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The challenge

Changes to the climate system have occurred and are likely to continue

The international scientific community accepts that increases in greenhouse gases due to human activity have been the dominant cause of observed global warming since the mid-20th century. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.

Australia's changing climate represents a significant challenge to individuals, communities, governments, businesses, industry and the environment. Australia has already experienced increases in average temperatures over the past 60 years, with more frequent hot weather, fewer cold days, shifting rainfall patterns and rising sea levels. More of the same is expected in the future.

Our response

The most comprehensive climate projections for Australia

We worked with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to produce the most comprehensive set of climate change projections for Australia ever released.

Map of the eight regions or 'clusters' for which climate change information has been assessed

The projections are presented for eight distinct regions of Australia, each of which will be affected differently by climate change.

The projections are based on data from up to 40 global climate models, developed by institutions around the world, that were driven by four greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions scenarios. Results have been prepared for 21 climate variables (both on the land and in the ocean) and for four 20-year time periods (centered on 2030, 2050, 2070 and 2090).

Our scientists use results from climate models that are based on established laws of physics. Confidence ratings for the projections are based on five lines of evidence:

  1. model reliability at simulating the past climate
  2. consistency between models regarding the projected magnitude and direction of change
  3. results from relevant downscaled projections
  4. evidence for plausible processes driving the simulated changes, and
  5. the level of consistency with trends in the observations.

The projections draw on the full breadth of available data and peer-reviewed literature to provide a robust assessment of the potential future climate.

[Music plays and image shows a computerised image of a spinning globe.  Text appears:  Global Climate Models]

Narrator:  Global climate models, which are based on the laws of physics, enable scientists to answer a range of questions about our climate.

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Like, what happens as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations rise?

[Text appears on screen:  Climate Change.  Greenhouse Gas Emissions]

Emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are a major driver of climate change.

[Image changes to show a graph and text appears:  Global Warming (°C)]

This graph shows global warming observed over the 20th Century.

[Text appears on graph:  Observations; Only natural changes]

If only naturally occurring factors, such as variations in the earth’s orbit, solar fluctuations and volcanic eruptions are included, climate model simulations of global temperature cannot match the observations.  Add the effect of increases in greenhouse gases to natural factors and the simulated warming agrees with observations.

[Text appears on graph:  Observations; Natural Factors + Greenhouse Gases]

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The extent to which we can restrict future emissions of greenhouse gases is unclear, so scientists explore possible future scenarios by running the models with different levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.  The output from each simulation provides projected changes for many aspects of climate, such as temperature, rainfall, and sea level]

[Text appears on animation:  Temperature; Rainfall; Sea Level]

[Image changes to show a graph and text appears:  2090 Projections – Intermediate Emissions – Temperature Rise]

Australia is likely to warm in future.  Higher emissions cause greater warming.

[Image changes to show a graph and text appears:  2090 Projections – Intermediate Emissions - Winter Rainfall Change]

Winter rainfall in southern Australia is likely to decline.  Most of the country is likely to experience more extreme daily rainfall.

[Image changes to show a graph and text appears:  Sea Level]

Sea levels are projected to increase at a faster rate than during the last century.

[Image changes to show various icons and text appears:  Government; Insurance; Infrastructure; Shopping; Agriculture]

Climate projections are being incorporated into the planning processes of governments and business.

Climate projections are helping us prepare for a climate that will be different from what we have experienced in the past.

[CSIRO logo appears with text:  Projecting Climate Change]

[Australian Government logo appears with text:  An Australian Government Initiative | Inspiring Australia]

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The results

Observed changes will continue into the future

Research has shown that most of the changes observed over recent decades will continue into the future. Projections suggest that for Australia:

Time series for Australian average temperature for 1910-2090 as simulated in the Couple Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), relative to the 1950-2005 mean. The central line is the median value, and the shading is the 10th and 90th percentile range of 20-year running means (inner) and single year values (outer).

The grey shading indicates the period of historical simulation while three future scenarios are shown with colour coded shading. RCP8.5 (Purple, high emissions), RCP4.5 (Blue, intermediate emissions) and RCP2.6 (green, low emissions). ACORN-SAT observations are shown in brown and a series from a typical global climate model is shown into the future in light purple.

Temperature projections for Australia from three different greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions scenarios.

  • hot days will become more frequent and hotter (very high confidence)
  • sea levels will rise (very high confidence)
  • oceans will become more acidic (very high confidence)
  • snow depths will decline (very high confidence)
  • extreme rainfall events will become more intense (high confidence).

Seasonal-average rainfall changes will vary across Australia.

  • In southern mainland Australia, winter and spring rainfall is projected to decrease (high confidence), but increases are projected for Tasmania in winter (medium confidence).
  • In eastern Australia, there is high confidence that in the near future (2030) natural variability will predominate over trends caused by greenhouse gas emissions. This means that while the trend is skewing the natural variability towards winter decreases, it will be relatively minor compared to the natural seasonal and annual changes, so continuing to manage for large natural variability will still be appropriate. For late in the century (2090), there is medium confidence in a winter rainfall decrease.
  • In northern Australia and northern inland areas, there is high confidence that in the near future (2030), natural variability will predominate over trends due to greenhouse gas emissions. There is low confidence in the direction of future rainfall change by late in the century (2090), but substantial changes to wet-season and annual rainfall cannot be ruled out.

The time in drought is projected to increase over southern Australia (high confidence).

There is high confidence in increasing potential evapotranspiration (atmospheric moisture demand).

There is high confidence in decreasing soil moisture from mid-century in the southern regions (particularly in winter and spring) driven by the projected decrease in rainfall and higher evaporative demand. There is medium confidence in decreasing soil moisture elsewhere in Australia where evaporative demand is projected to increase but the direction of rainfall change in uncertain.

Southern and eastern Australia are projected to experience harsher fire weather (high confidence).

Tropical cyclones may occur less often, but become more intense (medium confidence).

Projected changes will be superimposed on significant natural climate variability.

Using the results

The Climate Change in Australia website provides easy access to the projections information and data.

The website houses 14 interactive tools for exploring data; a data download facility; a technical report describing the data sources, methods, observed changes and projections; reports and brochures that summarise the results for eight regions of Australia; a brochure on Data Delivery; a brochure on projections for selected cities; a Climate Campus for learning more about climate science and using projections in impact assessments; an online training course; and other resources for decision makers and communicators.

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