WILD WEATHER like heatwaves, bushfires and damaging storms are here to stay as climate change continues to disrupt weather systems across the globe.
The Climate Council’s Weather Gone Wildreport was released last week and highlights concerns around rising temperatures, an increasing severity of extreme weather, the economic impact of climate disasters and the need for an effective national climate policy.
It comes as the world continues to experience an upward swing in surface and ocean temperatures. Ballarat experienced its hottest weather on record last year, with maximum temperatures 1.3 degrees warmer than the long term average.
Head of Research at the Climate Council, Dr Martin Rice, said what was termed ‘wild weather’ was becoming the new normal as the effects of climate change have more of an impact.
“Ultimately climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of heatwaves, powerful storms, increasing intense rainfall events and more dangerous bushfire weather conditions,” he said.
“People in Victoria really are on the front line of climate change. Victoria is experiencing hotter, longer and more frequent heat waves. The future prediction is that they are the deadliest climatic and natural hazard in Australia.”
The report states the extreme weather events seen in 2018 were part of a trend of increasing wild weather as a result of increasing greenhouse gas pollution and other human activities like land clearing.
“Because of the burning of coal, oil and gas we are seeing a much more energetic and warmer climate system that is making many extreme weather events more frequent and more severe,” Dr Rice said.
In 2009, a heatwave was linked to 374 deaths with research indicating prolonged heatwaves were increasing the risk of cardiac arrests in vulnerable people.
“It’s quite a well-known phenomenon, particularly for people with existing conditions – the old and young are really vulnerable,” Dr Rice said.
He said this would also lead to changes to the ways we work, especially for roles like farm labourers and construction workers, who would be unable to work during the day with temperatures nudging 50 degrees.
Climate change affects us all and everyone has a responsibility to be part of the solution.Martin Rice
“In the future we will have to think about how we work and how to keep cool.”
And with increasing temperatures comes an increased risk of bushfires. The clear trend in increasing hot and dry conditions in the south east of the country will see a continuation of frequent extreme fire weather.
“With that comes implications for preparedness to respond to these climatic events and it puts an enormous strain on our emergency services, whether it's the firefighters tackling bushfires or it’s the medical practitioners at hospitals having to deal with the cardiac arrests and other heat-related illnesses,” he said.
And Australia’s summer sporting culture is not immune, with big ticket events like the Australian Open and Test Cricket, predicted to continue to be affected in the future.
“We have seen that climate change can affect the summer sports seasons when we have all of our major sporting events,” Dr Rice said.
“Climate change is making conditions much more hot and dry and that makes the playing surfaces much more solid, so therefore people are vulnerable to broken bones and heat stress from strenuous outdoor activities.”
The costs of extreme weather are having a huge economic impact. Last year the global economic losses were estimated to be $215 billion USD.
And in Australia, insurance companies paid out more than $1.2 billion in claims following extreme weather events in 2018, though that number represents just a small proportion of the impact of extreme weather on the Australian economy.
Dr Rice said Australia needed a national climate policy to effectively tackle the increasing effect of climate change.
At a local level, he said the region was proving it could tackle climate change, evident through the community-owned Hepburn Wind Farm, and both Hepburn Shire and Ballarat City councils joining the Cities Power Partnership.
He also cited the high uptake of household solar PV as being indicative of people taking personal action to mitigate climate change.
“Climate change affects us all and everyone has a responsibility to be part of the solution,” he said.
“It is important to stress that we do have the solutions at our disposal. Any credible climate policy leads to a rapid and deep reduction in greenhouse gas pollution. We must accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels to renewables and storage technology and also look at ways to decarbonise agriculture, transport and other sectors.”