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Climate Change Could Cost Australia Billions, Report Says

Firemen put out bushfire flames in Red Gully, Western Australia
Firemen put out bushfire flames in Red Gully, Western Australia

Australia is failing to keep up with the growing threat of extreme weather as global warming increases the risk in areas once thought to be safe, according to a new report.

Australia is a land well used to nature’s extremes. It is the world’s driest inhabited continent, where droughts can last for years. The Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 were the most intense on record. Heatwaves are by far its deadliest natural hazard.

A new report by the Climate Council, an independent non-profit organization, says the cost of extreme weather in Australia has almost doubled since the 1970s.

It is warning the financial consequences of fires, floods, droughts, storms and sea level rises linked to climate change could soar, potentially costing the country's economy up to $76 billion every year by 2038.

Robert Glasser, the former special representative for disaster risk reduction for the United Nations secretary-general, said Australia must make fundamental changes to planning new developments.

“We will be building the equivalent of roads and homes in flood zones and areas of extreme fire danger, and when those hazards strike the damage will be severe,” he said. “The second reason -- increasingly important -- is climate change because we are now seeing that the places exposed to these hazards is shifting, the frequency and severity of the hazards are being amplified by climate change, and so you combine these two factors and we see the projections of increased impacts.”

The year 2020 began in flames and ended with floods. It was Australia's fourth-warmest year on record, while 2019 was the hottest and driest ever documented.

While per capita levels of greenhouse gases are among the highest in the world, the center right government insists its environmental policies are responsible. Coal generates about 70% of Australia’s electricity, but conservationists believe this sunny, windy and innovative nation should be a green energy powerhouse.

The Climate Council report states that without stronger action it becomes impossible for Australia “to act consistently” with the goals of the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change.

In October, an official inquiry into the Black Summer bushfires warned Australia would, in the future, face “compounding disasters” -- where bushfires, floods and storms struck at the same time, or one after another.