Climate Change in Australia and New Zealand

Climate change in Australia and New Zealand spells an increase in water resource problems in both in southern and eastern Australia and, in New Zealand, in Northland and some eastern regions.

“Significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically-rich sites including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland Wet Tropics. Other sites at risk include Kakadu wetlands, south-west Australia, sub-Antarctic islands and the alpine areas of both countries.

Ongoing coastal development and population growth in areas such as Cairns and Southeast Queensland (Australia) and Northland to Bay of Plenty (New Zealand), are projected to exacerbate risks from sea-level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding by 2050.

Production from agriculture and forestry by 2030 is projected to decline over much of southern and eastern Australia, and over parts of eastern New Zealand, due to increased drought and fire. However, in New Zealand, initial benefits to agriculture and forestry are projected in western and southern areas and close to major rivers due to a longer growing season, less frost and increased rainfall.

The region has substantial adaptive capacity due to well-developed economies and scientific and technical capabilities, but there are considerable constraints to implementation and major challenges from changes in extreme events. Natural systems have limited adaptive capacity." (Working Group II Contribution to the IPCC, 4th Assessment Report, Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Summary for Policy Makers.)



Based on the CSIRO (2001) projected mean temperature change scenarios, the average number of days over 35°C each summer in Melbourne would increase from 8 at present to 9 to 12 by 2030 and 10 to 20 by 2070 (CSIRO, 2001). In Perth, such hot days would rise from 15 at present to 16 to 22 by 2030 and 18 to 39 by 2070 (CSIRO, 2001). On the other hand, cold days become much less frequent. For example, Canberra’s current 44 winter days of minimum temperature below 0°C is projected to be 30 to 42 by 2030 and 6 to 38 by 2070 (CSIRO, 2001).

Snow Cover

Australia: The likelihood that precipitation will fall as snow will decrease as temperature rises. Modelling of snowfall and snow cover in the Australian Alps projects temperature and precipitation changes very marked reductions in snow. The total alpine area with at least 30 days of snow cover decreases 14 to 54% by 2020, and 30 to 93% by 2050.

New Zealand: Because of projected increased winter precipitation over the southern Alps, it is less clear that mountain snow will be reduced in New Zealand.

Latest Research

“Australia is experiencing more high temperature extremes, particularly a significant increase in the number of warm nights and heat waves. There was a significant increase in the duration of heat waves in Australia from 1957 to 1999 and increased temperature extremes”(1).

“An exceptional heat wave affected south-eastern Australia during Jan-Feb 2009. Many records were set for day and night time temperatures and duration of extreme heat”(2).

“Record high temperatures for February were set over 87% of Victoria on Feb 712. Seven of the eight highest temperatures on record in Tasmania occurred during this heat wave. Adelaide experienced its warmest night on record with a minimum temperature of 33.9ºC on Jan 29(3)”.

A report in 2007, developed by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology through the Australian Climate Change Science Program, provides the most up to date assessment of Australia’s changing climate. (CSIRO, Australian Bureau of Meteorology. 2007. Climate change in Australia: technical report 2007. CSIRO. 148 pp.

The key findings of this report includes that by 2030, temperatures will rise by about 1 ºC over Australia – a little less in coastal areas, and a little more inland – later in the century, warming depends on the extent of greenhouse gas emissions. If emissions are low, warming of between 1 ºC and 2.5 ºC is likely by around 2070, with a best estimate of 1.8 ºC. Under a high emission scenario, the best estimate warming is 3.4 ºC, with a range of 2.2 ºC to 5 ºC.

Further, the report indicates there will be changes in temperature extremes, with fewer frosts and substantially more days over 35 ºC.

It also predicts that decreases in annual average rainfall are likely in southern Australia – rainfall is likely to decrease in southern areas during winter, in southern and eastern areas during spring, and along the west coast during autumn. For 2030, there will be little annual rainfall change in the far north.

As with temperature, the report indicates that rainfall projections for later in the century are more dependent on greenhouse gas emissions. Under a low emission scenario in 2070, the best estimate of rainfall decrease is 7.5 per cent. Under a high emission scenario the best estimate is a decrease of 10 per cent.

The report indicates that although there will be more dry days, when it does rain, rainfall is likely to be more intense.

Other findings include:

– droughts are likely to become more frequent, particularly in the south-west

– evaporation rates are likely to increase, particularly in the north and east.

-high-fire-danger weather is likely to increase in the south-east

-tropical cyclones are likely to become more intense

-sea levels will continue to rise.

Australian Leadership

The previous Prime Minister, John Howard claimed that “to call climate change the overwhelming moral challenge for this generation is misguided, or even misleading”.

This was one of the saddest moment in Mr Howard’s commentary on climate change, and shows he simply did not understand the basic connection between economics and the environment. It also underscores his climate scepticism and flew in the face of hard science provided by agencies like; the International Panel on Climate Change, the Stern Report, and even the science provided by his own departments e.g. the CSIRO, the Australian Greenhouse Office and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The current Rudd Government came to power on the back of a climate vote but so far (apart from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol) has delivered very little more than the previous government in terms of tackling climate change. The coal fired economy continues to belch smoke and nothing much is happening on the renewable energy front compared to other countries. The ‘market’ will take care of everything approach is not going to work. Climate change is a moral challenge, what we do today impacts on future generations and reduces their opportunity. Guess we could take the same approach to herion use, and say the market will take care of supply and demand. Sure it would, but our society would be much worse off. Strong and resolute leadership is required to make the changes required.

As clearly stated in the Stern Report, we simply cannot afford NOT to address climate change. In Australia and if we moved to 25% renewable energy, household electricity bills would rise by just $1.23 a week (A Bright Future, Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Greenpeace and the Climate Change Action Network (CCAN)).

The CCAN report is quite accurate. The report says that by setting a renewable energy target of 25 per cent by the year 2020 we would deliver more than 16,000 new jobs, slash greenhouse gas emissions by 69 million tonnes and generate $33 billion in investment. Too bad the Australian Government whimped out on this one!

As an Australian, and if you happened upon this site, I urge you to consider the 3 Step Climate Action Plan; take personal responsibility, motivate our leaders and communicate the urgency for climate action. The 2007 election and change to a Labor government proves that Australians do care! We encourage all Australians to adopt the 3 Step Climate Action Plan.

Australians – Top Polluters

Within the Asia Pacific region, Australia makes a disproportionate contribution to climate change as the highest per capita greenhouse polluter in the industrialised world. Despite our relatively modest population, the average Australian produces more greenhouse pollution, uses more energy and has historically contributed more to the build-up in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than the average person in any other country in the region.

On average, Australians create more then eight times the greenhouse pollution per person than the average Chinese person, and have contributed more than 170 times the amount of greenhouse pollution to the atmosphere than a Bangladeshi.

Australia’s total emissions are comparable to Indonesia, a country of over 200 million people, though Australia’s population is only one-tenth the size.

While Australia is highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, we have more resources and expertise and therefore greater resilience to cope with and respond to natural disasters, unlike many of our neighbours in the Asia Pacific region. Climate Change in Australia and New Zealand, Climate Change in Australia and New Zealand, Climate Change in Australia and New Zealand, Climate Change in Australia and New Zealand Climate Change i
n Australia and New Zealand


1. Alexander L, Arblaster, JM (2009) Assessing trends in observed and modelled climate extremes over Australia in relation to future projections. Int. J. climatol. 29: 417-435, doi: 10.1002/joc.1730

2. Waugh DZ, Oman L, Kawa SR, Stolarski RS, Pawson S, Douglass AR, Newman PA, Nielsen JE (2009), Impacts of climate change on stratospheric ozone recovery, Geophys. Res. Lett, doi: 10.1029/2008GL036223

3. National Climate Centre (2009) The exceptional January-February 2009 heatwave in south-eastern Australia, Special Climate Statement 17, Bureau of Meteorology, (updated 12 February)