Climate change impacts in Australia

Climate change impacts in Australia - what the IPCC 4th Assessment Report has found:
  • Eight mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef since 1979, triggered by unusually high sea surface temperatures, and no serious events known prior to 1979 [11.2.3.]
  • Predictions of a phase switch to algal dominance on the Great Barrier Reef in 2030 to 2050 (After bleaching, algae quickly colonise dead corals, possibly inhibiting later coral recruitment) [Box 4.4].
  • Saltwater intrusion into freshwater swamps since 1950s in Northern Territory accelerating since 1980s possibly associated with sea level and precipitation changes [11.2.3]
  • Extensive loss/conversion of habitat in Kakadu wetland due to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion with temperature increase of 2.8°C above pre-industrial levels [Table 4.1].
  • Southern and eastern Australia: Semi-arid and arid areas will suffer a decrease of water resources [3.4, 3.7].
  • Water security: Reduction in water supply for irrigation, cities, industry and riverine environment in those areas where streamflow declines, e.g. in the Murray-Darling Basin annual mean flow may drop 10-25% by 2050 [Table 11.7].
  • The frequency of bird-breeding events in the Macquarie Marshes (Murray-Darling basin) is predicted to decrease with reduced streamflow, as breeding requires a certain minimum annual flow [3.5.1].
  • In alpine zones, reductions in duration and depth of snow cover are likely to alter distributions of communities, favouring an expansion of woody vegetation into herbfields. More fires are likely in alpine peatlands. Alpine vertebrates dependent on snow cover for hibernation are likely to be at risk of extinction [11.7].
  • Observed range expansions up in elevation due to increased temperature of three Macropods and four feral mammal [1.3.5.2].
  • Amphibian extinction on mountains due to climate-change induced disease outbreaks with temperature increase of 0.6°C above pre-industrial levels [Table 4.1].
  • 47% of appropriate habitat in Queensland lost with temperature increase of 1.9°C above pre-industrial levels7-14% of reptiles, 8-18% of frogs, 7-10% of birds, and 10-15% of mammals committed to extinction [Table 4.1].
  • Up to about year 2050, enhanced growing conditions from higher carbon dioxide concentrations, longer growing seasons and less frost risk are likely for agriculture, horticulture and forestry over parts of southern Australia, provided adequate water is available (high confidence) [11.4.3, 11.4.4].
  • Floods, landslides, droughts and storm surges are very likely to become more frequent and intense, and snow and frost are likely to become less frequent [11.3.1].
  • Coastal inundation and erosion, especially in regions exposed to cyclones and storm surges. Coastal development is exacerbating the climate risks (e.g. tropical and southeast Queensland) [Table 11.7]
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Queensland, Australia.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Jürgen FREUND
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Queensland, Australia.
© WWF-Canon / Jürgen FREUND

WWF contacts

  • Richard Leck

    Climate Change Strategy Leader - Coral Triangle

    WWF Australia,
    Sydney Main

    +61 7 3211 2521

  • Richard McLellan

    Director, Footprint

    WWF International,
    Gland

    +41 22 364 9228

WWF work

What WWF is doing on the ground in Australia to protect against climate change:
Great Barrier Reef:
  • WWF's campaign helped create the world's largest network of marine sanctuaries, covering over 11 million hectares.
  • WWF is working to build the resilience of the Reef by reducing land based sources of pollution. Around 700 reefs are threatened by pollutants such as fertiliser, pesticides and sediment from farming activity along the coast.
  • In partnership with the tourism industry, WWF has raised the profile of the social and economic consequences to local communities and industries along the Reef coast from climate change.
  • WWF continues to advocate at the highest level of industry and government for significant reductions in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

Species
  • WWF has produced several information packages/tool kits to inform public, politicians, public servants and community groups how to build resilience in threatened species and habitats including a kit on building resilience in threatened species and habitats
  • Protect costal and wetland habitat of migratory and resident shorebirds - produced data and a toolkit to protect these crucial areas from climate change impacts such as sea level rise
  •  Conserving the Macquarie Perch - under threat due to reduction of winter and spring rainfall
  • Conserving the Giant Barred Frog - protecting and rehabilitating the Giant Barred frog habitat

Weeds
  • WWF are working to reduce weeds and invasive that are thriving as a result of climate change. Including giving land managers the information they need to help halt the spread of Phytophthora in South West Australia.

Climate Witnesses

WWF runs the Climate Witness programme to collect people's local observations of climate change that are then verified by scientists.
John Rumney, of Port Douglas, runs an adventure diving business for tourists, which provides funding for a multitude of research projects on the Great Barrier Reef. John is concerned about the impact of global warming on the reef and the effect this has on local community and businesses.
In 1995, when Hugh Innes was 18, his farming family lost everything they owned.  The prolonged and severe drought ended a way of life that the Innes family had known and loved for three generations.  Hugh also noticed changes in the length and timing of the seasons which damaged any feed that might have been available for their cattle to survive the drought.

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