Climate change may overwhelm governments’ capacity to mitigate unless we act soon: UN climate report lead author

Extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, storms, and bushfires have caused deaths and injuries and affected many households.

Immediate action is required on global emissions or institutions and governance systems may find themselves overwhelmed in being able to manage climate impacts, Monash University’s Emeritus Professor Nigel Tapper has warned.

Professor Tapper, from the Monash School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment (EAE)

is a Chapter 11 lead author of the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, released today.

The Report comprises 18 Chapters with input from more than 250 scientists who are reviewing how climate change is affecting natural and human systems, future risks, approaches to adaptation and links to climate resilient development. Chapter 11 focuses on Australia and New Zealand.

“Projected global warming under current global emissions reduction policies will leave many of our region's human and natural systems at very high risk and some beyond adaptation limits,” Professor Tapper said.

“We’ve identified two emerging kinds of climate risk,” he said.

“One is the cascading and compounding impacts on cities, settlements, infrastructure, supply chains and services, due to events such as bushfires and heatwaves. And the other is the inability of institutions and governance systems to manage climate risks because the scale and scope of projected climate impacts may overwhelm the capacity to provide necessary policies, services, resources, and coordination to address the socio-economic impacts.”

Professor Tapper’s chapter confirms that exposure to climate trends and extreme events of many natural systems and some human systems, combined with their existing vulnerabilities, have already resulted in major impacts in Australia.

Extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, storms, and bushfires have caused deaths and injuries, and affected many households, communities, and businesses at considerable economic cost.

“Some of our iconic ecosystems face the greatest risk from current and future climate change,” Professor Tapper said.

“The greatest risk is for the loss and degradation of coral reefs and associated biodiversity and ecosystem service values in Australia due to ocean warming and marine heatwaves.”

Other key regional risks include; the loss of alpine biodiversity in Australia due to less snow, the transition or collapse of alpine ash, snow gum woodland, pencil pine and northern jarrah forests in southern Australia due to hotter and drier conditions with more fires, the further loss of underwater kelp forests in southern Australia that is driven by ocean warming and marine heatwaves, the loss of natural and human systems in low-lying coastal areas due to sea-level rise, the disruption in agricultural production and increased stress in rural communities in southern and eastern Australia due to hotter and drier conditions, and an increase in heat-related mortality and morbidity for people and wildlife due to heatwaves.

Professor Tapper said compared to the last IPCC assessment, the adaptation process in Australia had improved across governments, non-government organisations, businesses, and communities.

“Local government supported by state government is making impressive efforts to adapt to climate change and its impacts,” Professor Tapper said.

“Urban forests and irrigated vegetation are very good at reducing heat impacts and many local government areas have established targets for tree cover and integrated water management that can support healthy transpiring vegetation that can reduce temperature.

“But even with further improvements in the adaptation process, our ability to adapt our way out of trouble will be severely compromised without rapid decarbonisation to limit warming.”

Monash IPCC authors

Monash authors invited to represent Australia's contribution to current and previous IPCC reports include Shayne McGregor AR6 WG1, Nigel Tapper AR6 WG2, Andrew Mackintosh - Special Report on the Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, Julie Arblaster - AR5 WG1, Christian Jakob - AR5 WG1, Scott Power AR5 WG1, and Neville Nicholls - Special Report on Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation.

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