24 Mar 2014

Australia will keep heating up - IPCC

10:55 am on 24 March 2014

The latest United Nations report card on the impacts of climate change predicts Australia will continue to get hotter.

The ABC has obtained drafts of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Scientists believe the world is still on track to become more than two degrees Celsius warmer - and that potentially means whole ecosystems could be wiped out, the ABC says.

The upcoming report includes 310 lead authors from 73 different nationalities. Australian scientists are heavily involved as authors and reviewers of the working group reports.

Increasing temperatures will mean more losses from bushfires.

Increasing temperatures will mean more losses from bushfires. Photo: AFP

Lesley Hughes, the lead author of the paper on Australasia, says Australia "punches above its weight".

"We are disproportionately a larger group than you might otherwise think based on our population in the IPCC authorship team," she said.

"We have a lot of scientists working on climate change issues and that is because we see Australia as being particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change."

The reports take up to five years to produce, undergoing a rigorous review process.

For example, 48,000 review comments were received on the upcoming report.

Professor Hughes told the ABC the process was not really a matter of achieving consensus but rather was about evaluating the evidence. The Australasia chapter alone has 1000 references.

"They are certainly the largest reports ever produced on climate change and its associated risks but I think probably some of the most careful documents put together anywhere," she said.

Chapter 25 of the IPCC's report has identified eight potential risks for Australia:

  • The possibility of widespread and permanent damage to coral reef systems - particularly the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo in Western Australia.
  • Some native species could be wiped out.
  • The chance of more frequent flooding causing damage to key infrastructure.
  • In some areas, unprecedented rising sea levels could inundate low-lying areas.
  • While in others, bushfires could result in significant economic losses.
  • More frequent heatwaves and temperatures may lead to increased morbidity - especially among the elderly.
  • And those same rising temperatures could put constraints on water resources.
  • Farmers also could face significant drops in agriculture - especially in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The report said the worst-case scenario for the Murray-Darling Basin, south-east and south-west Australia would mean a significant drop in agricultural production, as much as 40 percent.