Our climate is changing. Climate records, such as for rainfall and temperature, continue to be broken—for example, widespread record December temperatures across 4 states in south-eastern Australia in December 2015, Australia’s warmest October on record in 2015, Australia’s warmest spring on record in 2014, Australia’s warmest September on record in 2013, temperature records set in every state and territory in January 2013, record high temperatures in November in 3 states in 2012, and Australia’s wettest 2-year period on record in 2010 and 2011 (BoM 2012a,b, 2013a,b, 2014, 2015, 2016).
Although these may be statistically interesting, of much greater significance is the impact that extreme weather conditions have on the land and the wider environment. For millennia, Australia’s climate has been characterised by huge seasonal variability (Moros et al. 2009, Stuut et al. 2014). Our landforms are shaped by extremes, and many species are adapted to infrequent and unpredictable boom times. However, the pressures exerted by climate change are likely to change both the distribution and abundance of native and exotic species, and these biological impacts, together with the effects of flood, drought and other weather patterns, will progressively change Australian landscapes. It is worth noting that the effects of climate change are felt most disproportionately by large landholders (through scale) and low socio-economic groups (through lack of capacity to respond)—Indigenous people, especially across the north of Australia, are in both these categories.
We are also increasing our understanding of the impacts of climate change on soils—for example, decreases in soil organic carbon are predicted as a result of increased rainfall variability (Forouzangohar et al. 2016).
Climate change will result in impacts in its own right, but will also exacerbate existing pressures and impacts. In particular, climate change will have implications for the distribution of species and biological communities, water availability, and impacts of natural disasters. In agriculture, declining ‘growing-season’ rainfall will likely produce less crop biomass to protect soils from erosion. Research and investment are now increasingly focused on adaptation to climate change as well as reducing emissions—for example, adaptive management approaches that anticipate responses and modify them as changes in climate take place with a particular direction and magnitude. These approaches include land-use change or conversion in addition to novel approaches to existing land uses.