Australian faces harsh climate changes, warns government report

More floods and forest fires predicted within 50 years.
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The Independent Online

The already harsh extremes of Australia's climate are set to worsen, with international experts forecasting higher temperatures, longer droughts, more floods and bigger forest fires within 50 years.

The already harsh extremes of Australia's climate are set to worsen, with international experts forecasting higher temperatures, longer droughts, more floods and bigger forest fires within 50 years.

The changes, blamed on global warming, would also hit farming production and make some parts of the country uninsurable, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said.

A draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says water flows in the crucial Murray Darling River basin, an area which produces much of Australia's food and export crops, could fall by as much as 35 percent by 2050, the Herald reported.

The IPCC also forecasts drier conditions for most of the country this century, raising the risk of forest and scrub fires, but warns that when rain comes it will be in heavy cloudbursts likely to spark flooding. Higher average temperatures could hit cattle and sheep farmers by affecting pasture growth, the IPCC said.

Australia is no stranger to severe weather. Over the last two years it has been battered by freak hail storms, floods and cyclones. Already this year searing heat has contributed to countless forest fires, while other parts of the nation have been deluged by rain, flooding towns and farming communities.

Gerhard Berz, a scientist with German insurance giant Munich Re, said a rise in natural disasters in Australia could make some parts of the country uninsurable.

"There are so many natural disasters in your country already that depend on the climatic situation," Berz told the Herald.

"Therefore, changes in the climate will automatically influence the frequency of these extreme events."

The IPCC said Australia needs to devote more funds to studying the effects of climate change.

"You can't adapt to something unless you know what it is you're adapting to," IPPC report author Barrie Pittock told the Herald. "We do need to understand changes in soil moisture (and) ... flood frequency in a lot more detail than we do now."

However, farmers have expressed doubt about the forecasts.

"There is an awful lot of fiction about global warming ... (and it) is an awful long way from being something we accept as a fact we have to deal with," New South Wales state Farmers Association president John Cobb said.

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