of heavy rain along its east coast has inundated large areas of two of its biggest cities. PM Scott Morisson called this flooding a once-in 500-year event. When PM Scott Morrison visited Lismore, a northeast NSW city and the hardest hit, protesters gathered to demand more climate action from their government.
In 2019, just three years ago, the country had seen unprecedented bushfires. The Australian southeastern wildfire incidents from 2019 to 2020 burned 5.8 to 8.1 million hectares. The 114 listed threatened species lost at least half or more of their habitats, over 3,000 houses were destroyed, hundreds of people were killed, and thousands were hospitalized (ClimateChange, 2022).
If it is not the record bushfires and floods occurring, Australia also suffered from droughts, the ones between 2017 to 2019 hit the farmers hard.
Hannan (2022) says that in 2021, Australia also had record-breaking temperatures that killed many people. The North-western towns of Marble Bar recorded temperatures of at least 42°C for 29 consecutive days and Mardie, 47.9°C in December 2021 (Hannan, 2022).
The extreme events in Australia and other parts of the world are just the beginning as climate change is projected to accelerate. Impacts will become more severe. The IPCC AR6 report indicates that the situation has declined since the Fifth Assessment report.
The increasing severity of the impacts will have compounding and cascading effects on human health, livelihoods, food security, water resources, and national security in the coming decades.
For the first time, the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment report has emphasized climate change effects on people’s mental health resulting in heightened anxiety, risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and even suicide due to continuous exposure to extreme events such as intense heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, floorings, and strong cyclones.
New Zealand could expect more of what is already happening – more hot days, lesser cold days, heavier rains, rising snowlines, melting glaciers and slowly acidifying oceans.
NZ’s Northern regions will have more drought and extreme fire hazards. The southeast coasts will have more ocean warming and marine heatwaves, which could destroy kelp forests.
To survive the worst impacts of climate change will depend on how effective climate adaption will be. Lower-income populations will struggle the most, particularly in poorly planned urban areas.
Reducing climate change’s worst effects will depend on the speed and quantity of GHG emissions or how quickly governments can transition to a low-carbon economy.
Talking to the NZ Herald, co-author and Canterbury University political scientist Professor Bronwyn Hayward says that as more people flock to the cities, it will become a “crucible” for “cascading, compounding” risk (Morton, 2022).
Hayward further says:
- Adaptation progress was slowest among lower-income populations, but particularly in urban areas with poorly-planned growth and a lack of basic services.
- “But also, because we’ve put so much emphasis on engineering solutions like sea walls, we’ve lost sight of the importance of social and ecological infrastructure.”
- Restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively conserving 30 to 50 per cent of remaining natural habitats, for instance, would boost nature’s ability to absorb and store more carbon, while also putting the world on a path to sustainable development.
- “As well as good urban design, it’s also about considering underlying insurance systems, social income support, our health and education, and where we are locating people.
- “The report is very frank about the fact those most affected are going to be the poorest and most vulnerable, including the elderly, children and disabled communities.”
- “Indigenous communities are also at risk.”
Click the link to read Chapter 11: Australasia to read more about the climate trends and risk, and the state of climate adaptation in Australia and New Zealand.
Australia floods: PM Morrison to declare a national emergency. (2022, March 10). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-60672065
Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. IPCC. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-ii/
Readfearn, G. (2020 December 6). ‘Devastating’: more than 61,000 koalas among 3 billion animals affected by bushfire crisis. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/07/devastating-more-than-61000-koalas-among-3-billion-animals-affected-by-bushfire-crisis
Hannan, P. (2022, January 8). Australia ends 2021 with no region officially in drought after a year of wet weather. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/jan/08/australia-ends-2021-with-no-region-officially-in-drought-after-a-year-of-wet-weather
Previous droughts. (2022). Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved from http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/knowledge-centre/previous-droughts.
Morton, J. (2022, March 1). NZ Slow on climate adaptation as UN issues’ dire warning’. NZ Hearald. Retrieved from https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/nz-slow-on-climate-adaptation-as-un-issues-dire-warning/IJYFNB5YV56EMCWGONEY2BGZ5M/
BACKGROUND IMAGE CREDIT: “A Borrowed Planet” by Alisa Singer. Source: IPCC