Australia’s climate change hotspots

Mainstream science tells us that Australia’s level of exposure and sensitivity to the impacts of climate change is high. Growth in carbon pollution is expected to have a severe and costly impact on agriculture, infrastructure, biodiversity and ecosystems in Australia.

Some of Australia’s most environmentally iconic and biodiverse areas such as south-western Australia, Kakadu, the wet tropics and the alpine regions are at significant risk.
 / ©: WWF-Australia

Map showing climate change hotpsots around Australia.
This map provides a summary of Australia’s climate change hotspots, followed by more detailed scientific analysis from the IPCC 4th Assessment report of climate change impacts in Australia.
Climate change impacts in Australia – what the IPCC 4th Assessment Report has found:

  • Eight mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef since 1979, triggered by unusually high sea surface temperatures, and no serious events known prior to 1979 [11.2.3.]
  • Predictions of a phase switch to algal dominance on the Great Barrier Reef from 2030 to 2050 (after bleaching, algae quickly colonise dead corals, possibly inhibiting later coral recruitment) [Box 4.4]
  • Saltwater intrusion into freshwater swamps since the 1950s in the Northern Territory has accelerated since the 1980s, possibly associated with sea level and precipitation changes [11.2.3]
  • Extensive loss/conversion of habitat in Kakadu wetlands due to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion, with temperature increases of 2.8°C above pre-industrial levels [Table 4.1]
  • Semi-arid and arid areas of southern and eastern Australia suffering a decline in water resources [3.4, 3.7]
  • Reduced water supply for irrigation, cities, industry and riverine environments in those areas where streamflow declines, e.g. in the Murray-Darling Basin annual mean flow may drop 10–25% by 2050 [Table 11.7]
  • The frequency of bird-breeding events in the Macquarie Marshes (Murray-Darling Basin) is predicted to decrease with reduced streamflow, as breeding requires a certain minimum annual flow [3.5.1]
  • In alpine zones, reductions in the duration and depth of snow cover are likely to alter distributions of communities, favouring an expansion of woody vegetation into herb fields. More fires are also likely in alpine peatlands and alpine vertebrates dependent on snow cover for hibernation are likely to be at risk of extinction [11.7]
  • Observed range expansions up in elevation due  to  increased temperature of three macropods and four feral mammals []
  • Amphibian extinction on mountains due to climate-change induced disease outbreaks, with temperature increases of 0.6°C above pre-industrial levels [Table 4.1]
  • 47% of appropriate habitat in Queensland lost with temperature increase of 1.9°C above pre-industrial levels: 7–14% of reptiles, 8–18% of frogs, 7–10% of birds and 10–15% of mammals committed to extinction [Table 4.1]
  • Up to about the year 2050, enhanced growing conditions from higher carbon dioxide concentrations, longer growing seasons and less frost risk are likely for agriculture, horticulture and forestry over parts of southern Australia, provided adequate water is available [11.4.3, 11.4.4]
  • 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 [11.3.1]
  • Coastal inundation and erosion, especially in regions exposed to cyclones and storm surges. Coastal development is exacerbating the climate risks (e.g. tropical and southeast Queensland) [Table 11.7 ]