Now is exactly the time we should take climate action
Monday was Australia’s hottest day in recorded history - the average temperature across the entire country topped 40 degrees celcius.
On Tuesday the Bureau of Meteorology added a new colour to their temperature bar so that areas set to experience temperatures in excess of 50 degrees celcius can be represented on their forecast map.
And yesterday bushfires continue to rage in regional towns across south east Australia. The question of whether climate change will cause more extreme weather has been answered by an overwhelming majority of scientists - and this summer it has again been corroborated by our experience. On Monday the Prime Minister made the connection, issuing the following statement: “we do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions.” This is no longer the question we should be asking.
There are a new set of questions that we all need to face, and fast. They are questions that young Australians, and those who care about them, ask themselves all the time.
The world has already warmed 0.8 degrees, but we’re currently on track for a staggering temperature rise of 4 degrees by the end of the century. If temperatures are already soaring above 50 degrees, how high will they climb in 50 years time? Or in 2100, when our grandchildren will be having children of their own?
The question of how climate change will transform Australia and the world during our own lifetimes, and our children’s lifetimes, is a frightening one to ask - but it’s one that we can’t afford to avoid any longer.
If we fail to stabilise the global climate, the scientific evidence shows that days of extreme heat in Australia will markedly increase over the coming decades. By 2100, the Climate Commission predicts that days over 35 degrees will triple in Melbourne, and increase from 9 days per year to a staggering 312 in Darwin.
This dramatic increase in extreme hot weather will have a devastating impact on our health, environment, and economy.
Extreme heat increases the stress on our hospitals, damages infrastructure like roads, and destroys livestock and crops. It increases power demand and drives up the price of electricity, decreases worked productivity, and increases the risk of bushfires. It even increases the rate of crime - especially homicide.
And it puts those who are vulnerable in our society at risk. Between 1803 and 1992, heat waves caused more deaths in Australia than either tropical cyclones or floods - and as early as 2020 the number of heat related deaths in Australians over 65 is expected to more than double.
The next question we have to ask is whether we still have a window in which we can act, and avoid the worst case scenarios. The short answer is yes - but we must act now. Not by 2020, not over the next few years - now.
According to the IPCC, the leading global authority on climate science, we must peak emissions by 2015 if we are to stabilise our climate and keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees. Peaking emissions will require a rapid transition to renewable energy, but we do have the technology and solutions needed. And in Australia, we have the potential to lead the way, with a recent UNSW study showing that we could power Australia 100% with renewable energy by 2020.
We do still have the ability to avoid the worst impacts of climate change - and as events in the past week have reminded us, nothing could be more important for the future of young Australians.
Lucy Manne and Kirsty Albion are the National Co-Directors of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the peak national body for young people on Climate Change.
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