A new paper has some genuinely shocking news for Australia: Even if the Paris Agreement’s 2°C (3.6°F) warming limit is adhered to, the desert continent’s cities will experience summer days of 50°C (122°F) by as soon as 2040. Unless the more ambitious 1.5°C (2.7°F) limit is kept – which until recently was thought to be all but impossible – Australia is seriously screwed.
Forget the environment for a second: Sustained temperatures of 50°C are incredibly dangerous to human health. According to the World Health Organization, the optimum air temperature for the human body is between 18°C and 24°C (64°F to 75°F).
Australia is now set to experience summer days at twice the maximum limit. Although they’re already used to living in a hot climate, this extreme will put plenty of citizens of that country at risk of getting incredibly ill, or even dying. In particular, those that are old, very young, or already sick will be at a high risk of suffering from respiratory, cardiovascular problems, and potentially organ failure.
The Geophysical Research Letters study, led by the Australian National University in Canberra, used the most up-to-date climate models to predict what the climate would be like for Australian cities in just a few decades time.
It’s worth noting that these temperatures are the maximums expected. Although summer days could be cooler on occasion, it’s worth pointing out that the study also concludes that temperatures in 2015 – one of the hottest years in recorded history – will be more like averages come 2025.
Although they caution that the exact precision of the atmospheric models is uncertain, “such unprecedented temperatures would present onerous challenges to human and natural systems,” the authors note in their study.
Normally, climate change nightmares can be significantly stymied by sticking to the Paris agreement – assuming it is strengthened over time – but in this case, Australia is in trouble. The damage has already been done, and Sydney and Melbourne, home to millions of people, are among the many metropolises set to bake.
Along with the human impact, the regional ecosystem would also suffer. Apart from the wholesale destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, temperatures exceeding roughly 45°C (113°F) are associated with what the authors refer to as “catastrophic bushfires and heatwaves”.
Speaking to the Guardian, lead author and climatologist Dr Sophie Lewis explained that “two degrees of global warming doesn’t sound like much of an increase but it in fact will lead to extreme weather events becoming more severe.
“The only thing we can do to prevent these extremes is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and deeply as we can,” but added that “we will see some increase in the extremity of temperatures regardless.”