CANBERRA • An increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather conditions across Australia last year is "a new norm driven by climate change", according to a report released yesterday.
Temperatures nudged 50 deg C, bush fires ravaged rainforests and people were at increased risk of cardiac arrests because of heatwaves, the Sydney-based environmental group Climate Council said in its report.
It comes as hundreds of people wait in evacuation centres after 10 days of torrential rain and flooding in north-east Australia, while month-long bush fires have ravaged almost 200,000ha of land in Tasmania.
The report, titled "Weather Gone Wild", said extreme weather events were being influenced by climate change, "as they are occurring in an atmosphere that contains more energy than 50 years ago".
Heatwaves are starting earlier, becoming longer, hotter and occurring more frequently, the report said, adding that there were 12 times more hot temperature than cold temperature records set in Australia between 2000 and 2014.
The report also said extreme weather events were "very costly", as insurance companies paid out more than A$1.2 billion (S$1.16 billion) last year in claims linked to them.
Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie said Australia's Conservative government, which has been in power for five years, has obstructed action on climate change while extreme weather worsens.
50deg C How high temperatures went up in Sydney, resulting in bush fires ravaging rainforests and people at increased risk of cardiac arrests because of heatwaves.
$1.16b How much insurance companies paid out last year in claims linked to extreme weather events.
"It's unconscionable," she said. "We are experiencing climate change right now across Australia, from flooding in Townsville to bush fires in Victoria and Tasmania."
Climate change is set to be a key political issue in national elections scheduled to be held before May.