Fire danger zones are spreading across the east coast as extreme heat closes schools and threatens Australians young and old as the country teeters on the brink.
A spring heatwave has hit large parts of NSW and eastern Victoria with maximum temperatures 10 to 15 degrees above the September average.
Extreme heat is expected to push north into Queensland, bringing fire danger to southern parts of the state and the vast outback of the Channel Country on Thursday and Friday.
Authorities declared an extreme fire danger for the Greater Hunter and Greater Sydney regions on Wednesday, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius and gusty winds expected.
A catastrophic fire warning is also in effect for the far south coast of New South Wales as residents fear a repeat of the state’s worst black bushfire summer in 2019-20.
The unseasonably hot and dry conditions will be felt across South Australia, with temperatures reaching 8-16°C above average across much of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
The Bureau of Meteorology officially declared an El Niño weather event on Tuesday, bringing hot, dry weather and increasing the risk of heat exhaustion and wildfires.
According to the independent Climate Council, extreme heat is one of the most direct and measurable shocks of climate change and one of the deadliest.
A report released by the council on Wednesday found existing government targets are “steering Australia towards catastrophe”.
More Australians have already died as a result of extreme heat than any other natural hazard, they said.
“Right now we are on the brink. Once we pass these tipping points, we can’t go back,” said co-author Lesley Hughes.
Meanwhile, emissions from transport and heavy industry continue to rise, putting Australia on track for even more damaging levels of global warming, Climate Change Council modeling shows.
By the end of the century, up to 250,000 Australian properties are at risk of coastal flooding if the temperature rises well above 2°C.
Marine ecosystems would collapse and an irreversible change in rainfall patterns worldwide would destroy food production.
“So it can’t get much more urgent than this – we need to aim higher and move faster,” said Prof Hughes.
Global warming of 3C would see deadlier heatwaves and worse fire conditions, according to the report Mission Zero: How today’s climate decisions will transform Australia.
The number of extreme fire days would double and in Queensland heatwaves would occur up to seven times a year and last an average of 16 days.
Capital cities would see a rise in extremely hot days, with Darwin predicting temperatures will be above 35C on 265 days a year.
But much deeper emissions cuts than planned for this decade could give the Great Barrier Reef a fighting chance, keep farmers on the land and reduce the risk of deadly floods, fires and droughts.
“Climate action is about going forward, not about ending,” said Simon Bradshaw, research director at the Climate Council.
The report reiterates that Australia should reduce its emissions by three quarters by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2035, not 2050.