Heatwaves 'to become more common'

Heatwaves like the one sweeping Australia this week will become more common as the globe warms, experts say. 

Heatwaves like the one sweeping Australia this week will become more common as the globe warms, experts say.

Ecological economist Professor Jeremy Williams says since February 1985, there has been 333 consecutive months of rising average temperatures globally.

"The chances of that happening randomly is one in 100,000," Prof Williams, from Griffith University in Brisbane, told AAP. "If you're 27 or younger, rising monthly temperatures is all you've ever known.

"If it is 42 degrees in Hobart, there is something seriously wrong. Climate change is here now."

Dr David Jones, Head of Climate Monitoring and Prediction Services at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology told the Conversation a long dry spell in inland Australia, fewer cold fronts and the delayed onset of the monsoon in the country's north had helped create yesterday's conditions but “the other thing at play here is climate change”.

“We know that inland Australia is a degree and a half hotter than it was 50 to 100 years ago. Every single day we have this background warming trend which effectively means the whole climate system operates on a higher base,” he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology released a Special Climate Statement yesterday saying that for the last four months of 2012, “the average Australian maximum temperature was the highest on record with a national anomaly of +1.61 degrees celsius, slightly ahead of the previous record of 1.60 degrees celsius set in 2002 (national records go back to 1910)”.

In this map by the Australian Bureau of Metereology, new colours have been introduced to represent forecast temperatures of 50-52°C and 52-54°C.

Prof Williams said Australians should feel the heat and realise the role man-made carbon emissions are playing.

"While this upward trend continues we have to face the inevitable prospect that there will come a point when societies will not be able to function effectively."

He said a hotter world will have major impacts, including a reduction in workplace productivity, increased energy consumption as more people flick on airconditioners, and more people dying from heat stroke.

However, he believes there is a chance for humans to put the brakes on climate change.

He advocates the use of financial incentives by governments to encourage people to change their energy consumption, sustainable business practices and a strong move away from fossil fuels to renewables.

Emergencies have in the past resulted in major changes such as during World War II, he said.

"The Americans went from being not terribly interested in the war to being very interested after the bombing of Pearl Harbour," he said.

"In the space of three years they completely restructured their economy for the war effort.

"If governments around the world realise we are in fact in the middle of an emergency it is quite possible to see change."

A recent World Bank report warned that the globe may warm by four degrees celsius by the end of this century.

Source: AAP, The Conversation