A statement prepared by Dr Barrie Pittock PSM (former leader, Climate Impact Group, CSIRO, IPCC Lead Author, and author of Climate Change: Turning Up the Heat), and Dr Andrew Glikson (Earth and paleoclimate research scientist, former Principal Research Scientist, AGSO; Visiting Fellow, Australian National University), endorsed by 40 leading environment scientists (names listed below the statement).

The current global financial crisis must not be allowed to detract Australia’s attention from the serious deterioration of the Earth’s atmosphere with its potential effects on future generations.

The current global financial crisis must not be allowed to detract Australia’s attention from the serious deterioration of the Earth’s atmosphere with its potential effects on future generations.

The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are vulnerable to small changes in greenhouse gas levels, aerosols, extent of the ice sheets and vegetation cover. The climate system can change rapidly over short periods of a few decades, crossing thresholds and points of no return. New studies reported by leading climate scientists indicate the Greenland and west Antarctica ice caps would, if atmospheric CO2-equivalent concentrations reached 450 ppm, very likely melt rapidly, raising sealevel on the scale of metres per century.

Recent developments in the state of the Earth’s climate include increasing extent of spring melt of Arctic Sea ice, mid-winter breakup of the Wilkins ice shelf in West Antarctica, and large methane leaks offshore of eastern Siberia, compel us to call for urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the demise of Arctic Sea summer ice likely within the next decade, the global climate system is rapidly changing. CO2 emissions, currently rising at more than 2% per year, should be decreasing at a similar rate if further adverse effects are to be avoided.

In a letter of the 27 March 2008, to Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Prime Minister, Professor James Hansen, NASA’s chief climate scientist, states:

Global climate is near critical tipping points that could lead to loss of all summer sea ice in the Arctic with detrimental effects on wildlife, initiation of ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland with progressive, unstoppable global sea level rise, shifting of climatic zones with extermination of many animal and plant species, reduction of freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people, and a more intense hydrologic cycle with stronger droughts and forest fires, but also heavier rains and floods, and stronger storms driven by latent heat, including tropical storms, tornados and thunderstorms.

Australia is one of the countries which stand to suffer most in this regard. Mid-latitude agricultural zones of Australia are vulnerable to climate change in terms of severe droughts, subtropical Australia is susceptible to increasingly frequent El-Niño effects and cyclones, and the concentration of Australia’s population in coastal zones and cities places the nation at risk from sea level rises. Already the pole-ward migration of climate zones is affecting Australia through the southward retreat of the moist westerlies and consequent decreased winter half-year rainfall over southern parts of Australia, including the wheat belts of southwestern Western Australia, Victoria and the southern half of the Murray-Darling Basin. By contrast, precipitation is increasing in northwestern Australia.

Observed warming and acidification of the oceans is predicted to increase resulting in severe decline of marine life and food resources, in particular Australian’s national treasure — the Great Barrier Reef.

On the other hand, Australia is blessed with plentiful solar, tidal, wind and geothermal energy, which with energy storage and networking can supply base-load power. We should seize the opportunity to grow new sustainable industries and employment. Large-scale investment in these industries would strengthen our economy as world demand for low-carbon emissions energy grows.

A window of opportunity exists to attempt to halt a climate crisis by means of:

  1. Urgently cutting carbon emissions.
  2. Seizing the opportunity to fast-track utilisation of established and new clean energy technologies thus creating new business opportunities;
  3. An urgent tree-planting campaign in Australia and its neighbors.
  4. Attempts at CO2 capture through soil-carbon enrichment and preservation.

Recommended policies include:

  1. Australia to make every effort through its own and international actions to prevent CO2 — equivalent levels from rising above 450 ppm and global warming from rising above 2 degrees C relative to pre-industrial temperatures, as is the European target. Further reduction of CO2 levels to 300-350 ppm may be required to have a reasonable probability of restoring a safe climate.
  2. Carbon emissions need to be reduced locally and globally by 25-30% by 2020 and 60-80% or more by 2050 in an attempt to stabilise the climate.
  3. Major improvements in public transport and rapid development of more energy-efficient private transport.
  4. Major efforts at farm-friendly revegetation in Australia and neighboring countries, aimed at carbon capture and erosion control.
  5. Development, with suitable incentives, of large-scale clean energy utilities, including solarpowered thermal, geothermal, tidal and solar powered-desalination and wind-water extraction plants in outback regions, using an extended electricity grid (possibly including highly efficient high voltage DC cables) to supply electricity to major consumer markets.
  6. Emphasis on development of the above (item 5) for remote and indigenous communities, enhancing new employment opportunities, thus reducing social problems.
  7. Development of adaptation and protection strategies to minimise the coastal impacts of sea level rise.
  8. Active encouragement of water tank storage associated with residential, business and industrial properties and paved areas. (This avoids increasing evaporative losses from soils and dams.)
  9. Active diplomacy, tied to aid, for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, to convince developing countries, as well as the United States, to commit to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including constraints on emissions from Australian coal exports. We must lead by example — not asking others to do as we say, but to do as we do.

We must face the challenge and seize the opportunities in dealing with climate change. We face a choice between climatic disasters and directing resources to stabilise the Earth’s climate for future generations. We need to invest in low-carbon technology and we need to do it now.

Leading and senior scientists in the natural sciences (environment, climate, biology, Earth science) who agreed to endorse the Pittock and Glikson climate statement (listed in alphabetical order of surnames):

Dr Marco Amati, Lecturer, Program Director, Environmental Planning, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University;
Professor Gunther Andersson, Senior Lecturer in Physics/Chemical Physics/Nanotechnology;
Professor Snow Barlow, Horticulture and Viticulture, Associate Dean (Strategic Relationships), Melbourne School ol Land and Environment. University of Melbourne;
Professor John Beardall, Head of School of Biological Sciences, Monash University;
Professor Barry Brook, chair of climate change, School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Adelaide;
Professor Stephen Boyden, Emeritus, Fenner School of the Environment and Society, Australian National University;
Professor Nick Costa, Head, School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University;
Professor Christopher Dickman, School of Biological Science, University of Sydney;
Professor Jim Falk, Director, Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society (ACSIS), University of Melbourne;
Professor Peter Cawood, director, School of Earth and Geographical Science, University of Western Australia;
Professor Larry Frakes, Emeritus, Geographical and environmental Studies, University of Adelaide;
Dr Paul Fraser, Chief Research Scientist, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research;
Professor Stephen Garnett, Director, School of Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University;
Professor Victor Gostin, Emeritus, School of Earth Science, University of Adelaide;
Dr Warwick Grace, Consulting Meteorologist, former Head of the Bureau of Meteorology Special Services, Adelaide;
Dr Galen Halverson, Geographical and environmental Studies, University of Adelaide;
Professor Rob Harcourt, Director of Marine Science, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University;
Professor Lesley Head, Head of School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wolongong;
Dr Andrew Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Molecular Microbial Ecology, School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences, The University of Sydney;
Dr Michael Laws, Charles Darwin Univesity, Theme Leader Wildlife and Landscape Sciences;
Professor Jonathan Majer, Head of Department of Invertebrate Conservation, Department of Environmental Biology, Curtin University of Technology;
Professor Jennifer A. Marshall Graves, Head, Comparative Genomics Research Group, Research School of Biological Sciences Australian National University;
Professor David McKirdy, Emeritus Professor, visiting research fellow, Geology and Geophysics, University of Adelaide;
Professor Paul Memmoth, Director Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, University of Queensland;
Dr Luciana Moller, Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University;
Dr E. Charles Morris, Senior Lecturer and group leader, School of Natural Sciences, Hawkesbury Campus, University of Western Sydney;
Professor John Morrison, BHP Professor of Environmental Science, School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Wollongong;
Professor Colin Murray Wallace, School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Wollongong;
Professor Gerald C. Nanson, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong;
Dr Bradley Opdyke, lecturer, Quaternary sedimentologist, Research School of Earth Science, Australian National University;
Dr Enzo Palombo, Department of chemistry, biochemistry and Biotechnology, Swinburne University;
Professor Graeme Robertson, Director Muresk Institute, Curtin University of Technology;
Professor Patricia Ryan, Emeritus Professor, College of Science and Technology, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University;
Professor Tom Rich, curator of vertebrate paleontology, Museum Victoria;
Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger, Emeriitus Professor of Meteorology, Flinders University Airborne Research Centre;
Dr Vladimir Strezov, Senior Lecturer, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University NSW;
Professor Ros Taplin, Director, Environmental Management Program, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University;
Dr John Tibby, Senior lecturer, Geographical and environmental Studies, University of Adelaide;
Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich, Director, Monash Science Centre, Chair of Paleontology, School of Geosciences, Monash University;
Professor Clive Warren, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, University of Queensland.

Peter Fray

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