A New Horizon For a Sustainable Future
How will communities be hardened to prepare for greater bushfire and flood risk? How will farmers respond to shifting rainfall patterns and changing growing seasons? Will household, business and government insurance change to take into account predicted impacts? All climate change adaptation considerations we need to acknowledge now, according to CEO of Green Cross Australia Mara Bun.
By Mara Bun CEO of Green Cross Australia
The choices we make as we adapt to a changing climate have the potential to significantly mitigate the risk of future warming. According to CSIRO, “Australia is likely to become warmer, with less rainfall and more droughts in the south, uncertain rainfall changes in the north, more heatwaves, less snow, more fires, more heavy rainfall events and more intense cyclones.”
According to UCAR (a US non-profit consortium of research universities, on behalf of the National Science Foundation and the university community, including Australia’s ANU), an estimated 0.5° C increase in average temperatures is built into the climate system already due to accumulated greenhouse emissions. NCAR backs CSIRO’s impact predictions:
Higher temperatures: Warming of about 0.2° Celsius is projected for the next two decades. If emissions continue to grow various computer models predict that Earth’s average temperature will rise between 1.8° and 4.0° Celsius (3.2° and 7.2° F) over the 21st century.
• More rain: global average precipitation will most likely increase by about 3-5% with a minimum increase of at least 1% and a maximum increase of about 8%.
• Rising seas: By the year 2100, models predict sea level will rise between about 20 and 50 cm (8 to 20 inches) above late 20th Century levels.
• Severe weather intensity: Some climate scientists believe that hurricanes, typhoons, and other tropical cyclones will change as a result of global warming. Warm ocean surface waters are expected intensify of storms, and some scientists believe there will be a higher proportion of the most powerful and destructive storms (other scientists remain unconvinced on this one)
• Plants and animals: Climate change will alter many aspects of biological systems and the global carbon cycle. Temperature changes will alter the natural ranges of many types of plants and animals, both wild and domesticated. There will also be changes to the lengths of growing seasons, geographical ranges of plants, and frost dates.
As Australians respond to each of these impact areas, choices will be made that either refuel the greenhouse cycle with CO2 intensive approaches, or begin to cut future warming impacts by reducing our carbon footprint as we adjust to new climate realities.
Adaptation efforts are small, you might argue, compared to more decisive efforts to change our energy mix.
But consider the magnitude of adaptation choices we will confront over coming decades.
How will we respond when our roads and train infrastructure buckle under predicted growth in very hot days?
How will we cope with more extreme heat days? How will our coastal infrastructure respond to severe weather risks? What about the growing storm surge risk especially as king tides sweep onto higher sea levels?
How will communities be hardened to prepare for greater bushfire and flood risk? How will farmers respond to shifting rainfall patterns and changing growing seasons? Will household, business and government insurance change to take into account predicted impacts?
How will design, planning and building standards change in line with future climate risk profiles?
How about the choices we have to make, including these:
- Each time a heat wave hits an Australian community, choices will be made about how to adapt – switch the aircon to high regardless of greenhouse consequences, or invest in renewable energy sources and more energy efficient appliances, or swelter through with open windows.
- Each time a flood or fire hits a community they will build back – using energy intensive materials and appliances or low emissions approaches.
- Each time we build a sea wall to protect a beach community, we get to choose whether to use conventional cement or novel materials, possibly produced in more efficient manufacturing plants.
- Farmers forced to respond to shifting rainfall and new growing seasons can maintain traditional practices or shift to carbon farming.