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Australian climate change observations

Australian climate change observations

Key points

  • Australia is experiencing the effects of global climate change.
  • Our average land and sea temperatures have increased.
  • Despite large natural variation we are also seeing changes to rainfall patterns, increased fire danger, and rising sea levels. 
  • Most of the changes observed over recent decades will continue and worsen in the future. 

Evidence of warming in Australia

Australia’s climate has warmed since national records began in 1910. 

Australia's average temperature has increased on average by 1.44 ± 0.24 °C since national records began in 1910. Since 1950, every decade has been warmer than the decade before. Both day and night-time temperatures have increased. 

Australia’s warmest year on record was 2019, with the temperature 1.52°C above average. Very high monthly maximum temperatures that occurred 2% of the time in 1960–1989, occurred 4% of the time during 1990-2004 and now occur 12% of the time (2005–2019).

Oceans around Australia have warmed by around 1°C since 1910.

Evidence of other climate related changes in Australia

Australia is also experiencing the following changes.

Changes to rainfall patterns

Rainfall is decreasing in southern Australia during the cooler months. Rainfall in Australia’s southwest and southeast has been below average in 17 of the past 20 years. Rainfall has increased across most of northern Australia since the 1970s.

Increased fire danger

In ‘fire weather’, low humidity, high temperatures and high winds increase the risk of bushfires. The number and length of periods of dangerous fire weather has increased since the 1950s, especially in southern Australia. The risk of fire has also increased because of the lightning associated with increased numbers of storms.

Increased extreme events

The intensity of heavy rainfall events has increased by 10% or more since 1979. Both the duration and frequency of heatwaves has increased since 1970. In the past decade, hot weather records have occurred 3 times more often than cold weather records.

Sea level rise

As an island, Australia is affected by global sea level change. The rates of sea level rise have been higher than the global average in Australia’s north and southeast.

Current outlook for Australia

Most of the changes observed over recent decades will continue into the future. Projections suggest that for Australia:

  • hot days will become hotter and more frequent 
  • the time in drought will increase across southern Australia
  • snow depths will decline 
  • extreme rainfall events will become more intense 
  • sea levels will rise 
  • oceans will become more acidic.

The NSW and Australian Regional Climate Modelling (NARCliM) project provides regional climate projections of future changes in temperature, wind and rainfall across NSW and the ACT. This will help us to plan for the impacts of climate change on health, settlements, agriculture, weather extremes and services, such as water and energy supplies.

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