The Climate Council recently published a new report - "Weather gone wild: Climate change-fuelled extreme weather in 2018". It discusses extreme weather globally as well as in Australia.
There are four key findings.
The first is that the past four years have been the four hottest on record for global surface temperature; this continues a long-term warming trend. In 2018 the global average surface temperature was between 0.9 and 1.1 degrees celsius above temperatures in the late 19th century. In Australia last year the surface air temperature was 1.14 degrees celsius above the 1961-1990 average. It was the third hottest year on record. And 2018 was the warmest on record in the oceans, surpassing the previous record set in 2017.
The second finding is that climate change is increasing the frequency and/or severity of extreme weather both globally and in Australia. These extreme events are occurring in an atmosphere that contains more energy than it did 50 years ago. In 2018 extreme weather included extreme heat in many parts of the Australia, as well as severe bushfires in New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. While intense rainfall led to flooding in north Queensland, southwestern Western Australia and Hobart in Tasmania, southern Australia was in drought.
Events in other parts of the world included intense hurricanes in the United States southeast and record-breaking wildfires in California. Scandinavia suffered from extreme heat and Sweden had severe fires while drought in South Africa created a water supply crisis in Capetown.
The third finding is that the impacts of extreme weather last year have been both damaging and costly. Economic losses associated with weather-related disasters are estimated at US $215 billion globally. In 2018 in Australia insurance payouts (only a small part of the total costs of extreme weather) were $1.2 billion following major extreme weather events.
And the current eastern Australian drought is likely to cut the country's GDP growth in 2018-19 by 0.75% or up to $12.5 billion.
All of these impacts have resulted in the fourth finding which relates to our nation's lack of an effective climate policy.
The Climate Council points out that Australia's current climate policy is "an abject failure, with greenhouse gas pollution increasing over the past four years." What is needed is a policy which drives down emissions across all sectors - electricity, transport, industry, agriculture and land use. This should be directed to reducing emissions by 45-65% below 2005 levels by 2030 "as recommended by the Climate Change Authority in 2015".
Australia is doing so poorly currently that it will fall short of its much weaker 2030 target of a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gas pollution below 2005 levels.
The message is very clear. Extreme weather events generated by climate change are increasing in both frequency and intensity. We need governments at all levels to accept this reality and to act urgently to cut drastically our greenhouse emissions.