What happened to Australia’s environment during the world’s hottest year?

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The world’s climate record , from air and ocean temperatures to sea level rise and sea ice extent.many countries Many meteorological disasters occurred, .
how Against this onslaught? So 2023 was the exact opposite.
Over the past nine years, we have examined vast amounts of data collected by satellites, measuring stations, and surveys by individuals and institutions. Contains data on global change, oceans, people, weather, water, soil, vegetation, fire, and biodiversity.
We analyze that data every year and compile it into a report. This includes an overall environmental condition score and a regional scorecard. These scores provide relative measures of agricultural and ecosystem health. Scores fell nationally, with the exception of the Northern Territory, but were still relatively good.
However, the abundance of listed bird, mammal, and plant species has continued to decline at a rate of approximately 3% each year since the beginning of this century, according to the latest Endangered Species Index.

Environmental status index for 2023 showing changes from the average value from 2000 to 2022. Such differences may be part of a long-term trend or may be within normal fluctuations.

Ride the climate roller coaster in 2023

Seventy-seven countries around the world broke temperature records. Australia was not among them. Our annual average temperature is 0.53 degrees cooler than the scary year of 2019. The ocean temperatures around us were below 2022 records.

Yet 2023 was among Australia’s eight warmest years in both cases. All eight appeared after 2005.

However, these numbers are annual averages. Digging a little deeper reveals that 2023 was a climate roller coaster.
The start of the year was as wet as the end of the previous year, but dry and unseasonably warm weather began from May to October. Soils and wetlands in many parts of the country began to dry rapidly. In eastern states, fire season began as early as August.
Nevertheless, sufficient water was generally still present to support good vegetation growth throughout the unusually warm and sunny winter months.

Fears of a severe wildfire season did not materialize in November as the effects of El Niño weakened and rainfall returned, helped in part by warmer oceans. Combined with relatively high temperatures, it was a hot and humid summer. Tropical cyclones and several severe storms caused flooding in Queensland and Victoria in December.

As always, there were regional differences. Northern Australia has experienced some of the best rainfall and growing conditions in recent years. This resulted in more grass fires than average during the dry season. Meanwhile, rain did not return in Western Australia and Tasmania, ending the year without any rain.

So how did the score change?

Each year, we calculate an environmental condition score that combines weather, water, and vegetation data.
The national score was 7.5 (out of 10). This was 1.2 points lower than in 2022, but still the second highest score since 2011.

The Northern Territory’s score was 8.8 due to a strong monsoon season. The exception is that scores have declined across the country. Parts of Western Australia are showing signs of drought, with the state receiving the lowest score of 5.5.

Environmental condition scores reflect environmental conditions, but do not measure the long-term health of natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
Firstly, it only concerns land, not sea. The marine heatwave has damaged ecosystems along the east coast. Research into the first half of 2023 suggests that the Great Barrier Reef’s recovery will reach a plateau.
However, cyclones and rising sea temperatures occurred later in the year. In early 2024, another .

Second, the score does not capture important processes that affect many endangered species. Among the greatest dangers are damage from invasive pests and diseases, habitat destruction, and severe weather events such as heat waves and large-scale fires.

Endangered species continue to decline

The Endangered Species Index collects data from long-term monitoring of endangered species. The index is updated every year with a lag of three years, which is mainly due to delays in data processing and sharing. This means that the 2023 index includes his data up to 2020.

The index found that populations of Australia’s endangered bird, mammal and plant species are inexorably declining by around 3% each year. This represents an overall decrease of 61% from 2000 to 2020.

Endangered Species Index showing the abundance of species in different categories listed under the EPBC Act compared to 2000. In the 2023 Bird Index, landbirds (62 percent) had the most severe declines, followed by migratory sandpipers (47 percent) and seabirds (24 percent).

A record 130 species were added to Australia’s endangered species list in 2023. This is much higher than the previous year’s annual average of 29 species. The 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires directly impacted half of all newly registered species.

Population boom increases pressure

Australia’s population has died Since 2000, it has increased by an astonishing 8 million people, or 41%. All these extra people needed living space, food, electricity, and transportation.
Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 18% since 2000. After a slight decline over the past four years, emissions will increase again in 2023. This is mainly due to the recovery in air travel post-COVID-19.

Our per capita emissions are the 10th highest in the world, more than three times the emissions of the average global citizen. The main reasons are coal-fired power plants, inefficient road vehicles, and large cattle herds.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to be optimistic. Many other countries have dramatically reduced emissions without compromising economic growth or quality of life. All we have to do is ultimately follow their lead.
While our government clearly has a role to play, there is much we can do as individuals. You can also save money by switching to renewable energy, electric cars, and eating less beef.
Changing our behavior will not stop climate change, but it will slow and eventually reverse it in the coming decades. We can’t reverse or stop all the damage to the environment, but we can certainly do a lot better.

Albert van Dijk is Professor of Water and Landscape Dynamics at the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society. Shoshana Rapley is a research assistant in the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society. Tayla Lawrie is the University of Queensland’s Project Manager for the Threatened Species Index.

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