Heatwaves have always been part of life in South Australia — unfortunately for the Tour Down Under cyclists, generally the week they’re riding.
The warnings are familiar: keep cool, stay indoors, drink plenty of water, and look out for family, friends and the elderly.
But the Australian Institute’s latest report, Heatwatch Adelaide, shows an alarming future for Adelaide when it comes to extreme heat if we don’t get climate change under control.
Heatwatch Adelaide stresses that, without strong climate-change policy to bring Australian carbon pollution down as part of global efforts, the heat will be stronger, longer and more dangerous.
For example, Adelaide’s eastern suburbs have historically experienced 2.6 days over 40C each year. With no meaningful response to climate change, this is projected to increase to up to 14 days by 2070, with up to 27 extreme heat days over 35C by as soon as 2030.
The western suburbs have historically experienced 3.8 days over 40C each year. Continuing to pay nothing but lip service to climate change will see this increase by up to 20 days by 2070 and we can expect over a month — 36 days every year — of temperatures over 35C by 2030.
But the greatest impacts from climate inaction will be felt by our grandkids and future generations. In the western suburbs, meaningful action on climate change would reduce the number of over-35C extreme-heat days in 2090 by 30 days, from 68 days a to just 38 days.
Climate change and health challenges are intrinsically linked; the World Health Organisation has described climate change as “the defining health challenge of the 21st century”.
And major heatwaves have been dubbed the “silent killer”, causing more deaths in the last century in Australia than all other natural disasters put together.
It’s not just our health that is suffering; the cost of lost productivity because of extreme heat in Australia has been estimated at almost $7 billion in 2013-14 alone.
It’s not just in industries such as construction that see their productivity severely affected by extreme heat, it’s also businesses impacted by a loss of customers or a need to use more energy, as well as infrastructure that buckles under the impact of extreme heat.
This is why it is so crucial Australia has a strong and effective climate change policy.
If a carbon-intensive rich country such as Australia doesn’t take real action, how can we expect poorer countries to do so?
This opinion piece was first published in the The Advertiser on Friday, 18 January 2019.