Climate Change: Science and Solutions for Australia

Chapter 4: Climate change impacts

Page 8 of 16

Evaporated lake bed. By Kevin Hennessy

The impacts of climate change are already clearly visible in Australia. Further impacts predicted to occur in the future will be experienced across all sectors of the economy and in all ecosystems.


Southern and eastern Australia’s water supply reliability is expected to decline as a result of reduced rainfall and increased evaporation, affecting irrigation, domestic and industrial water use, and environmental flows. This is likely to be accompanied by a growth in water demand due to population growth.

Development and population growth in Australia’s coastal regions will exacerbate the risks from sea-level rise and increase the likely severity and frequency of coastal flooding.

Significant losses of unique Australian animal and plant species are expected to occur in sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Queensland Wet Tropics, the Kakadu wetlands, south-west Australia, eastern alpine areas, and Australia’s sub-Antarctic islands, disrupting ecosystem function and causing the loss of ecosystem services.

The risks to infrastructure include the failure of urban drainage and sewerage systems, more blackouts, transport disruption, and greater building damage. Higher temperatures, altered groundwater and soil conditions, sea-level rise and changed rainfall regimes may also lead to accelerated degradation of materials.

Heatwaves, storms and floods are likely to have a direct impact on the health of Australians, such as causing an increase in heat-related deaths. Biological processes such as infectious diseases and physical processes such as air pollution may affect health indirectly; for example, by increasing exposure to dengue fever.

Moderate warming in the absence of rainfall declines can be beneficial to some agricultural crops, and higher levels of carbon dioxide can stimulate plant growth. However, these positive effects can be offset by changes in temperature, rainfall, pests, and the availability of nutrients. Production from cropping and livestock is projected to decline over much of southern Australia, as is the quality of grain, grape, vegetable, fruit, and other crops.

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Climate Change - Mr Kevin Hennessy


The projected impacts of climate change will effect a number of sectors, including water resources, agriculture, infrastructure, and health.

In the water sector we anticipate a decline in water availability, particularly in southern and eastern Australia in the future, and this will have significant implications for water resource management in the areas of urban water, water for environmental flows, irrigation, and for industry.

Impacts on agriculture will be mixed, firstly because an increase in carbon dioxide has a fertilizing effect for plants, so without other climate change this would be a beneficial effect. However with climate change, in particular warmer conditions and maybe drier conditions, we would anticipate those initial benefits to be offset. So in the areas of, for example, pasture growth, or livestock, we would expect there to be a decline in productivity overall, and for things like viticulture, we would expect grape quality to decline in a warmer climate.

Another example of impacts is particularly in the area of extreme weather events and emergency management. We anticipate that there will be an increase in heatwaves, an increase in extreme rainfall events, and also an extreme in tropical cyclone intensity, all of which would lead to significant challenges for emergency management.