The final installment of the Garnaut Review this week didn’t raise anyone’s hopes. As the professor himself said, “If we fail, the failure of our generation will haunt humanity till the end of time.”

Heavy stuff. But what does failure really mean for Australia?

Given that 80% of Australians live in coastal areas, rising sea levels are an important issue. According to Garnaut, if we get the international community on board we’ll only see a 59cm rise. But that’s the best case scenario, Garnaut says a more realistic outcome is a target of 550ppm.

Here’s what our resident climate change scientist Dr Andrew Glikson had to say about what this means for sea levels:

  1. Based on a climate sensitivity of 3 degrees for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels, at 550 ppm CO2 which is twice the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm CO2, mean global temperatures will rise to about 3 degrees Celsius.
  2. A rise of global temperature of 3 degrees Celsius implies sea level rise of about 25 metres +/- 12 metres, as recorded from the mid-Pliocene (3 million years ago) and consistent with sea level rise/temperature relations during glacial terminations.
  3. Temperature rises to 3 degrees Celsius imply widespread desertification of mid-latitudes, the agricultural centres of the world.
  4. Natural sequestration of greenhouse gases occurs over time frames of centuries to millennia and no atmospheric mechanism is known that will stabilize CO2 levels over shorter periods.
  5. In terms of the longevity of civilization, allowing CO2 levels to rise further than they already are (387 ppm) would prove to be a unidirectional process.
  6. A target of 450 ppm is dangerous, being the atmospheric greenhouse gas level at which the ice sheets began to form in the late Eocene some 34 million years ago. A target of 550 ppm CO2 is a recipe for disaster.

Since neither Glikson or Garnaut gave us a visual aid, Crikey thought we’d check out what exactly 25 metres of rising sea will look like for Australia on this cool flood map. Alex Tingle of Fire Tree created these maps using raw data from NASA and google maps.

Unfortunately it only goes as far as 14 metres — some would argue that’s scary enough. Below are some nice pictures of each capital city 14 metres below sea level, and a few positive points about flooding on a national level.


Malcolm Turnbull would be able to appeal to a different Australian demographic — the homeless — as his waterside mansion gets swallowed by Sydney Harbour…


The Grand Prix will be forced to become a submarine race, allowing water to absorb the sounds of engines roaring and make the bikini clad babes appear rather sensible.


The beautiful river running through the city just got bigger! How lovely.


The Tasmanian Parliament will be underwater. That can only be a good thing.


We don’t know a lot about landmark location in Darwin, but if anyone does, send us an email!


Canberra will be fine. That’s no silver lining.


Sport in Adelaide will come to an end, with Port Adelaide Park, Football Park, Cheltenham and Morphettville racecourses all submerged — and since both the airports will be inoperable due to excess fluid, no one will be able to escape except via the Nullabor.


Perth’s riverside suburbs will be underwater, plus Burswood Casino (gambling problem solved), Rottnest Island (goodbye quokkas) and the home of the SAS at Cottesloe.

Peter Fray

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