What Australia looks like in 2050: 'A very different world'

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·Environment Editor
·5-min read
In this article:
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  • 2030: More extreme weather

  • 2050: A different world to today

  • 2100: Either uninhabitable or beginning to repair

We've asked the world's top experts to predict how Australia will look in the years 2030, 2050 and 2100.

As global warming continues to disrupt seasonal norms, many Aussies could have already experienced the most stable temperatures of their lifetimes.

Over the coming two decades, extreme weather is set to disrupt society with increasingly severe bushfires, drought and storms.

A child at the beach with a seagull in the foreground.
By 2100 Australia's weather will be very different than it is today. Source: Getty - File

The good news is by the end of the century, living on Earth could actually be more pleasant than it is today.

Working to predict how the future may look, we spoke with climate scientist Professor Tim Flannery who examined what life will be like if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared with failure to act.

Professor Flannery has been warning about the impact of global warming for decades and is the author of over 20 books, a founding member of advocacy group Climate Council, and the 2007 Australian of the Year.

Over the last 10 years, he has witnessed global warming shift from being “mostly theoretical” in the public consciousness to something that affects us all.

“I think we’re living now in the era of early climate change impacts,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“There is no doubt that we’re going to see more and more of these extreme weather events, but I guess in the future they may not seem so extreme.”

How climate change will harm Australia by 2030

Looking towards 2030 can be a little frightening as the carbon and methane emissions already in the atmosphere continue to impact the climate.

A comparison of the periods July 1950 - June 1985 and July 1985 - June 2020 shows dangerous fire weather days have already increased. Source: BoM
A comparison of the periods July 1950 - June 1985 and July 1985 - June 2020 shows dangerous fire weather days have already increased. Source: BoM

“The trajectory is pretty baked in for the next decade or two because carbon takes a long time to reach its full warming potential… we should prepare for that,” Prof Flannery said.

“Australia already has average temperatures over the continent above 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial average, while the rest of the world is at 1.1 degrees.

“In a decade from now the rest of the world will probably be at 1.5 degrees and Australia will probably be around 2 degrees, maybe a bit more.”

Once Australia hits this climate milestone, Prof Flannery warns the country will begin to experience the “really serious impacts” scientists have been warning about.

The warming will likely cause a number of key trends:

  • Accelerated sea level rise and worsening coastal erosion

  • Increased weather intensity including Category 6 cyclones

  • More frequent and extreme bushfires

  • A greater chance of extreme flood events

How climate change could impact Australia by 2050

Australia now faces a sliding doors moment when it comes to how the country will look in 2050.

Without meaningful steps to tackle the crisis, Prof Flannery warns we’re looking at “such a different world” – though it’s difficult to predict a complete picture.

Although each approach reaches net zero by 2050, the emissions accumulated during the intervening years differs, leading scientists to call for hard and fast cuts now. Source: Climate Council
Although each approach reaches net zero by 2050, the emissions accumulated during the intervening years differs, leading scientists to call for hard and fast cuts now. Source: Climate Council

“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.”

An alternative vision of 2050 explained

Despite his bleak forecasts, Prof Flannery remains confident that the worst impacts of the climate crisis can be avoided.

During the COP26 climate talks he witnessed commitments from government and industry which he believes will see global warming kept below 2 degrees.

“I prefer to not look at that grimmer possible future; It feels to me to be disempowering,” he said.

“I put all of my energy into avoiding that worse future.”

If emissions are sharply decreased by 2030, there will be less severe climate change impact by 2050.

The world may then be focused on removing carbon from the atmosphere and improving biodiversity.

“So restoring forests, restoring ocean health, looking at those half dozen possibilities that exist for getting carbon dioxide out of the air at scale,” he said.

“We’ll be really nudging those tipping points at that time, and anything we can do to reduce that impact is going to be absolutely essential.”

What other leaders say about the climate crisis

Civilisations could collapse by 2100

Despite only dealing with probabilities, scientists predict without a determined effort to reduce emissions, the globe will likely experience 4 degrees of warming by 2100.

“That makes large parts of Australia and other continents uninhabitable,” Prof Flannery warns.

A koala in a tree.
Australia may actually be a healthier place to live in 2100. Source: Getty - File

While the food, medical and transport sectors have all been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, that will pale in comparison to the impact of systemic change.

Sustainable patterns of supply that keep our world functioning will begin to collapse and so too will our civilisations.

Why life on Earth could be wonderful by 2100

The further into the future we look, the more time humans will have had to repair the damage they have cause to the planet.

“By 2050, regardless of what we do, we're still going to be in a titanic struggle against the changes that we've already set in place,” Prof Flannery said.

“By 2100, with emphatic action to deal with these problems, I think we could be living in a healing world, a world that's much better than the world we live in today, with restored forests, biodiversity, ocean health and more stability in many ways.

“That possibility is out there. But it will take a lot of work for us to get to that point.”

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