Thursday evening Professor Ross Garnaut launched his latest climate update report - Weighing the costs and benefits of climate change action - for the Federal parliament Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, warning we are already seeing the results of global warming in the intensification of extreme weather events in Australia.
In his speech Garnaut warned that "we can expect the warming of the atmosphere and of the oceans, and the intensification of extreme weather events ... and while Australia has always been a place of variable climate a place of drought and flooding rains, the greater energy in the atmosphere and in the seas can intensify extreme events with this, I am afraid we're feeling some of that today. We're feeling that at a time when global warming is in its early stages, when the average increase in temperature over recent years is less than a one degree increase ... in the absence of mitigation there is a long way to run."
Garnaut flagged the strong and sustained public interest in taking climate action,
"The reason why climate change is back on the agenda in Australia is that there is great community interest in this issue than in any of the other public policy issues on which I have worked on during a long career in public policy ... certainly much more interest and public support in action than in the trade liberalisation of the 1980s and early 1990s and some of the harder structural reforms of the eighties and nineties and that mean that there is a base for action for a government that's wanting to take a major step forward." Garnaut said.
Whether we like it or not the costs of climate inaction are mounting with each extreme weather event. Droughts and floods are more severe. Longer and more intense heatwaves, increasing bushfire intensity. The shift in rainfall and the change in the intensity of rain when it occurrs.
Extreme weather related disasters cause major costs to agriculture, social disruption and problems with planning food security and transport of food and distribution of services. Cyclone Yasi resulted in 180,000 properties losing power. The Brisbane and Queensland floods required the army and airforce to transport food and essential supplies to many isolated communities, as well as flood relief food being directed from Melbourne and Sydney.
Ross Garnaut states in the report update on page 26:
"The climate change that has already occurred has imposed substantial costs on Australia. The incremental climate change that is already in train as a result of increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases that have resulted from past human activity but which have not yet had their full effects on climate will add substantially to these costs. A large adaptive effort is required already. Indeed, whether or not it is recognised as such, that adaptive effort is already occurring, from the major desalination plants in four Australian cities, through some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Victorian bushfires, to the changed zoning of land in some coastal areas.
"It is likely that the financial resources that have been contributed so far to adaptation to climate change substantially exceed the resources that have been invested in mitigation."
Garnaut warns us in his report of the need for an integrated adaption response to weather and climate related disasters rather than the piecemeal crises response in place currently.
"The temptation will be to respond to each crisis with a specific response. And yet the increased challenges of extreme events of flood and fire and drought, of disruption of infrastructure in heatwaves, of erosion of coastal properties, of changes in fish stocks and disappointment about sustained river flows for irrigation, are different parts of a single phenomenon. An integrated adaptation response would allow us to make more effective use of the large amounts of resources that Australians inevitably will invest in adaptation."
Under the Copenhagen accord the goal of no more than 2 degrees C warming was set to avoid dangerous climate change. However current business as usual emissions with present global mitigation action will result in at least 3 to 4 degrees warming this century.
In response to a question from Matthew Wright from Beyond Zero Emissions, Ross Garnaut said "we have to recognise that two degrees is a risky place. And it's probably especially a risky place for Australia or especially amongst the developed countries because for the reasons that were set out in the review, Australia faces a larger risk of damage from climate change than other developed countries..."
I doubt Tony Abbott is listening to Ross Garnaut, but let's hope Prime Minister Julia Gillard heeds the warnings in Garnaut's latest report and initiates a carbon price this year and integrated climate adaption policies including adequate crisis response plans.
* Garnaut Review, Feb 3, 2011 - Transcript: Reflections on the Australian climate change discussion
* Garnaut Review, Feb 3, 2011 - Update Paper 1: Weighing the costs and benefits of climate change action
* Photo of Ross Garnaut (Feb 2010) Public Domain from Wikipedia