Background Information for Teachers
Carbon pollution is causing the world’s climate to change, resulting in extreme weather, higher temperatures, more droughts, and rising sea levels. Eleven of the past 12 years rank among the warmest years since records began and Australia has experienced warmer-than-average mean average temperatures for 16 of the past 18 years. As one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia’s economy and environment will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change if we don’t act now.
(Source: Australian Government, Impact of Climate Change Fact Sheet, December 2008)
Many types of activity undertaken by people in their daily lives at work, home, school and play can adversely affect the environment and may be sources of carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. One of the ways that industry can affect the environment is through the emission of carbon pollution – whether in pure form or contained in other matter and/or in solid, liquid or gaseous form. Emissions can be separated into emissions to air, land and water. An example of how emissions to water can have environmental effects is when elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus enter the waterways and ultimately the coastal and then marine environment causing enhanced algal growth. This may eventually become blue-green algal blooms which can affect humans through contact or consumption.
Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Australia’s net greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors totalled 576.0 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-e) I 2006 under the accounting provisions applying to Australia’s 108% Kyoto emissions target. Emissions in 2006 were 5.2% above 1990 levels.
The energy sector was the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions comprising 69.6% of emissions followed by agriculture (15.6%) and land use change and forestry sectors (6.9%). The industrial processes ($.9%) and the waste sectors contributed (2.9%).
Carbon dioxide is the most important of the greenhouse gases in Australia’s inventory worth a share of 74.3% (427.8Mt) of the total CO2-e emissions, followed by methane, which comprises 20.5% (118.3Mt CO2-e). The remaining gases make up 5.2% (30.0Mt CO2-e) of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The Australian National Greenhouse Accounts are accessible online through the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System www.climatechange.gov.au/inventory
(Source: Australian Government, Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fact Sheet, December 2008)
Why should Australians try to reduce and manage carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions?
Climate change is projected to increase the severity and frequency of many natural disasters, such as bushfires, cyclones, hailstorms and floods.
As an island continent, Australia is highly vulnerable to sea-level rises and storm surges resulting from climate change, with significant coastal erosion and damage to infrastructure anticipated. 711,000 addresses and many billions of dollars worth of assets are at risk from rising sea levels and changes in storm surges.
An increase in the frequency and severity of drought conditions resulting from climate change will reduce the availability of water. The frequency of drought may increase by up to 20 per cent over most of Australia by 2030 – and up to 40 per cent in south-east Australia and 80% in south-west Australia by 2070.
Changes in rainfall combined with increased potential evaporation are expected to result in reduced runoff across most of Australia. In some cases reductions could be severe. For example by 2050, average streamflow is projected to drop 7-35 per cent in Melbourne, 10-25 per cent in the Murray-darling Badin and 31 per cent in the Stirling catchment in Western Australia.
The changing climate will threaten agricultural production. Irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin could decline by up to 92 per cent. If the temperature rises by 2 degrees, our national livestock carrying capacity is projected to decrease by 40 per cent.
Climate change is expected to cause more heat-related deaths and a higher incidence of disease from flood and water-borne contaminants. Temperature rises, combined with an ageing population, are projected to see 3000-5000 more people die each year from eat-related illnesses by 2050, with those living in temperate cities at greater risk. The threat from vector borne diseases will increase. For example, the transmission of Dengue Fever may spread south to Brisbane by 2100.
Climate change is also expected to affect our infrastructure. For example, when combined with expected population growth and internal migration, changes in temperatures and rainfall are expected to increase road maintenance costs by 30 per cent by 2100.
Flora and fauna
As well as its effects on people, Australia’s native plants and animals are also likely to suffer as a result of climate change, with a drastic reduction of the extent and quality of their habitats. A temperature rise of 2.1 degrees to 2.19 degrees could see the geographical ranges of 83 per cent of species reduced by at least 50 per cent. A 5 degrees increase could result in a loss of up to 90 to 100 per cent of the core habitat for most native invertebrates. Our ecologically rich sites, such as the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland wet Tropics, Kakadu wetlands, Australian Alpine areas, south-western Australia and Sub-Antarctic Islands are all at risk.
(Source: Australian Government, Impacts of Climate Change Fact Sheet, December 2008)
Measures to reduce emissions
Australian industries, homes, schools and communities are trying to reduce emissions to reduce waste and keep environmental resources healthy. By working together, industries, researchers, conservationists and the government have introduced technologies and innovations, including changes to practices, which have reduced carbon pollution and emissions of greenhouse gas emissions.
Approaches to reducing carbon pollution and emissions of greenhouse gas emissions can involve:
(i) Keeping track of emissions of greenhouse gas emissions over time, from a range of different sources and on a geographical basis;
(ii) Using the emissions information to inform government decision making about environmental planning and management, and to reduce emissions; and
(iii) Making the emissions information available to all sectors of the community so that everyone can help to reduce carbon pollution.
There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
It is important to keep looking for new and better ways of reducing carbon pollution and emissions of greenhouse gas emissions, to benefit people and the environment. Sharing information on solutions is an important step toward reducing carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale.