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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Climate change gives a clear signal in 2014 State of the climate Australia report

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO have published their latest State of the Climate report for Australia for 2014 which shows a clear signal of anthropogenic climate change for the Australian region.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says that climate change is occurring but refuses to acknowledge that this is overwhelmingly caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. He says he believes in the science and then continues dismantling the small amount of climate mitigation policies we have in place in the carbon price, Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Climate Change Authority, and appointing Dick Warbuton an advowed climate sceptic and anti-wind advocate to chair the Renewable Energy Target review panel.

Professor Neville Nicholls from Monash University, writing in a post at the Conversation, clearly articulated the dangers in not taking appropriate climate action:

"...we are already seeing the impact of more severe heat events and more weather conducive to fire activity.

Heat events and bushfires already cause increased death and illness, as well as destroying property and damaging infrastructure. The recent increases in the climate drivers of severe heat events and bushfires have exacerbated the risks.

These heatwaves and bushfires are bringing home the reality of climate change. They affect Australian families and their homes – they are not something that happens to other people a long way away, or will happen to us a long time in the future. They are a clear and present danger to us, right now.

The Climate Change Authority last week, after extensive analysis of scientific conclusions, economic modelling and examining climate action happening on an international scale recommended that our greenhouse gas emissions target be lifted to 19 per cent by 2020 from 5 per cent on 2000 levels.

So what does this latest State of the Climate Report say? The Bureau of Meteorology summarise the key points as:

  • Australia’s climate has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910, and the frequency of extreme weather has changed, with more extreme heat and fewer cool extremes.
  • Rainfall averaged across Australia has slightly increased since 1900, with the largest increases in the northwest since 1970.
  • Rainfall has declined since 1970 in the southwest, dominated by reduced winter rainfall. Autumn and early winter rainfall has mostly been below average in the southeast since 1990.
  • Extreme fire weather has increased, and the fire season has lengthened, across large parts of Australia since the 1970s.
  • Global mean temperature has risen by 0.85°C from 1880 to 2012.
  • The amount of heat stored in the global oceans has increased, and global mean sea level has risen by 225 mm from 1880 to 2012.
  • Annual average global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached 395 parts per million (ppm) in 2013 and concentrations of the other major greenhouse gases are at their highest levels for at least 800 000 years. (See Passing 400ppm, a comparison with the Pliocene
  • Australian temperatures are projected to continue to increase, with more extremely hot days and fewer extremely cool days.
  • Average rainfall in southern Australia is projected to decrease, and heavy rainfall is projected to increase over most parts of Australia.
  • Sea-level rise and ocean acidification are projected to continue.

This highlights that wet areas are generally getting wetter, and dry areas are getting drier. Both the south west and south east of the continent show clear trends in reduced rainfall.

Tony Abbott denies a link between climate change and bushfires, but the report categorically states that there is a clear trend for fire weather increasing.

While attacking the carbon price for increasing the cost of living, the reality shows that Energy utilities have been gouging the Australian public since privatisation by glod plating the transmission network and extracting higher profits. We have also seen reduced transparency from a privatised electricity generation sector. State government privatisation and regulation has failed us.

Reducing the discussion to short term economics is dishonest and incredibly negligent of the duty of care governments need to consider for periods longer than the current electoral cycle. Government needs to regulate unsustainable activity and behaviour and the Abbott Government is failing to do this which endangers and passes an unacceptable risk to the medium and long term future.

Several years ago I thought that climate change would have a minimal effect during my lifetime, but it is proceeding at such a rapid pace that we are experiencing the impacts now with rising temperatures and heatwaves, more intense and torrential rainfall, stronger droughts, and rising sea levels in Australia. And the more Tony dithers the worse it portends for our future.

Here is a quick run down in images and graphs. For more detailed summary or to download the full report visit the BOM Sate of the Climate website.

Australian land surface and sea surface temperatures are trending upwards pretty much in conjunction - no hiatus here.

The bell curve for maximum and minimum temperatures shows clear movement to higher temperature extremes. We are already moving to experience climate departure to a new climate normal of more rapid change with hotter temperatures. Climate mitigation would help to slow this process down and allow more time for climate adaptation with less expensive adjustments and reduced rate of mortality.

Rainfall in the northern wet season is increasing - wet areas are getting wetter.

But the food production and high population areas in the south west and south east are getting much drier and are likely to experience much more drought. This will impact agricultural productivity and food security for Australia.

Fire weather is increasing with climate change.

Ocean heat content also shows no hiatus. Over 90 per cent of global warming occurrs with the heating of the oceans.

Sea level rise shows a clear inexorable trend upwards.

The bottom graph shows clearly with the reduction in Carbon-13 isotope that most of the atmospheric CO2 is from the burning of fossil fuels. The Caption reads:

Most of the CO2 emissions from human activities are from fossil-fuel combustion and land-use change (top graph). Emissions are expressed in gigatonnes of carbon (C) per year. A gigatonne is equal to 1 billion tonnes. One tonne of carbon (C) equals 3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 emissions from human activities have been taken up by the ocean (middle graph, in blue, where negative values are uptake), by land vegetation (middle graph, in gold), or remain in the atmosphere. There has been an increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 (bottom graph, in red), as identified by the trend in the ratio of different types (isotopes) of carbon in atmospheric CO2 (bottom graph, in black, from the year 1000). CO2 and the carbon-13 isotope ratio in CO2 (δ13C) are measured from air in Antarctic ice and firn (compacted snow) samples from the Australian Antarctic Science Program, and at Cape Grim (northwest Tasmania).

Greenhouse gas concentrations as measured at the Cape Grim baseline observatory. The one small positive is the Montreal Protocol is actually having an impact reducing synthetic greenhouse gases. Why can't we do this with CO2?

A quick rundown of Climate impacts already being experienced across Australia.


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