This section provides an assessment of climate change in the ACT including current and projected trends in temperature and rainfall, the impacts of climate change on the human and natural environments, and trends in the ACT’s greenhouse gas emissions.
1.5°C increase in mean maximum temperatures since 1926
17% decrease in total greenhouse gas emissions between 2012–13 and 2017–18
2018 was the WARMEST year on record for daytime temperatures
62% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will be from transport
About climate change
Climate change is the most significant environmental challenge facing governments and communities around the world. In recognition of the need for urgent action, the ACT Government declared a state of climate emergency in May 2019.
Climate change is caused by increases in the amounts of greenhouse gases and aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere. The majority of greenhouse gases come from the burning of fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide gas to the atmosphere. Climate change is a global challenge with all greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of source and location, contributing to the total atmospheric concentrations which drive local climatic conditions. This means that greenhouse gas emissions from the ACT have an impact on the global environment, not just the local region.
Greenhouse gas emissions are exacerbated by population growth and a range of human activities, including those that drive energy and resource demand and land clearing, which reduce the uptake of carbon dioxide. Consequently, government and community actions are fundamental to reducing emissions including minimising vehicle use, cutting back the consumption of goods, choosing products that are better for the environment, and improving recycling and reuse.
Whilst many climate change impacts are inevitable given the existing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it is vital to reduce emissions to minimise the severity of climate change for the generations to come. The future impacts of climate change will depend on the degree to which we can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions today.
Impacts of climate change on the ACT
Climate change has significant natural, social and economic repercussions for the ACT driven by increased temperatures, decreased rainfall, and the greater risk of extreme weather events and fire. These have severe consequences for ecosystem health and biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human health and wellbeing.
Advice from the international scientific community is that if we are to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, the increase in average global temperature must not exceed 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD), 2019, ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019–25, ACT Government, Canberra Beyond 2 °C warming there is a risk that the climate system will pass an irreversible tipping point, beyond which the task of stabilising global warming becomes impossible. This would mean an increasingly extreme and unpredictable global climate.
Climate change is a significant challenge that will require the ACT Government and community to adapt to a changing environment and undertake preventative actions to build resilience and minimise impacts on the natural and urban environments.
That the ACT Government:
Investigate and implement measures to reduce transport emissions.
Increase living infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of climate change in urban areas.
Improve knowledge of the impacts of climate change across urban and natural environments to inform strategies on climate adaptation and resilience.
Assess and monitor carbon stocks and investigate opportunities to increase carbon sequestration in natural ecosystems and urban environments.
Climate change is having a significant impact on the ACT, with clear evidence of a warming climate and increased occurrence of heat days. Rainfall is variable, but most recent years have been drier than average. Projections suggest a worsening climate with hotter temperatures and decreased rainfall.
Climate is impacting on the ACT’s community, economy and the natural environment. Observed changes include reduced inflows to water storages, increased tree mortality, greater fire danger, and more algal blooms in Canberra’s lakes.
By 2020, emissions from electricity generation will fall to zero and the ACT will meet the legislated target for total emissions. Transport will contribute over 60% of ACT’s emissions after 2020 and will become the main focus for future reductions. However, transport emissions increased by 13% between 2012–13 and 2017–18 and will represent a significant challenge in the future. The phasing out of natural gas will also be important. Per capita greenhouse gas emissions were just over 8 tonnes in 2017–18, a decrease of around 24% from 2012–13.
Indicator assessment legend
Environmental condition is healthy across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have negligible impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is neither positive or negative and may be variable across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have limited impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is under significant stress, OR pressure likely to have significant impact on environmental condition/ human health.
Data is insufficient to make an assessment of status and trends.
Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Limited evidence or limited consensus
Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment
Assessments of status, trends and data quality are not appropriate for the indicator
There is clear evidence of a warming climate trend in the ACT.
Annual mean maximum temperatures have risen by over 1.5 °C since records began in 1926.
Minimum temperatures have warmed the most, having risen by around 2 °C since records began in 1926, with 2016 the warmest year on record for mean minimum temperatures.
Since 2013, every year has been among the eleven warmest years on record for daytime temperatures and 2018 was the warmest year on record for daytime temperatures in the ACT.
The number of hot days has doubled since 1950, with 5 days above 40°C in January 2019, and an increase of 4 days per year for temperatures above 35 °C.
Rain is variable in the ACT region, with no long-term trend, although recent years have been drier than average with the exception of 2016.
Projected climate trends
Regional climate modelling suggests the following projections: reduced rainfall, particularly for spring and winter rainfall; more frequent and prolonged drought; average temperatures will continue to increase in all seasons; more frequent and severe storms with flash flooding, violent winds, and thunderstorms; and harsher fire-weather climate.
Impacts of climate change
There are significant climate risks to ACT’s community, economy and the natural environment.
Reduced inflows to water storages, with all but 2 years between 2001–02 and 2018–19 below the long-term average.
Increase in tree dieback and mortality of urban trees.
Increase in the average and maximum Fire Danger Index and an increase in the number of days with a very high Fire Danger Rating.
Occurrence of dust storms due to higher temperatures and reduced rainfall.
Increase in cyanobacterial blooms in Canberra’s lakes.
Greenhouse gas emissions
In 2017–18, ACT’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 3,368 thousand tonnes of CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalent).
Total emissions decreased by 17% between 2012–13 and 2017–18 due to the growth in renewable electricity generation.
By 2020, emissions from electricity generation will fall to zero.
With the elimination of electricity emissions,
total emissions are projected to decrease to around 1,918 thousand tonnes of CO2-e, meeting the legislated 2020 target.
Per capita annual greenhouse gas emissions were just over 8 tonnes in 2017–18, a decrease of around 24% from 2012–13 and of 29% compared to 1989–90 levels.
Between 2012–13 and 2017–18, the electricity generation and transport sectors were the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT.
Between 2012–13 and 2017–18 transport emissions increased by 13%; this growth, combined with the decrease in electricity emissions, saw transport contributions rise from 25% to 34% of total emissions.
The stationary gas sector contributed 11% of total emissions in 2017–18 and industrial processes 8%.
As the electricity sector moves towards zero emissions by 2020, transport will contribute 62% of total emissions, nearly double its 2017–18 proportional contribution. Stationary gas and waste will also double in contribution.
Between 2012–13 and 2017–18, greenhouse gas emissions from diesel fuel nearly doubled; as a result, the diesel contribution to total transport emissions rose from 23% to 34% over the same period.
Transport and the phasing out of natural gas will become the main focus for future reductions of greenhouse emissions in the ACT.