What does the future hold for Australia and its residents?
We’ve looked at the history of Australia in our Then & Now interactive, and now it’s time to look at what the future holds for our country and its residents.
Less rainfall and higher incidences of bushfires are contributing factors to a huge increase in the population moving to the country’s city centres, and with more people living in concentrated spaces we are bound to see a great deal of change.
As the driest inhabited continent on Earth, Australia is no stranger to drought.
• Australia suffers a severe drought on average every 18 years.1
• Agricultural land in Australia has declined by around 10% since 1980 with drought being one of many other factors.2
• Severe droughts in 2006 and 2007 prompted a nationwide change in the way Australia uses its water resources. Water recycling was brought into use in Brisbane and Tawoomba, whilst desalination is now being used in the Gold Coast, Perth and Victoria (which is able to supply up to a third of Melbourne’s annual water consumption).3
In 2014, a study by the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that average rainfall in southwest Australia could decrease by as much as 40% by the end of the 21st century, with drought becoming the new norm in many areas.
The past few decades have been particularly devastating for farmers, with the period between 1995 and 2009 seeing some of the worst droughts on record4 – resulting in reduced productivity and profit, and seriously impacting the livelihood of farmers nationwide.5
2014 saw the Abbott government announce a major assistance package to drought stricken farmers in New South Wales and Queensland due to consistently low rainfall and high temperatures.6
In 2015 Farmers continue to battle with the elements, as dry conditions force farmers to reduce the number of livestock they are running. Livestock slaughter rates have continued to rise, and in May this year week-on-week slaughter rates were at their highest levels since the organisation started collecting the data in 1990.7
Some climate models suggest that Australia’s droughts will only continue to worsen. In 2014, a study by the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that average rainfall in southwest Australia could decrease by as much as 40% by the end of the 21st century, with drought becoming the new norm in many areas.
These findings were seemingly echoed by Australia’s own National Water Commission, set up to ensure that the correct measures were in place, which stressed in its most recent report the crucial need to keep monitoring and auditing the country’s water supply.8 The commission has since been abolished due to budget cuts and restructuring.9
Bushfires have been part of Australia’s ecosystem for millions of years: many native plants and animals have adapted to live with them, and some even depend on them. Global warming and increased drought have made bushfires more frequent and destructive in recent times – since 1980, the number of major fires has doubled each decade.10
Australian government statistics suggest that as many as half of bushfires are started deliberately, making them even more difficult to predict and defend. In fact, an estimated 7% of bushfires are caused by discarded cigarettes.
Fires are also becoming more common in the cooler months of spring and autumn and it can’t all be blamed on the warming climate. Australian government statistics suggest that as many as half of bushfires are started deliberately, making them even more difficult to predict and defend.11 In fact, an estimated 7% of bushfires are caused by discarded cigarettes. 12
The risk of bushfire isn’t expected to decrease anytime soon, either. Australia’s Forest Fire Danger Index, a rating system developed in the 1960s to measure the degree of danger of fire in Australian forests, saw levels rise at more than 40% of weather stations between 1973 and 2010.13 Meanwhile, the bushfire risk in southeast Australia is expected to increase by four to five times by 2050.14
In the past, bushfires have devastated towns and farmland, killed wildlife, livestock as well as people with The Insurance Council of Australia estimating over $5.6 billion worth of damage in the last 50 years.15
Australia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, but one of the most urbanised, with nine in ten people living in towns and cities.16 Nearly two-thirds of Australia’s population lives in its five biggest cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.17
Australia’s population has increased by 19% since 2000. It is expected to exceed 28 million by 2030.
It is also a rapidly growing and urbanising population, which:
• Has increased by 19% since 2000.18
• Is expected to exceed 28 million by 2030.19
• Has experienced a steady rural population decline since 1990.20
Greater Melbourne’s population grew by an astonishing 10.5% between June 2012 and 2013, and it’s expected to overtake Sydney as the country’s biggest city by 2053. Sydney also experienced record population growth in 2013-14. However, studies have suggested that spending on infrastructure is not keeping pace with this growth.21
Australia’s population growth rate of 1.7% per annum is one of the fastest in the developed world – along with some of the highest rates of consumption and CO2 emission per capita.
Unless Australians make changes to the way they live, produce and consume, continuing population growth will likely put it on a fast-track to joining the world’s biggest polluters. 22
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_in_Australia – Original source: Anderson, Deb (2014). Endurance. CSIRO Publishing.