Climate scientists in Australia have been shaking their heads over the political hot air that’s puffed out of this election campaign. Some have completely disengaged from it. These scientists have been waiting decades for global warming to hit the agenda, so now that it’s at the top of it, why aren’t they hanging off the parties’ promises?

Maybe it’s because they were watching the satellite photos of the Arctic sea ice melt months ago. Here they are on the NASA website (click on image):

These photos show that the sea ice shrunk to 40 per cent below its average size, losing an area twice the size of NSW. And no-one saw it coming.

This is not a panic puff piece or a tabloid beat up, this is just one of the findings cited in the report prepared by Dr Graeme Pearman, the former head of CSIRO’s atmospheric research unit and the Climate Adaptation Science and Policy Initiative at the University of Melbourne.

Pearman’s report, commissioned by the Climate Institute, says that the evidence of global warming has dramatically increased in the past 12 months. The report also states:

  • The growth in carbon emissions, mainly from fossil fuels, has leapt in the past decade from 1.1 per cent a year to 3 per cent a year. This means that greenhouse emissions are rising faster than the worst-case IPCC scenarios.
  • The global temperature warming trend is accelerating faster than expected. If continued such a trend will lead to a temperature rise of approximately 3 degrees by the end of this century (relative to pre-industrial temperatures) tipping us into dangerous climate change – defined as over 2 degrees. The average global warming is now 0.8 degrees over the past century, with recent warming growing at 0.2 degrees per decade. If continued such a trend will lead to a temperature rise of approximately 3 degrees by the end of this century (relative to pre-industrial temperatures). Climate models also suggest that this ‘business as usual’ trend will produce global warming of around 3 degrees by the end of this century. This would be the highest global temperature rise recorded in recent palaeoclimate history.
  • The recent rapid decreases in Arctic sea ice extent are occurring much faster than any of the climate model projections suggest would happen. The current summer minima are approximately 30 years ahead of a range of simulation model forecasts. On the basis of current trends, an ice free Arctic Ocean might occur much earlier than 2050 – 2100 as previously thought.

  • Recent scientific work suggests that the capacity for the land and oceans to absorb carbon dioxide emissions is declining. As terrestrial ecosystems respond to anthropogenic climate change, including warming everywhere and drying in some regions, it is likely that some regions that have been sinks of atmospheric carbon will change to sources, through decreases in net primary production, increased occurrence of wild fires, and changes in ecosystem composition.

  • A recent review of climate observations compared to projections suggests that the IPCC projections may have underestimated sea-level rise. The observed sea-level rise for 1993 to 2006 shows a linear trend of 3.3 +/- 0.4 mm/year – higher than the IPCC projected best estimate of 2mm/year. Rahmstorf estimates a sea level rise of 0.5 to 1.4 meters by 2100, which is much higher than the range of projections in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

These are the kind of findings that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is quibbling over ahead of the release of their fourth report for the year in Valencia, Spain, this week.

The IPCC is attempting to filter thousands of pages of scientific findings down to a 25-page document – a synthesis to guide government policymakers around the world. But there are widespread concerns that their findings are already out of date given this year’s results. 

According to Pearman’s estimate, the world only has 5-10 years to take drastic action. So what has to happen in that incredibly short amount of time to mitigate major disasters?

John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute, told Crikey, “all new energy must come from clean energy from now.”

“We must drive a new sustainability revolution that dramatically cuts energy wastage, now and brings forward new clean technology,” says Connor.

“The window of opportunity for a smooth transition is narrowing rapidly. People can’t just be climate consumers but climate citizens, this just requires political will, the technology is there siting on the shelf it just has to be employed,” says Connor. “Pressure must be placed on political and business leaders to act now.”

Assuming those leaders can take time out from arguing over tax cuts, laptops, communism, union thugs, budget surpluses, nuclear reactors, when to retire, who’s the bigger economic conservative and ear wax, that is.   

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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