A healthy and stable climate underpins all life on Earth, supporting nature and people alike. Our lives depend on the natural environment to deliver the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the clothes we wear and the products that create jobs and economic security.

But our climate is rapidly changing, threatening people, wildlife and the places we love. 

What is climate change?

Climate change is the large-scale and long-term shift in the average temperature and weather patterns over an observable period on both regional and global scales.

There are different climates worldwide, such as tropical, dry and moderate. As a large country, Australia has a variety of climates. The climate of an area determines its seasons and when they come and go. This, in turn, affects the type of plants that grow and which animals survive. The species and places we love depend on intricate ecosystems, and even small changes to the climate can disrupt the delicate balance of nature.

While Earth’s climate has been constantly changing, the last 200 years have seen it change at a rate that has not been seen in the past 10,000 years. Some of these shifts can be naturally occurring, occasionally altering due to changes in the sun’s activity or significant volcanic eruptions. However, the term is widely accepted to refer specifically to human-made changes to the climate.

The science is clear. Human activities have been responsible for nearly all global warming over the past 200 years, primarily by burning fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas.

Sadly, the effects of climate change are not equal, and it is the communities that contribute the least to human-induced climate change and the ecosystems upon which they depend that bear the worst of the impacts.

We need immediate and ambitious actions to do everything possible to keep global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Antarctica 2008-2009 - Lemaire Channel
© Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus

What is the difference between global warming and climate change?

While the terms are often used interchangeably, global warming is just one aspect of climate change.

Global warming refers to the long-term increase of the Earth’s surface temperatures caused by the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

This increased surface temperature leads to noticeable changes in our climate - not just in warmer land and ocean temperatures. Other changes to the environment include rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers and sea-ice, shifts in plant blooming times and an increase in extreme weather events. This broader range of changes is what we refer to as climate change.

So, while the two terms are related, climate change encompasses the broader effects of global warming. 

Learn more about global warming

Effects of climate change

The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events like fires, floods and droughts are just some of the most visible effects of climate change. However, its impact goes much deeper and has a much more widespread effect on all life on this planet.
Infographic showing the interactions between climate change, nature and people
A kookaburra surveys its destroyed home after a bushfire passed through Wallabi Point, NSW.
Kookaburra after a bushfire, Wallabi Point, NSW © Adam Stevenson


Extreme weather events like bushfires, floods, and coral bleaching push wildlife and their habitats to their limits.

Nearly 3 billion animals were impacted by the devastating 2019-20 bushfires, and Australia currently has the highest mammal extinction rate in the world.

The effects of climate change are even reaching the coldest corners of Antarctica, where the warming climate has led to sea-ice melting at record-breaking rates – putting the entire Southern Ocean ecosystem and the survival of animals like whales, emperor penguins and krill at risk.

Climate change will continue to multiply the threats wildlife face – further degrading their habitats, increasing the spread of wildlife disease and impacting their overall well-being.

WWF-Australia works with communities, governments and industries to address the causes of climate change while also supporting ecosystems and the people who depend upon them to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Regenerate Nature by 2030
Nerolyn, a community facilitator dives for sea grapes in Solomon Islands
Nerolyn, a community facilitator dives for sea grapes in Solomon Islands © WWF-Australia / Hanna Helsingen

People and communities

As humans, every aspect of our lives relies on the natural environment. Climate change affects our health, cultures, ability to produce food, housing, safety and livelihoods.

Sadly, the people who contributed least to the problem are being hit the hardest by climate change. This includes people in the Pacific and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia.

The continuous rise of sea levels and saltwater encroaching further inland are already forcing entire communities to relocate. In the future, the number of people displaced by climate change is expected to grow.

But these communities aren’t drowning,; they’re fighting! Leaders across First Nations and the Pacific are driving the global push for action, including a treaty to phase out fossil fuels. WWF is proud to stand with the Blue Pacific in advocating for the end of fossil fuels and other strong climate actions.

WWF also works with Indigenous and local communities globally to support nature-based solutions that benefit people, nature and climate.

Nature-based solutions
Coral bleaching on the Southern Great Barrer Reef © theundertow.ocean & @diversforclimate


Our oceans are home to wonderous marine wildlife and play an essential role as ‘carbon sinks’ by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the water. However, increasing water temperatures and higher carbon dioxide concentrations in our oceans make them more acidic and disrupt the delicate balance of our marine ecosystems.

Underwater heatwaves have led to mass coral bleaching events on our iconic Great Barrier Reef. Scientists predict that if we don’t significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we could lose over 90% of the world’s coral reefs by 2050. This loss would not only be devastating for our oceans but would also significantly impact the nearly 3 billion people who rely on fish as their primary source of protein worldwide.

WWF-Australia is committed to seeing Australia become a global leader in protecting our oceans and species that sustain ecosystems and communities.

Regenerative Saltwater
Aerial of logging koala habitat in Lower Bucca State Forest, NSW
Aerial of logging koala habitat in Lower Bucca State Forest, NSW © Douglas Thron


Trees and forests are the planet’s lungs, absorbing carbon dioxide and regulating our climate. However, the loss of our forests due to extreme weather events and deforestation is a cause and effect of our rapidly changing climate.

Climate change is leading to an increase in extreme weather events like the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires that burnt an estimated 12.6 million hectares of forest and bushland, destroying precious wildlife habitat and further worsening Australia’s extinction crisis.

Yet, at the same time, Australia has the highest rate of deforestation in the developed world. The deforestation of Australian forests releases approximately 24 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, contributing to more global warming and extreme weather events. This vicious cycle will only worsen without significant and urgent action that combats climate change.

WWF-Australia is committed to transforming Australia from a deforestation to a reforestation nation.

Learn More

Learn more about climate change

What is WWF doing

To save the species, places, and communities we love, we must do everything possible to keep global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The good news is we have the solutions and opportunities to do this.

It’s not too late.  WWF-Australia is dedicated to supporting Australia to become a global leader in securing a healthy climate powered by communities, nature and renewable energy.

How you can help