Australia is the world’s driest continent [apart from Antarctica]. Climate change is expected to make its droughts even more frequent. The country is still paying for years of overexploitation of its biggest river system, the Murray-Darling basin. The federal government in Canberra is spending A$3.2 billion ($2.2 billion) buying up and cancelling farmers’ water entitlements in a bid to reduce salinity and repair other environmental damage stretching back a century,’ (The Economist, 13 Feb 2016).


‘Drought is a fact of life in Australia. The sun-beaten country has struggled through at least ten catastrophic ones since the mid-19th century. But they are now more frequent and severe. Scientists at the University of Melbourne, reconstructing rainfall patterns using tree rings, ice cores, sediment and corals, reckon that the big droughts of the past few decades were more acute than any in the past 400 years. A “double whammy” of climate trends indicates that worse lies ahead, says Will Steffen, an American climate scientist. First, the Australian continent has warmed by about 1°C since 1910, making droughts more crippling when they occur. Second, rainfall is ever less reliable. The fronts that used to drop rain over Australia’s southerly breadbaskets have begun to stray southward, to the open ocean. Since the mid-1990s, deluges in south-eastern Australia have declined by around 15% in the crop-growing seasons of late autumn and early winter. Mr Steffen predicts a further drop of 15% by around 2030,’ (‘A hot new normal,’ The Economist, 20 Oct 2018, p49).