The changes in the natural environment are coupled with significant social, economic and political changes.
The impacts of climate change are deep and wide and handling climate change related matters is complex. Climate change is one of the greatest environmental, social, economic and political challenges of our time.
Can we find a balanced approach to national and global climate change adaptation and mitigation to ensure a low carbon future where society is prosperous and safe, the economy is strong and the environment is protected?
In Australia, climate change has become a major focus of government and public attention. We already have some indication of the potential impacts and costs to our industries, environment, people and infrastructure.
As a country where more than 90 per cent of the population lives on the coast, rising sea levels are a major threat endangering 711 000 addresses that lie within three kilometres of the coast. Weather-related disasters and bushfires are increasingly damaging our water, energy, transport, buildings and telecommunications infrastructure. Heat stress and climate related diseases pose increasing health risks.
Primary industries are some of the most sensitive sectors to the changes in rainfall, temperature and other climate factors. Agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries contribute to approximately three per cent of the Australian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 14 per cent—$31 billion—of Australia's total industry exports.
Australia has large coal, gas and uranium reserves and as a result, is now the world’s largest coal exporter, second largest uranium exporter and a major LNG exporter. Mining contributes to approximately eight per cent of GDP but almost 43 per cent—$117 billion—of Australia's total industry exports. This is a challenging context for developing an effective climate change policy framework. [CSIRO]
How can we ensure that the impact of climate policies is equitable to all key groups in society?
How far are growth and sustainability compatible?
The rest of the world is also under stress, but some countries are more vulnerable than others. Poor countries that are already fragile and whose economies are dependent on agriculture are under greater threat. Countries unable to adapt to the impact of climate change could experience social and political upheaval.
Wealth will not provide protection from all impacts. Rich and poor countries will be affected by extreme weather events. Even those spared by disaster will feel the consequences indirectly through global connectedness of markets.
The security of people and nations rests on food, energy, water and climate. They are all interrelated and all under increasing pressure. Climate change is not just an environmental issue; it has significant economic, social and political implications.
Does this situation threaten to create large-scale humanitarian crises in the future?
Can industrialised countries carry the economic and political weight of climate change for the rest of the world?