Climate change and natural disasters

Mar 29, 2022

We know that climate change is already making natural disasters worse. After the 2019/20 ‘Black Summer’ fires, climate scientists who work in the field of ‘attribution’ science found that the severe season was at least 30% more likely due to climate change. According to a report released by the United Nations Environment Program and environmental not-for-profit organisation GRID-Arendal in early 2022[1], as climate change continues to destablise global weather patterns, we can expect up to 50% more wildfires by the turn of the century.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability[2], highlights, yet again that not only is climate change impacting on natural disasters by super charging many individual events, it describes future scenarios of impacts as “an atlas of human suffering” with irreversible ecosystem damage, drought, fires, and floods increasing unless we take decisive action now to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

The ‘take home’ message of the report is:

‘Further climate change is inevitable, with the rate and magnitude of impact largely dependent on the emission reduction pathways that we choose. Time is running out if we want to act’.

The report says: “the scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

The Chapter on Australasia in the IPCC report has a considerable amount of detail on the likely impacts of continued global warming on future climate in Australia. The report looks at both observed impacts and predicted future impacts (applying a level of certainty to each of these).

Flooding and climate change

As noted by The Climate Council[3], the recent record-breaking deluge that has flooded towns and cities in Queensland and New South Wales is one of the most extreme disasters in Australian history.

They say that climate change is ‘firmly embedded’ in the 2022 flooding emergency.

  • The intense rainfall and floods devastating communities in Queensland and New South Wales is taking place in an atmosphere made warmer and wetter by climate change, which is driven by the burning of coal, oil, and gas.
  • The pattern of more intense rainfall events is well established in Australia. In recent decades, the intensity of short duration (hourly) extreme rainfall events has increased by 10 percent or more in some regions. Daily rainfall totals associated with thunderstorms have increased over the past 40 years.
  • For each 1 C rise in global average temperature, the atmosphere can hold approximately 7 percent more moisture. A warmer atmosphere also means there is more energy to fuel storms that generate heavy rainfall. These factors increase the likelihood of extreme downpours.
  • The higher that global temperatures rise, the worse such events become. Globally, the frequency of intense rainfall events is likely to almost double with each degree of further warming.

Solidarity after the floods

The news from south east Queensland and northern NSW is devastating. Among the harrowing stories of loss and destruction, there are many of mutual aid, solidarity, empathy and bravery.

As author Rebecca Solnit explained so beautifully in her book ‘A Paradise Built in Hell’, during and after disasters, it is the self initiative and self organising of affected communities that does some of the best work at emergency relief and long term recovery.

As the clean up gets underway, here are some ideas of local initiatives you may want to support.



Cover image: Aidan and Tim rescuing their neighbours in Lismore (Eddie Lloyd)