IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Australia and New Zealand

The region is already experiencing impacts from recent climate change, and adaptation has started in some sectors and regions (high confidence).

Since 1950 there has been a 0.3 to 0.7°C warming in the region, with more heatwaves, fewer frosts, more rain in north-western Australia and south-western New Zealand, less rain in southern and eastern Australia and north-eastern New Zealand, an increase in the intensity of Australian droughts, and a rise in sea level of 70 mm [11.2.1]. Impacts are now evident in water supply and agriculture, changed natural ecosystems, reduced seasonal snow cover and glacier shrinkage [11.2.2, 11.2.3]. Some adaptation has occurred in sectors such as water, agriculture, horticulture and coasts [11.2.5].

The climate of the 21st century is virtually certain to be warmer, with changes in extreme events (medium to high confidence).

Heatwaves and fires are virtually certain to increase in intensity and frequency (high confidence) [11.3]. Floods, landslides, droughts and storm surges are very likely to become more frequent and intense, and snow and frost are likely to become less frequent (high confidence) [11.3.1]. Large areas of mainland Australia and eastern New Zealand are likely to have less soil moisture, although western New Zealand is likely to receive more rain (medium confidence) [11.3].

Without further adaptation, potential impacts of climate change are likely to be substantial (high confidence).

  • As a result of reduced precipitation and increased evaporation, water security problems are very likely to intensify by 2030 in southern and eastern Australia and, in New Zealand, in Northland and some eastern regions [11.4.1].
  • Significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically rich sites including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland Wet Tropics. Other sites at risk include Kakadu Wetlands, south-west Australia, sub-Antarctic islands and the alpine areas of both countries [11.4.2].
  • Ongoing coastal development and population growth in areas such as Cairns and south-east Queensland (Australia) and Northland to Bay of Plenty (New Zealand) are projected to exacerbate risks from sea-level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding by 2050 [11.4.5, 11.4.7].
  • Risks to major infrastructure are likely to markedly increase. By 2030, design criteria for extreme events are very likely to be exceeded more frequently. These risks include the failure of flood protection and urban drainage/sewerage, increased storm and fire damage, and more heatwaves causing more deaths and more black-outs [11.4.1, 11.4.5, 11.4.7, 11.4.10, 11.4.11].
  • Production from agriculture and forestry is projected to decline by 2030 over much of southern and eastern Australia, and over parts of eastern New Zealand, due to increased drought and fire. However, in New Zealand, initial benefits to agriculture and forestry are projected in western and southern areas and close to major rivers due to a longer growing season, less frost and increased rainfall [11.4.3, 11.4.4].

Vulnerability is likely to increase in many sectors, but this depends on adaptive capacity.

  • Most human systems have considerable adaptive capacity. The region has well-developed economies, extensive scientific and technical capabilities, disaster-mitigation strategies, and biosecurity measures. However, there are likely to be considerable cost and institutional constraints to the implementation of adaptation options (high confidence) [11.5]. Some Indigenous communities have low adaptive capacity (medium confidence) [11.4.8]. Water security and coastal communities are most vulnerable (high confidence) [11.7].
  • Natural systems have limited adaptive capacity. Projected rates of climate change are very likely to exceed rates of evolutionary adaptation in many species (high confidence) [11.5]. Habitat loss and fragmentation are very likely to limit species migration in response to shifting climatic zones (high confidence) [11.2.5, 11.5].
  • Vulnerability is likely to rise as a consequence of an increase in extreme events. Economic damage from extreme weather is very likely to increase and provide major challenges for adaptation (high confidence) [11.5].
  • Vulnerability is likely to be high by 2050 in a few identified hotspots (see Figure TS.12). In Australia, these include the Great Barrier Reef, eastern Queensland, the south-west, Murray-Darling Basin, the Alps and Kakadu; in New Zealand, these include the Bay of Plenty, Northland, eastern regions and the Southern Alps (medium confidence) [11.7].

Figure TS.12

Figure TS.12. Key hotspots in Australia and New Zealand, based on the following criteria: large impacts, low adaptive capacity, substantial population, economically important, substantial exposed infrastructure, and subject to other major stresses (e.g., continued rapid population growth, ongoing development, ongoing land degradation, ongoing habitat loss and threats from rising sea level). [11.7]