The unprecedented temperatures in the UK and bushfires raging across much of Europe should be a stern warning to Australians about the danger that looms ahead, an environmental expert has warned.
A temperature of more than 40 degrees was recorded for the first time in Britain on Tuesday, sparking several large fires to break out across London.
The extreme heat has also ignited massive wildfires in France, Italy and Spain.
Although Australia is no stranger to heatwaves — which kill more of us than all other natural disasters combined — the records being broken in the UK are a grim prediction of what’s to come, according to Dr Sharon Campbell, postdoctoral research fellow at the Environmental Health Research Unit from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania.
“What does this mean for Australia? While the UK prepares for 40C, Australia needs to actively prepare for 50C in major population centres like western Sydney,” she warned.
“This takes government leadership and community understanding. In Australia we have seen a shift to greater recognition of these risks with a recent change in federal government.
“This needs to be urgently followed by greater investment in research, adaptation initiatives and education. Alongside these efforts, there must be an immediate and exceptional reduction in emissions to reduce the future burden.”
Dr Campbell said it has only been two years since researchers in the UK pondered if 40 degree temperatures were possible.
A significant blaze in #Dagenham is affecting a number of houses, a workshop & a huge area of grassland. Residents are advised to keep their windows and doors closed and motorists should avoid the area where possible. Fifteen fire engines are at the scene https://t.co/mk4b3CyvE9 pic.twitter.com/0j5EezBt8x
— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) July 19, 2022
“[Now] we see an unfolding heatwave and health disaster playing out before our eyes,” she said.
“Driven by human-induced climate change, extreme and record-breaking temperatures have hit Australia, the United States and now Europe across successive summers.
“A perfect storm of social, cultural and political factors combine to make this event a human and environmental disaster.”
Australia may be 'a different world' by 2050
Over the next two decades, record-breaking heat and extreme weather like bushfires, drought and storms are expected to disrupt society in Australia as the world continues to warm.
Sydney’s western suburbs are predicted to see a five-fold increase in days above 35 degrees by 2050, according to modelling from the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology that was released earlier this year.
Penrith will cop the worst of it, with 58 days a year anticipated to exceed 35.
Climate scientist Professor Tim Flannery previously told Yahoo News Australia that in 30 years, Australia may be “such a different world”.
“If we don’t take action, and we continue to emit at current levels, by 2050 we are going to be probably close to 3 degrees of warming,” he said.
“At that stage we will have triggered some of the positive feedback loops that drive warming ever faster.
“No matter what we do at that point there's very little impact that we'll have, particularly in terms of shifting to clean energy and closing off our polluting plan, because the damage will already have been done.”
However, Professor Flannery said if we see a sharp decrease of carbon and methane emissions by 2030, the impact of climate change could be less severe.
Plibersek: ‘Our planet will be worse for our kids’
Tanya Plibersek has painted a bleak future for Australia following the release of the State of the Environment report on Tuesday.
The environment minister said the landmark report, which the former Morrison government didn't release after receiving it last year, revealed Australia's environment is rapidly deteriorating.
“If we don't turn this around, if we stay on this trajectory, our planet will be worse for our kids," she told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
“We are looking at our mammal species and plant species we love, not being there.”
The report warned that at least 19 ecosystems are showing signs of collapse or near collapse.
“Our inability to adequately manage pressures will continue to result in species extinctions and deteriorating ecosystem condition, which are reducing the environmental capital on which current and future economies depend,” it reads.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.