Australia faces more intense and frequent heatwaves, wildfires, cyclones and floods, with climate change becoming a threat to national security, a think-tank warned Tuesday.
The impacts of global warming were already making themselves felt, much faster and with greater ferocity than anticipated, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said.
A record-breaking heatwave killed 374 Australians in January, with another 173 perishing in the devastating February firestorm which flattened entire towns and razed more than 2,000 homes, ASPI said.
“As a result of climate change disasters are likely to become larger, more complex, occur simultaneously and in regions that have either not experienced the natural hazard previously or at the same intensity or frequency,” said report author Athol Yates.
Climate change could cause water shortages, increase disease and lead to widespread damage to property and critical infrastructure — much of which was already “ageing and stressed”, said Yates.
Flooding, coastal erosion and storm surges could batter the country’s heavily-populated east coast, while droughts and fire risk were likely to grow inland, he wrote.
“The latest detailed assessment of the impacts of climate change in Australia notes that the climate system is changing faster than earlier thought likely, with more costly and dangerous impacts,” said Yates.
Australia’s average annual losses from natural disasters already stood at one billion dollars, and action was needed on issues such as climate-resilient construction and land use, he said.
The health and emergency response systems were currently ill-equipped to cope with such demand, and the national government needed to step in “in the same way it has done in recent years with counter-terrorism”, Yates said.
“Acknowledging climate change as a threat to the homeland will add urgency to the issue of climate change adaptation and pose questions for long-term defence,” he added.