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As the driest inhabited continent, Australia is highly vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. The summer bushfires of 2019–20 in a tinder-dry country, or the three severe coral bleaching events within five years that caused a loss of over 50% of hard coral cover in the shallow waters of the Great Barrier Reef, demonstrate some of the consequences of a warming planet for Australia’s people, economy and environment.
Multiple lines of evidence show that the incidence of extreme weather events will increase as the planet warms. Such events are a natural feature of the climate system, but there is strong evidence that many of them, such as heatwaves, bushfires, storms and coastal flooding, have become more frequent and intense in recent times. These extremes and their risks are likely to escalate as global temperatures continue to rise and our capacity to respond becomes compromised as the frequency increases.
This report synthesises the observed impacts of climate change on Australia and the risk to our future of the current global trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. It focuses on the consequences of 3°C of global warming in the absence of greater mitigation strategies for four areas of importance to Australia’s future: our ecosystems, food production, cities and towns, and health and wellbeing. The impacts of those changes on the lives and wellbeing of Australians are discussed in detail.