Aussie scientists issue new climate change warning

Polar ice levels are expected to fall Source: Ardea Picture Library

Some of Australia's top climate scientists have issued a new call for action to address climate change. 

(Transcript from World News Radio)

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists say man-made climate change is real.

Yet some governments and sections of the public argue action to combat climate change must play second fiddle to economic stability.

Now, some of Australia's top climate scientists have lined up to argue the consequences for Australia will be dire if climate change is not adequately addressed.

As Darren Mara reports, they've released an updated report outlining the effects globally and in Australia of rising average temperatures and increased climate volatility.

(Click on audio tab to listen to this item)

The Australian Academy of Science says it wants to help counter confusion and misinformation on man-made climate change.

It's put out an updated report written and reviewed by 17 of Australia's leading experts in a range of climate-related sciences.

At a panel discussion about the report, one of the issues raised was scientists' inability to overcome public distrust of climate change.

Professor Brian Schmidt - an advisor to the academy and a Nobel Laureate - issued this response.

"There are a lot of vested interests, people who want a particular answer. I'm not saying people are intentionally doing the wrong thing. But when your livelihood requires the status quo, it is hard to change."

Professor Andrew Holmes is the president of the Australian Academy of Science.

He says a degree of common ground must be found with climate change sceptics rather than taking a combative approach to the debate.

"For example, farmers are very close to the daily climate and to the land and they have vast experience, so one's got to see their point of view and work with that perspective to explain what we think is happening."

The report discusses the level of carbon emissions reductions Australia would need to undertake to contribute to keeping the world inside the safety window of a maximum average global temperature rise of two degrees Celsius.

It's a topic addressed by Professor Steve Sherwood, who's director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

"There's a diagram in the document with shows a typical, candidate emissions trajectory for keeping under two degrees. It peaks around 2020 and by 2040 it's basically dropped by 50 per cent, and then it keeps dropping after that. You would expect Australia to contribute, in kind, to what the rest of the world is doing. That's the sort of thing that would need to happen."

Australia is currently committed to a five per cent reduction on 2000 level carbon emissions by 2020.

However, last year's Emissions Gap Report prepared by the United Nations Environment Program says Australia is one of four nations not on track to meet its emissions reduction target.

The report identifies the Abbott government's decision to axe Labor's carbon tax as a key reason for Australia falling behind.

The government has replaced the carbon tax with its direct action plan, which would provide financial incentives for polluters to reduce emissions.

Professor Matthew England is an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales.

He says, whichever plan the government of the day signs Australia up for, every year of inaction is doing the nation harm.

"So every year of inaction leads to deeper and deeper emissions cuts and that becomes logistically much more challenging and the fear that people have, that governments start to re-engineer how we do things on a drastic scale. Ironically, the push for inaction on this will lead to much deeper government intervention if we're going to get these emissions cuts as Steve (Sherwood) just flagged."

Professor Andrew Holmes from the Australian Academy of Science says there's still a common view that climate change is still a long way off.

He says this must be addressed immediately.

"This is not the case. It's really something that we've got to get to grips with now. It's happening right now. There's compelling evidence, some of which is presented in this booklet that many extreme weather events have increased in frequency and severity in Australia and around the world."

And the view of the panellists on whether humanity can rise to the challenge of climate change - perhaps best summarised by Professor Brian Schmidt.

"That is, that I am optimistic, but I'm still a little worried that somehow we will do the wrong thing. That's why I think it is important for us to make sure people are fully informed so that we do deal with this problem. We can do it if we want. But that's not a guarantee we will do it."


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