Australia will face 50C summer days unless more action is taken on climate change

More than 206 weather records have been broken in just 90 days in Australia. But worse is yet to come, with 50C summer days tipped, according to a Climate Council report.

In just 90 days, more than 206 climate records were broken across Australia, including record-high summer temperatures, record-low rainfall, and record high temperatures across states and territories - according to a report by the Climate Council of Australia.

But the worst is yet to come, with the report saying that major capital cities like Sydney and Melbourne set to record 50C summer days as the norm by the end of the century.

Meanwhile, major regional centres in New South Wales’ central west are set to face worsening heatwaves, droughts and bushfires.

Firefighters battle to contain a fire at Currowan.
Source: NSW RFS

The report warns that the health and well-being of all Australians are at risk, as heatwaves have severe impacts on human health like heat exhaustion or even cardiovascular failure.

It warns that the 2009 heatwave resulted in at least 500 excess deaths across Melbourne and Adelaide.

Dr Kate Charlesworth, a public health physician, says we need to be more aware of the health issues we are facing due to climate change. 

"Just as we spoke up on asbestos and tobacco control, we have a duty of care to speak up on climate change," she said.

"Bushfire smoke does contain carcinogens, particulate matter, carbon monoxides, and those other things ... and they are extremely harmful to human health, that's the equivalent of smoking 40 cigarettes a day."

Robert Lee, lives on a farm near the NSW regional centre of Orange and says he’s been anxious about the way the climate is changing for more than 15 years.

“We have never seen a drought as bad as this. In 2018, we sold one-third of our cows, and again this year we sold another third. Once we are through the next calving, we will get out altogether and run just sheep,” he said.

Robert Lee lives on a farm near Orange and is calling for urgent climate action.
Source: Supplied: Climate Council of Australia

He's calling on the Australian government to recognise the real concerns many farmers have and to take action to promote new, renewable industries.

“Australia needs to take serious, credible action on climate change. Renewable energy is an investment in the future, an opportunity that could create a lot of industries in regional areas like the Central West,” he said.

CEO of the Climate Council Amanda McKenzie said the current catastrophic events unfolding across Australia are not normal. 

“We have seen temperature records smashed, bushfires in winter and a prolonged drought," she said.

"Climate change is influencing all of these things. It is only the beginning of summer, which means the biggest danger period may yet be to come,”

These unusual weather patterns are affecting both regional and city-dwelling Australians.

For the third year in a row, the current prolonged drought across eastern Australia is threatening crops, with crop production forecast to drop by 20 per cent in 2019-20.

The report is urging the Australian government to take more action on the climate crisis, and contribute to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Robert Lee on his farm near Orange.
Source: Supplied: Climate Council of Australia

Mr Lee said the government needs to make up for years of inaction with some drastic changes in policy. 

“I get very frustrated when I think about all the time we have wasted. Now it is time to act, to ensure Australians have a safe climate and a modern economy, now and into the future,” he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting above-average maximum temperatures for most of Australia this summer, with the drought set to continue as eastern Australia prepares for drier than average weather.

Published 3 December 2019 at 5:37pm
By Antoinette Radford, Jennifer Scherer