Grim news from Cape Grim: Australian temperatures rising fast

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Report projects an average temperature rise in Australia of 1 to 5°C by 2070, long-term drying over southern and eastern Australia and an increase in extreme weather events such as severe floods, droughts and extreme cyclones.

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by Peter Boyle

The 2012 State of the Climate Report by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonweath Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) was launched at weather monitoring station on remote Cape Grim in Tasmania. The location was an apt choice for a report which has very bad news about Australia’s continuing failure to respond adequately to the climate change crisis.

Each decade since the 1950s has been warmer, the report states. Annual-average daily mean temperatures have increased 0.9% since 1910 and annual-average overnight minimum temperatures have warmed by more than 1.1% since 1910.

And we shouldn’t be foxed by the recent two years of wetter than usual weather — due to the La Niña effect — into thinking that this long-term warming trend has ended. “2011 was the world’s 11th warmest year and the warmest year on record during a La Niña event”, according to the report.

Furthermore, the world’s 13 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past 15 years.

La Niña events are associated with warmer-than-average ocean temperatures in the Australian region, the report explains, and sea-surface temperatures around Australia have increased faster than the global average.

The report projected an average temperature rise in Australia of 1 to 5°C by 2070, long-term drying over southern and eastern Australia and an increase in extreme weather events such as severe floods, droughts and extreme cyclones.

Other CSIRO research has found that:

  • With just a 1 to 2°C average temperature rise in Australia, up to 58–81% of the Great Barrier Reef will be bleached every year and there will be a 90% decrease in core habitat for vertebrates in northern Australia tropics.
  • With a 2 to 3°C rise, 97% of the Great Barrier Reef will be bleached every year and 80% loss of freshwater wetlands in Kakadu  due to a 30 cm sea level rise. Malaria receptive zones spread southwards, population at risk of dengue increases from 0.17 million to 0.75-1.6 million, 10% increase in diarrhoeal diseases among Aboriginal children in central Australia, 100% increase in number of people exposed to flooding in Australia and New Zealand and increased influx of refugees from Pacific Islands.
  • With a 3 to 4°C rise, there will be  a 95% decrease in distribution of Great Barrier Reef species, 20–85% shrinkage of total snow-covered area in the Australian Alps and 30–70% loss of core habitat for Victoria and montane (highland) tropical vertebrate species. Malaria receptive zones spread furthercsouth, temperature related mortality among people 65+ years in Australian capital cities increases by 89–123% and the dengue transmission zone shifts as far south as Brisbane.
  • And if average temperatures rise above 5°C, 90–100% of core habitat will be lost for most Australian vertebrates.

The 2012 State of the Climate Report also highlighted accelerating sea-level rises. The global-average mean sea level for 2011 was 210 mm above the level in 1880 and has risen faster between 1993 and 2011 than during the 20th century as a whole.

But these are just average sea level rises. To the north and north-west of Australia the rates of sea level rise are two to three times the global average. While Torres Strait Islanders and South Pacific Islanders have been sounding the alarm for at least a decade but their voices are being drowned out by climate change denialist campaigns strongly backed by mining billionaires like Gina Rinehart.

The report presented clear evidence that the levels of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, in the atmosphere all continue to rise exponentially.  Carbon dioxide has reached a frightening new high of 390 parts per million in the atmosphere.

The report also demolished the climate change denialists’ claim that the rising temperatures are not caused by human activity: “It is very likely (at least 90 per cent likelihood) that most of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century is due to increases in greenhouse gases from human activities.”

It is almost too late to take the necessarily radical action required to avert catastrophic climate change. And if the voices of reason don’t prevail over the powerful vested interests that are blocking such action, then we will soon pass that point.

Green Left Weekly needs your urgent help to step up the fight against these powerful vested interests. Our objective is to raise $250,000 for our Fighting Fund by the end of this year. So far our supporters have raised $25,392 – just over one tenth of this target.

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[Peter Boyle, National co-coordinator of the Socialist Alliance, writes regularly for Green Left Weekly, and blogs at Peter’s Notepad.]