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Australian climate extremes at 1.5 °C and 2 °C of global warming

Abstract

To avoid more severe impacts from climate change, there is international agreement to strive to limit warming to below 1.5 °C. However, there is a lack of literature assessing climate change at 1.5 °C and the potential benefits in terms of reduced frequency of extreme events1,2,3. Here, we demonstrate that existing model simulations provide a basis for rapid and rigorous analysis of the effects of different levels of warming on large-scale climate extremes, using Australia as a case study. We show that limiting warming to 1.5 °C, relative to 2 °C, would perceptibly reduce the frequency of extreme heat events in Australia. The Australian continent experiences a variety of high-impact climate extremes that result in loss of life, and economic and environmental damage. Events similar to the record-hot summer of 2012–2013 and warm seas associated with bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 would be substantially less likely, by about 25% in both cases, if warming is kept to lower levels. The benefits of limiting warming on hydrometeorological extremes are less clear. This study provides a framework for analysing climate extremes at 1.5 °C global warming.

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Figure 1: Australian climate under varying levels of human-induced climate change.
Figure 2: ENSO conditions associated with historically hot Australian summers.
Figure 3: Changing Australian one-year drought under varying levels of human-induced climate change.
Figure 4: The changing likelihood of Australian extreme events.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the support of the NCI facility in Australia and we acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We thank the Bureau of Meteorology, the Bureau of Rural Sciences and CSIRO for providing the Australian Water Availability Project data. A.D.K. and D.J.K. are funded through the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (CE110001028). B.J.H. is funded through an Australian Research Council Linkage Project (LP150100062).

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A.D.K. conceived the study and performed the analysis. All authors developed the methodology, discussed the results, and contributed to the preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andrew D. King.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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King, A., Karoly, D. & Henley, B. Australian climate extremes at 1.5 °C and 2 °C of global warming. Nature Clim Change 7, 412–416 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3296

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