The effects of global warming are already being felt across all areas of Australian life and these will continue to worsen if we do not act now to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Global warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution leads to immediate and direct environmental changes.

What changes to the climate are humans causing through global warming?

Hotter days

2023 was the hottest year on record by a significant margin, and the past ten years have been the warmest. Records have been broken for the longest heatwaves in the past few years. The Bureau of Meteorology has added purple and magenta to the forecast map for temperatures up to 54°C.

Rising sea levels

Research shows ocean temperatures have reached new heights and might be at their highest in 1,000 years. Increased ocean temperatures are melting glaciers and ice caps worldwide, causing rising sea levels and threatening low-lying islands and coastal cities. Melting sea-ice also results in the loss of critical habitat for krill, without which the entire Southern Ocean food web would fall apart.

More frequent and intense extreme weather events

Extreme weather events like bushfires, cyclones, droughts and floods are becoming more frequent and intense due to global warming. Over the past decade, we have seen three times more hot weather records than cold weather records. By 2070, the number of heatwaves will increase from 2.5 to 4.5 events annually across Australia and even more in central and northern NSW.

Oceans are warming and acidifying

The oceans have absorbed most of the extra heat and carbon dioxide (CO2) so far – making the seas warmer and more acidic. The acidity of surface ocean water has increased by 30% since the early 1800s. Warming waters are bleaching coral reefs and driving stronger storms. Rising ocean acidity threatens tiny crustacean populations that would disrupt the entire marine food chain.

Bushfire in Bowraville NSW= November 2019
© Adam Dederer / WWF-Aus

How is global warming affecting life in Australia?

  • Ecosystems

Global warming stresses ecosystems through rising temperatures, water shortages, increased fire threats, drought, weed and pest invasions, intense storm damage, and salt invasion, to name a few. Some of Australia’s great natural icons, such as the Great Barrier Reef, are already threatened.

  • Species

One in six species is at risk of extinction because of climate change. Australia currently holds the unenviable title for the world’s highest rate of mammal extinctions. To survive, plants, animals and birds confronted with climate change have two options: move or adapt. With the speed of climate change we are already experiencing, it’s often not possible for a species to adapt quickly enough to keep up with its changing environment. And with the amount of habitat destruction, moving is becoming increasingly difficult.

  • Food and farming

Changes to rainfall patterns, increasingly severe drought, more frequent heat waves, flooding and extreme weather make it more difficult for farmers to graze livestock and grow produce, reducing food availability and making it more expensive to buy.

  • Water

Rainfall patterns are changing across Australia. In southwest and southeast Australia, rainfall has been below average for 17 of the past 20 years. Reduced rainfall and increasingly severe droughts have already led to severe water shortages in large areas of New South Wales.

  • Coastal Erosion

Rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storm surges will cause more erosion of Australia's coastline, wearing away and inundating community and residential properties. Coastal erosion also significantly impacts local biodiversity that depends on coastal habitats like mangroves and seagrass to survive.

  • Health

Increasingly severe and frequent heatwaves may lead to death and illness, especially among the elderly. Higher temperatures and humidity could also produce more mosquito-borne diseases. At the same time, bushfires are impacting overall air quality, while floods can contaminate our drinking water supplies.

  • Damage to homes

Increasingly severe extreme weather events like bushfires, storms, floods, cyclones and coastal erosion will see increased damage to homes, as well as more costly insurance premiums. Research revealed that up to 1.6 million homes in Australia were already at moderate or high risk from climate change-related extreme weather. This number is expected to jump up to 2.6 million homes by 2050.

  • Coral bleaching

Rising temperatures and acidity within our oceans contribute to extreme coral bleaching events happening more frequently. In 2024, the fourth global mass bleaching event was confirmed, the second event in 10 years. The Great Barrier Reef has been under significant heat stress – experiencing five mass bleaching events in just eight years, and the 2024 event is feared to be the most widespread and damaging to date.

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.

Heat stressed bleaches coral at Lizard Island
Heat stressed bleaches coral at Lizard Island © Dr Lyle Vail / Australian Museum Lizard Island Reef Research Station