Australia could take massive economic hit from climate-fuelled extreme weather, report warns

Extreme weather events linked to climate change could cost the Australian economy $100 billion every year in the not-too-distant future, according to a new report.

RFS volunteers and NSW Fire and Rescue officers fight a bushfire south of Sydney

Presentations for respiratory issues were higher in 2019/20 than the previous two fire seasons Source: AAP

Extreme weather events linked to climate change will become an increasingly common part of Australian life in the decades to come, a new report by the Climate Council warns.

The cost of extreme weather in Australia has already almost doubled since the 1970s, and totalled $35 billion over the past decade, according to the report released on Wednesday.

The Climate Council says the impact of fires, floods, droughts, storms and sea level rise linked to climate change could skyrocket into the future, potentially costing the country's economy up to $100 billion every year by 2038.


The report's lead author, Professor Will Steffen, told SBS News that last summer’s Black Summer bushfires showed what happened when the climate reached a “tipping point”.

He said similar events would likely happen with increasing frequency.

“We can’t expect extreme events to increase in a smooth linear fashion, they could jump up at an extremely fast rate at any time, these are the risks we are taking as climate change continues,” Professor Steffen said.

He said studies had shown that Australians were five times more likely to face physical displacement due to climate disasters than their European counterparts.

“But it’s important to note our Pacific Island neighbours face 100 times the displacement risk than Europeans. That displacement risk is only likely to increase for both them and for us,” he said.

Dr Robert Glasser, the United Nations Secretary General’s former Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, said Australia should be concerned about the impact of climate change on both the country and the region.

The report warns that devastating fires like those in Black Summer will become all the more common.
Thirty-four people died and more than five million hectares were burnt over six months during Black Summer. Source: AAP

“We are also vulnerable because we are right on the doorstep of one of the most populous regions in the world. There are over 400 million people just in maritime Southeast Asia to our north, predominantly in these densely populated low-lying countries that are extremely vulnerable to climate change, sea level rise and storm surge,” he told SBS News.

“So their problems are going to cascade and affect our security as a country in this region,”.  

Federal government urged to act

Dr Glasser said the Australian government needed to take stronger action on reducing the country's greenhouse gas emissions, and advocate for other nations to do more.

He said the country also had to drastically step up its ability to respond to major climate disasters.

“Australians are very resilient, but what we now need to do is scale it up, take it to another level. Because the sorts of hazards that strike us now and into the future will be record setting, unprecedented fires, storms and floods. We need to move from adaptation to transformation,” he said.

Professor Steffen said Australia had to half its emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2040.

“That’s what we need to do - the science is very clear on that - and a lot of technologies are now coming into place to make those goals feasible. What’s stopping us is ideology, politics and vested interests,” he said.

3 min read
Published 27 January 2021 at 5:31am
By Jarni Blakkarly
Source: SBS