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Journal article

Australian climate extremes at 1.5 °C and 2 °C of global warming

15 May 2017

To avoid more severe impacts from climate change, there is international agreement to strive to limit warming to below 1.5 °C. However, there is a lack of literature assessing climate change at 1.5 °C and the potential benefits in terms of reduced frequency of extreme events. Here, we demonstrate that existing model simulations provide a basis for rapid and rigorous analysis of the effects of different levels of warming on large-scale climate extremes, using Australia as a case study. We show that limiting warming to 1.5 °C, relative to 2 °C, would perceptibly reduce the frequency of extreme heat events in Australia. The Australian continent experiences a variety of high-impact climate extremes that result in loss of life, and economic and environmental damage. Events similar to the record-hot summer of 2012–2013 and warm seas associated with bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 would be substantially less likely, by about 25% in both cases, if warming is kept to lower levels. The benefits of limiting warming on hydrometeorological extremes are less clear. This study provides a framework for analysing climate extremes at 1.5 °C global warming.

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