Executive summary

Literature published since the IPCC Third Assessment Report confirms and extends its main findings (high confidence).

There is more extensive documentation of observed changes to natural systems, major advances in understanding potential future climate changes and impacts, more attention to the role of planned adaptation in reducing vulnerability, and assessments of key risks and benefits [11.1].

Regional climate change has occurred (very high confidence).

Since 1950, there has been 0.4 to 0.7°C warming, with more heatwaves, fewer frosts, more rain in north-west Australia and south-west New Zealand, less rain in southern and eastern Australia and north-eastern New Zealand, an increase in the intensity of Australian droughts, and a rise in sea level of about 70 mm [11.2.1].

Australia and New Zealand are already experiencing impacts from recent climate change (high confidence).

These are now evident in increasing stresses on water supply and agriculture, changed natural ecosystems, reduced seasonal snow cover, and glacier shrinkage [11.2.1, 11.2.3].

Some adaptation has already occurred in response to observed climate change (high confidence).

Examples come from sectors such as water, natural ecosystems, agriculture, horticulture and coasts [11.2.5]. However, ongoing vulnerability to extreme events is demonstrated by substantial economic losses caused by droughts, floods, fire, tropical cyclones and hail [11.2.2].

The climate of the 21st century is virtually certain to be warmer, with changes in extreme events.

Heatwaves and fires are virtually certain to increase in intensity and frequency (high confidence). Floods, landslides, droughts and storm surges are very likely to become more frequent and intense, and snow and frost are very likely to become less frequent (high confidence). Large areas of mainland Australia and eastern New Zealand are likely to have less soil moisture, although western New Zealand is likely to receive more rain (medium confidence) [11.3.1].

Potential impacts of climate change are likely to be substantial without further adaptation.

• As a result of reduced precipitation and increased evaporation, water security problems are projected to intensify by 2030 in southern and eastern Australia and, in New Zealand, in Northland and some eastern regions (high confidence) [11.4.1].

• Ongoing coastal development and population growth, in areas such as Cairns and south-east Queensland (Australia) and Northland to Bay of Plenty (New Zealand), are projected to exacerbate risks from sea-level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding by 2050 (high confidence) [11.4.5, 11.4.7].

• Significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically rich sites, including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland Wet Tropics. Other sites at risk include Kakadu wetlands, south-west Australia, sub-Antarctic islands and alpine areas of both countries (very high confidence) [11.4.2].

• Risks to major infrastructure are likely to increase. By 2030, design criteria for extreme events are very likely to be exceeded more frequently. Risks include failure of floodplain protection and urban drainage/sewerage, increased storm and fire damage, and more heatwaves, causing more deaths and more blackouts (high confidence) [11.4.1, 11.4.5, 11.4.7, 11.4.10, 11.4.11].

• Production from agriculture and forestry is projected to decline by 2030 over much of southern and eastern Australia, and over parts of eastern New Zealand, due to increased drought and fire. However, in New Zealand, initial benefits to agriculture and forestry are projected in western and southern areas and close to major rivers due to a longer growing season, less frost and increased rainfall (high confidence) [11.4.3, 11.4.4].

Vulnerability is likely to increase in many sectors, but this depends on adaptive capacity.

• Most human systems have considerable adaptive capacity: The region has well-developed economies, extensive scientific and technical capabilities, disaster mitigation strategies, and biosecurity measures. However, there are likely to be considerable cost and institutional constraints to the implementation of adaptation options (high confidence) [11.5]. Some Indigenous communities have low adaptive capacity (medium confidence) [11.4.8]. Water security and coastal communities are the most vulnerable sectors (high confidence) [11.7].

• Natural systems have limited adaptive capacity: Projected rates of climate change are very likely to exceed rates of evolutionary adaptation in many species (high confidence) [11.5]. Habitat loss and fragmentation are very likely to limit species migration in response to shifting climatic zones (high confidence) [11.2.5, 11.5].

• Vulnerability is likely to rise due to an increase in extreme events: Economic damage from extreme weather is very likely to increase and provide major challenges for adaptation (high confidence) [11.5].

• Vulnerability is likely to be high by 2050 in a few identified hotspots: In Australia, these include the Great Barrier Reef, eastern Queensland, the South-West, MurrayDarling Basin, the Alps and Kakadu wetlands; in New Zealand, these include the Bay of Plenty, Northland, eastern regions and the Southern Alps (medium confidence) [11.7].

11.1 Introduction

The region is defined here as the lands and territories of Australia and New Zealand. It includes their outlying tropical, mid-latitude and sub-Antarctic islands and the waters of their Exclusive Economic Zones. New Zealand's population was 4.1 million in 2006, growing by 1.6%/yr (Statistics New Zealand, 2006). Australia's population was 20.1 million in 2004, growing by 0.9%/yr (ABS, 2005a). Many of the social, cultural and economic aspects of the two countries are comparable. Both countries are relatively wealthy and have export-based economies largely dependent on natural resources, agriculture, manufacturing, mining and tourism. Many of these are climatically sensitive.

11.1.1 Summary of knowledge from the Third Assessment Report (TAR)

In the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR; Pittock and Wratt, 2001), the following impacts were assessed as important for Australia and New Zealand.

• Water resources are likely to become increasingly stressed in some areas of both countries, with rising competition for water supply.

• Warming is likely to threaten the survival of species in some natural ecosystems, notably in alpine regions, southwestern Australia, coral reefs and freshwater wetlands.

• Regional reductions in rainfall in south-west and inland Australia and eastern New Zealand are likely to make agricultural activities particularly vulnerable.

• Increasing coastal vulnerability to tropical cyclones, storm surges and sea-level rise.

• Increased frequency of high-intensity rainfall, which is likely to increase flood damage.

• The spread of some disease vectors is very likely, thereby increasing the potential for disease outbreaks, despite existing biosecurity and health services.

The overall conclusions of the TAR were that: (i) climate change is likely to add to existing stresses to the conservation of terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity and to achieving sustainable land use, and (ii) Australia has significant vulnerability to climate change expected over the next 100 years, whereas New Zealand appears more resilient, except in a few eastern areas.

11.1.2 New findings of this Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)

The scientific literature published since 2001 supports the TAR findings. Key differences from the TAR include (i) more extensive documentation of observed changes in natural systems consistent with global warming, (ii) significant advances in understanding potential future impacts on water, natural ecosystems, agriculture, coasts, Indigenous people and health, (iii) more attention to the role of adaptation, and (iv) identification of the most vulnerable sectors and hotspots. Vulnerability is given more attention - it is dependent on the exposure to climate change, the sensitivity of sectors to this exposure, and their capacity to adapt.

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