Becoming more important. Over in the Department of Climate Change, established by the Labor Government as part of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, they have given themselves three tasks: reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions; adapting to the impacts of climate change we cannot avoid; helping to shape a global solution. As it becomes clearer and clearer that a global solution is still a long way off and reducing Australia’s emissions is pointless without other countries doing the same, the middle task must take on an increased importance. Planning what to do when (or “if” for those of a sceptical disposition) temperatures rise is the sensible thing to do.
So it was good to see at the end of last week that the Department has started seriously looking at such future options. The report it released — Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coasts — is the first continental scale mapping of residential buildings at risk from climate change. It also details the risks to coastal infrastructure, services and industry in Australia as a result of climate change.
In the short term the timing of the release might help put some pressure on Liberal Senators to support the Government’s emissions trading legislation. The before and after pictures of what might happen to coastal towns and cities as sea levels rise was great fodder for Saturday’s papers and a reminder to people that there are potentially greater costs by not doing anything about climate change than there are by getting the world to take united action.
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But the real importance will be in turning the minds of state and local government to the decisions needed to mitigate the impact from rising sea levels. As the report says in its executive summary: “Where possible, avoidance of future risk is the most cost-effective adaptation response, particularly where development has not yet occurred. While little analysis has been done to date, the application of planning and building regulations to constrain an increase in risk from climate change impacts will deliver considerable savings in damages avoided.”
This report is a sensible start to a debate where “detailed regional and local assessments under worse case scenarios are needed to inform decision-makers of future risks and enable climate change adaptation to be incorporated into planning approaches.”
We can but hope that Australia’s own three levels of government are quicker at reaching agreement on the need to take action that the governments of the world appear to be.
Further evidence of global warming. Authors from the American National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR),Climate Central, The Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released another piece of compelling evidence of a world getting hotter. Together they have studied the daily highs and lows recorded at 1600 United States weather stations since 1950 and found that daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade.
“Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather in the United States,” says Gerald Meehl, the lead author and a senior scientist at the NCAR.
The researchers point out that if temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even. Instead, for the period from January 1, 2000, to September 30, 2009, the continental United States set 291,237 record highs and 142,420 record lows, as the country experienced unusually mild winter weather and intense summer heat waves.
A record daily high means that temperatures were warmer on a given day than on that same date throughout a weather station’s history. The authors used a quality control process to ensure the reliability of data from thousands of weather stations across the country, while looking at data over the past six decades to capture longer-term trends.
This decade’s warming was more pronounced in the western United States, where the ratio was more than two to one, than in the eastern United States, where the ratio was about one-and-a-half to one.
The study also found that the two-to-one ratio across the country as a whole could be attributed more to a comparatively small number of record lows than to a large number of record highs. This indicates that much of the nation’s warming is occurring at night, when temperatures are dipping less often to record lows. This finding is consistent with years of climate model research showing that higher overnight lows should be expected with climate change.