The floods, which Australia is currently battling with in Queensland, have inundated around 1m sq kilometres of the country’s northeast region, approximately the combined area of France and Germany. 10 people have been killed and over 200,000 people have been affected. Most of the main roads leading into Queensland have been closed, leaving no transport options other than flying. It is estimated that the damage will cost the Australian Government 9bn Australian dollars (approximately £7.9bn). Although many believe this is manageable, it has also caused worry – are such extreme weather events going to happen more often in Australia?
Australia much more commonly experiences droughts than flooding. Water is considered a finite resource and a high political priority. The Murray-Darling basin in the south of Australia is frequently affected, limiting water supplies for domestic use and irrigation in the local area. Actions are being taken to reduce the risks of droughts such as the Murray-Darling water reform, which involves a combination of water entitlement policies and environmental management strategies. Questions are beginning to be asked over whether the Australian Government can afford both the damages of the Queensland floods and the Murray-Darling basin drought plans. Prime Minister Julia Gillard confidently states that although the flood is a hard hit for the Government’s budget, the Murray-Darling basin plans should remain a central concern, as droughts have recurring detrimental affects.
So why is flooding happening in a country where droughts are commonplace? Many immediately jump to the conclusion that human-induced climate change is to blame, but it is not as simple as merely pointing the finger at anthropological greenhouse emissions and wastes. Natural climate change is also responsible. The event is also driven by La Niña-driven storms and high rainfall, which is caused by extensive cooling of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. This cooling affects many countries differently. On the east coast of Australia, La Niña events are known to increase the probability of wetter conditions. Such La Niña events are regarded as part of the Southern Oscillation, which is a natural cyclical pattern.
Many believe that anthropological climate change will increase the intensity and frequency of the Southern Oscillation, meaning events such as the Queensland floods and Murray-Darling basin droughts will become more problematic for the Australian Government. Although the Queensland flood may not be an absolute consequence of human-induced climate change, it should be heeded as a warning of what is to come.
As illustrated, Australia is a country of extremes with droughts and flooding known occur simultaneously in different parts of the country. Anthropological climate change will amplify these conditions, producing more intense and frequent climatic events that will rock the social, economic, political and environmental conditions of Australia. Australia can confidently survive and rebuild after the Queensland floods, but can it endure the effects of future climate change?