ACCELERATING CLIMATE CHANGE is exacerbating drought conditions across parts of southern Australia, contributing to a wide range of physical and mental health issues, according to the Climate Council.
The 'Climate Change and Drought Factsheet' shows drought conditions have been officially declared in over 16% of New South Wales and nearly 58% of Queensland, with climate change contributing to extreme weather events including record temperatures and low rainfall, hitting the Australian agriculture sector hard.
"This report shows that Aussie farmers are on the frontline when it comes to facing the impacts of intensifying climate change," said Climate Councillor and ecologist Professor Lesley Hughes.
"This is a critical issue for farmers, their families and rural communities. Droughts are linked to wide-ranging health impacts, from nutrition to infectious diseases, along with mental health concerns," she said.
"We also know that worsening drought conditions have been linked to increased risk of suicidal behaviour, especially among male farmers."
"The combined impact of rising temperatures and declining rainfall means that time spent in drought conditions across southern Australia, such as what we are seeing now, will almost certainly worsen over the next few decades. Unless we take far more serious steps to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, climate change impacts will continue to accelerate beyond that."
KEY FINDINGS INCLUDE:
- Queensland and New South Wales are currently in the grip of severe drought, with drought declared for 16.4 percent of New South Wales and 57.6 percent of Queensland.
- Current drought conditions have followed a 2016/2017 summer characterised by record-breaking temperatures, and the preceding record dry winter. Rainfall over southern Australia during autumn 2018 was the second lowest on record.
- Climate change has contributed to a southward shift in weather systems that typically bring cool season rainfall to southern Australia. Since the 1970s late autumn and early winter rainfall has decreased by 15 percent in southeast Australia, and Western Australia's southwest region has experienced a 15 percent decline in cool season rainfall.
- Future drying trends in Australia will be most pronounced over southwest Western Australia, with total reductions in autumn and winter precipitation potentially as high as 50 percent by the late 21st century.
Climate Council Acting CEO Dr Martin Rice said climate change is also driving an increase in the intensity and frequency of hot days and heatwaves in Australia, exacerbating drought conditions.
"By 2030, winter and spring rainfall in southern Australia is projected to further drop by around 15 per cent," said Dr Rice.
Dr Rice said Australia's lack of strong and credible federal climate and energy policy was leaving Australians and the agriculture sector vulnerable to increasing extreme weather events.
"The ongoing burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas has led to rising greenhouse gas pollution levels in Australia," he said.
"To protect battling farmers on the front line of climate change from intensifying drought conditions, we must continue to transition away from polluting fossil fuels, towards the increased rollout of clean, affordable and reliable renewable energy and storage technology."