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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

What Is Australia's 2.5°C Climate Reality?

Although climate scientists keep raising the alarm, most politicians and senior bureaucrats are ignoring the fact that global warming is accelerating. Last year the world breached 1.5°C of warming for the first time ever, and this February we hit a new high of 1.77°C above pre-industrial temperatures. But we've heard nothing about this from our Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. In 2023, I went on a #ClimateHungerStrike outside Australia's Parliament House to raise the alarm. But our Government isn't listening or acting seriously on climate change. In fact, it keeps approving and promoting coal and gas projects that contribute to global emissions and heating.

Thankfully, one high profile climate politician did just raise a flag. On National Public Radio this week, outgoing US Special Climate Envoy, John Kerry said, "point-blank ... we're heading towards 2.5°C". Kerry is one of the world's most well-briefed politicians on the climate. So he'd know what he was talking about when he said 2.5°C is clearly no longer a future academic scenario. It is a climate reality that many of us alive today will face if emissions don't turn around and come down fast.

With feedback loops increasingly kicking in, the consequences are going to be devastating. So what exactly do we have to prepare for? And what do we have to hold our Government accountable for?

Biodiversity Loss and Ecosystem Collapse: A 2.5°C warmer world will spell disaster for global biodiversity. Many species, unable to adapt quickly to changing temperatures, are already facing extinction. Entire ecosystems will be disrupted, leading to cascading effects that compromise the important services that the environment provides, like pollination and water purification, for example. The Great Barrier Reef is an ecosystem already under tremendous stress. It will be long-gone at 2.5°C.

Increased Frequency and Intensity of Extreme Weather: Heatwaves will become much more intense and last longer, pushing human and natural systems to their limits. Similarly, cyclones, storms and flooding will grow in intensity, with higher wind speeds and more precipitation extremes, leading to greater and more unpredictable destruction and loss of life. The Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 offer a grim preview of more frequent and intense wildfire seasons that we will experience. Another warning occurred just this week when ocean temperatures off Sydney exceeded the level necessary for cyclones to form.

Sea Level Rise: Melting of ice caps and glaciers will accelerate rising sea levels, threatening coastal communities with serious flooding and erosion. This will displace millions of people in our region and exacerbate geopolitical tensions as people migrate from inundated areas like Indonesia, the Mekong Delta and the Pacific. Here in Australia, Kakadu's World Heritage Wetlands will be flooded and destroyed with salt water and our coastal communities and iconic Sydney beaches will suffer severe erosion and inundation. The houses washing into the sea at Collaroy are a tiny taste of what's to come.

Agricultural Stress and Food Security: Climate shifts will significantly harm agricultural productivity at a global level, leading to frequent food shortages and increased prices. Many parts of the world will no longer be able to support farming - including large areas of Australia. Regions already vulnerable to food insecurity will face heightened risks, compounding malnutrition and hunger. Poorer people will be worst effected, but everyone will suffer from the flow-on effects.

Water Scarcity: As precipitation patterns change, many regions will experience severe drought, affecting access to fresh water for drinking, sanitation, and irrigation. This scarcity will pose a direct threat to human health and lead to conflicts over water resources. In Australia's Murray-Darling Basin, which is already experiencing reduced water availability, harsher and more prolonged droughts will threaten agriculture, community water supplies, and the whole ecosystem's health.

Health Crises: Human disease epidemics will spread as warming temperatures enable vectors, like mosquitoes, to expand into new areas. Heatwaves will lead to a rise in heat-related illnesses. Wet bulb temperature events, which combine extreme heat and high humidity will create acute conditions dangerous for human survival, and potentially kill hundreds of thousands of people who have no access to air-conditioning. Bushfires and dust storms will degrade air quality and worsen respiratory diseases.

Facing the reality of a 2.5°C warmer world, it's clear that the cost of inaction will be far too high. Australia isn't immune. And as a wealthy country and significant contributor to global emissions, we have a particular responsibility to act now and set the example. Every fraction of a degree in global warming averted can save lives, preserve biodiversity, and secure a safe future for current and future generations.

Coastal erosion at Collaroy in Sydney's northern beaches. Photo thanks to ABC News.

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