Just as the UN released a major report on the worsening impacts of climate change, people across South East Queensland and New South Wales are living through an unprecedented catastrophic flood.

Climate change – fuelled mostly by burning coal, gas and oil – is making dangerous weather events like floods more extreme and unpredictable. Australians are experiencing firsthand the devastating consequences of inaction on climate.

Tegan Taylor lives in the western suburbs of Brisbane and has never seen the water get as high as it has this week. 

“When we moved out here we were worried about bushfires because we’re in the bush and I don’t think we thought as much about floods, partly because we’re up so high.”

“I’ve never seen it flood here like this before. The neighbours said even the 2011 floods weren’t as bad as this.”

Brisbane floods, February 2022. John Gass Photography / Newspix.

A bitter reminder

The floods inundating South East Queensland over the weekend have brought back traumatic memories for many people who lived through the devastating 2011 floods which took the lives of 33 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses across Queensland.

“During the 2011 floods we were living in Indooroopilly… you really saw with your own eyes just how bad it can be for people, and we knew people who lost everything.”

For Laura Jean Mackay, who has seen the devastation of bushfires in Victoria, floods are something new.

Laura and her partner Tom moved to Brisbane recently, but just a couple of months into their new life in Queensland they’ve found themselves stranded without power, not knowing when the lights will come back on.

“Flood anxiety is a new feeling for me. I love the sound of rain so much, I have an app and I often fall asleep to it. But I haven’t experienced anything like last night where the sound of the rain felt so damaging and scary and it just wouldn’t stop.”

“It's a really intense feeling to have your climate emergency fears which can sometimes seem a little abstract manifest in the huge overwhelming physical presence of a flood.”

Flood waters in West End, Brisbane. Laura Jean McKay.

Laura feels lucky though, her apartment is high up in the building and they are safe for now. Her thoughts go out to the folks who are harder hit than her and Tom.

“I don’t know how a lot of people in West End are going. There are heaps of people rough sleeping around here… and I don’t know where those people are now. It’s pretty scary.”

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) impacts report points out that vulnerable communities are already hardest hit by climate damage events. Inequalities across gender, ethnicity and income are exacerbated by the effects of climate change.

The IPCC impacts report explains how climate change has already driven or exacerbated many extreme events in Australia, including the catastrophic ‘Black Summer’ fires of 2019-20, repeated bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, heatwaves and droughts that are hitting Australian farming communities hard.

The science tells us how climate change is also affecting our water cycle. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and has more energy for storm systems. Generally speaking, wet areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier. Moreover, we are experiencing more of our rain in the form of intense downpours, leading to greater risk of floods.

Australians are already paying a high price from worsening fires, floods and heatwaves. Delaying climate action more puts us all at risk.

Climate action is on the minds of Laura and Tegan

“I think about it in the sense of climate and I think about it in the health space as well that the decision makers need to be acting in the interests of vulnerable people who don’t have the resources to take care of themselves," says Tegan.

Laura feels like there is a real lack of responsibility from decision makers in Australia.

“It’s been made out as if it’s our fault if these things happen and it's our responsibility, you just need to be richer and get better insurance, live in a safer place and you’ll be right mate. And that’s just not the reality for most people.

"This government has made us scared and vulnerable as these events occur with more frequency and more ferocity, and I think that’s the horror of this situation and the damage they’ve done to a country that they’re supposed to be looking after that they’re just really neglecting," says Laura.

But ultimately in times of crisis, communities coming together gives Laura a sense of hope and consolation.

“What’s been really amazing is that people are stopping in the street. If someone is sitting down people will walk up to them and say are you ok? Or can I help you with your bags, there’s a lot of people stranded with bags and things and just people checking in on each other. That’s been a really special thing.”

The good news is that the IPCC impacts report tells us that there is still time to turn the tide around.

If Australia joins other countries in drastically reducing our emissions in the next decade we will save lives. The faster we act, the more damage we avoid. Every fraction of a degree of warming we prevent keeps us safer.

Raise your voice

Together We Can is a collection of everyday Australians, groups and businesses from all over the country who want more action taken to address climate change.

We’re ready to get behind solutions for a safe and healthy future for everyone.

Join the call for Climate Action Now.

Photos: Kayaker, women wading in flood water: John Gass Photography / Newspix. Flooding in West End, Brisbane: Laura Jean McKay. Kangaroo: John Gass Photography / Newspix. Fence sign: Jo Fraser.

Marian Reid

Senior Content Producer at Australian Conservation Foundation