3 April 2013 – [UPDATED 11.56 AM] Climate change is already increasing the intensity and frequency of many extreme weather events with significant risks for Australians, the Climate Commission has found in a new report released today (Wednesday), as fire and emergency services prepare to strengthen their response.

Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne said it was time for both Labor and the Coalition to get serious about climate change.

Recent extreme weather events had cost Australia dearly: the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, $4.4 billion; the 2010/11 Queensland floods over $5 billion; Cyclone Yasi – $1.6 billion.

Yet Prime Minister Julia Gillard had abolished the Climate Change Department and defunded the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.

A statement from the Climate Commission warned that:

  • Australia’s southeast, including many of our largest population centres, stands out as being at increased risk from many extreme weather events – heatwaves, drought, bushfires and coastal flooding
  • Key food-growing regions across the south-east and the south-west are likely to experience more droughts in the future
  • There is a high risk that extreme weather like heatwaves, heavy rainfall, bushfires, droughts and cyclones will become even more severe over the coming decades, increasing the risks of adverse consequences to human health, agriculture, infrastructure and the environment
  • Only strong preventative action, reducing greenhouse gas emissions deeply and swiftly, can gradually halt the trend to more extreme weather.

Chief Commissioner Tim Flannery said record breaking weather was now the norm.

Report author Will Steffen said climate change was making “many extreme events worse in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment.

“We are very concerned that the risk of more frequent and more severe extreme weather events is increasing as we continue to emit more and more greenhouse gases,” Professor Steffen said.

The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the peak body for emergency services, said: “Fire and emergency service agencies need to plan strategically to identify how they would cope with the projected increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather.”

The report draws upon the latest research and observations from bodies including the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia’s leading universities and their counterparts overseas.

The Greens say enough is enough

Australian Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne said the report should end climate denial and put higher greenhouse reduction targets and adaptation to existing warming on the political agenda.

“Every year as Australians suffer more extreme heat waves, floods, fires and storms, there is a chorus of denial that the intensity or frequency of the events is linked to climate change. Every year these events are described as one-offs or one in a hundred years.

“This must now stop. Climate change is real and urgent. It’s why the Greens drove leadership on climate action during this period of government, with the clean energy package being a direct result of the Greens’ agreement with the Gillard Government.

“The heat is now on Tony Abbott. Australians deserve leadership that anticipates natural disasters and works to avoid extreme weather events, not bring them on.

“Now is not the time for Tony Abbott to abandon the 41,000 gwh target for the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target or tear down the whole clean energy package including the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, nor is it the time for Prime Minister Gillard to abolish the Climate Change Department or defund the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.

“The Government and Coalition need to restore funding for whole-of-government planning on climate change, and come clean on who will pay for the ever increasing damages bill.

“They need to restore funding to the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, and increase funding for the National Disaster Resilience Program, as well as pledge support for a higher greenhouse gas reduction target.

“The cost of not acting on climate change is greater than the cost of acting.

“The report highlights that billions of dollars are spent in reconstruction after natural disasters – the cost of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires cost Victoria an estimated $4.4 billion; the 2010/11 Queensland floods over $5 billion; Cyclone Yasi – $1.6 billion. And worse, people lose their lives, their homes, and their businesses.”

The Greens established the Senate Inquiry into extreme weather events to identify the gaps in our preparedness for the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, Senator Milne said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the report showed evidence was piling up that “not only is climate change a long-term threat, but it is already underway, and we are seeing the results in more frequent and more severe extreme weather, like bushfires and heatwaves.

“Climate change is putting our weather on steroids. We have just been through Australia’s hottest summer ever, with 123 records broken in 90 days. We had Australia’s hottest day ever. We had bushfires in Victoria in late March. Climate change is already happening, and its effects are permanent,” Mr Mohr said.