Climate change will make South Australia's droughts more frequent, stronger, SA Climate Ready researchers find

Professor Simon Beecham. Photo: Uni SA.
Professor Simon Beecham. Photo: Uni SA.

Our region will be up to 22 per cent drier and 3.6 degrees hotter by the end of the century unless action is taken to stop climate change, a South Australian study has found.

By combining data from weather stations with a range of international projections, the scientists behind the SA Climate Ready project were able to glimpse the future for our state's farmers and residents.

They modeled two scenarios: one in which humanity continued to emit high levels of greenhouse gases; and one with only intermediate emissions, but still more than today.

Even in the intermediate scenario, they projected rainfall in the Murraylands and Mallee would decrease by at least 11.4pc, while daytime temperatures would rise by an average of 1.9C and nighttime temperatures by 1.5C, by 2100.

Uni SA vice chancellor Simon Beecham said the data showed SA's droughts were getting worse, and would continue to do so.

"Farmers have to manage unreliable rainfall, it's in their DNA, but in the long term droughts will become more frequent and stronger," he said.

"It takes farming from difficult to impossible."

Everyone knew the millenium drought had been the worst one since European settlement, he said; but few people realised the first half of 2019 had been drier than any previous year.

"People think they come around every 10 years and we'll deal with it ... but these droughts are not going to go away, they're going to get more intense," he said.

Spring rain would become significantly less likely - 24 to 35pc by 2070 - and more of our rainfall would come in summer, despite an overall drop.

Most of the forecast higher temperatures would come in spring, too, but anyone dreaming of an escape from chilly winter nights should think again - those nights would only become 1-2C warmer by 2070.

There was only one way to stop our climate becoming hotter and drier, he said: by slowing down emissions of the gases which trapped heat in the Earth's atmosphere, such as those produced by burning fossil fuels.

"No amount of on-farm works will help," he said.

He said the "very few" scientists who were sceptical about climate change had no credibility, and that federal politicians too often used scepticism as an excuse for failing to address the problem.

Most Australians understood, he said; the politicians were the ones he struggled to convince.

"This is not a three-year, five-year, 10-year cycle," he said.

"This is something politicians have to invest in for the public good.

"It's eventually going to cripple Australia's economy.

"Carting in water to a city (would be) enough to cripple a state government - we might face that eventually."

The SA Climate Ready project is a partnership between the Goyder Institute, state government, CSIRO and SA's three major universities.

Its research represented the largest ever investment in climate chance research in the state.