Australia has long been known as "the land of drought and rain of floods" Dorothea Mackellar. Despite the uncertain challenges of climate patterns, rural Australians are some of the most resilient, innovative and productive farmers on the planet.
But another challenge has arrived. The severe drought currently gripping most of Australia's rural and regional areas has been exacerbated by climate change. This challenge threatens the health and productivity of our rural sector, and the resilience of ecosystems across the continent.
The Climate Council's latest report, Floods and Droughts: Australian Water Security in Climate Change, explaining how climate change affects Australia's water cycle, its impact on the Australian region, the agricultural sector, and bushes, and what we expect in the future.
South Australia has felt the effects of climate change. Winter rainfall has declined 15 percent over the past two or three decades. This decrease has a multiplier effect on streams and rivers. The flow of flows in the Murray-Darling Basin has decreased 41 percent during the same period.
Southwest Western Australia also experienced a large decline in rainfall – around 19 percent since the 1970s, with the rate of decline increasing to 25 percent from the mid-1990s.
Severe droughts, such as the 1997-2009 Millennium Drought, have always hit Australia, but climate change is making them worse. Drought is now occurring in a climate hotter than a century ago, increasing pressure on plants, animals and humans. In southern Australia, the decline in long-term rainfall, possibly driven by climate change, has made the drought even worse.
Greenhouse gas pollution, especially from coal, oil and gas combustion, is the driver of this change, and Australia is one of the worst per capita polluters in the world. In the absence of credible energy and climate policies, Australia's pollution level has increased for three consecutive years.
What is in store for regional Australia? The decline in winter rainfall in southern Australia is likely to continue, droughts will occur in hotter conditions, and extreme rainfall can become more frequent. But short-term solutions to these problems will ultimately be in vain without rapid action to tackle climate change in Australia and around the world.
Professor Will Steffen is a member of the climate council and researcher at the Australian National University (ANU)