Climate Change: Science and Solutions for Australia
Chapter 4: Climate change impacts 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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