Australian Government sticks head in increasingly hot sand on climate change

Intro

According to a new report from the Climate Council, heatwaves are not only getting hotter, longer and more frequent, but Australian cities such as Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne are already experiencing an increase in heat extremes previously predicted to arrive in 2030. Heat is known to cause the greatest number of deaths of any natural disaster type in Australia, and as the annual number of record hot days across Australia has more than doubled since 1950, the impact of extreme heat on health, agriculture, the economy and the environment is expected to continue rising. The Climate Council notes that the increasingly heavy toll from climate change necessitates a strong policy response to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Coalition Government continues to play down climate impacts, with Tony Abbott this week dismissing the link between climate change and drought, as he did with climate change and bushfires last year. As his government plays down climate links, US President Barack Obama foreshadowed a US$1bn “climate resilience fund” for drought relief, and Secretary of State John Kerry inked an agreement with China recognising the “urgent challenge” of climate change and “unequivocal” science.

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MT @VanessaSpedding: Australian #heatwaves are getting hotter & more frequent (& that makes them v hot & v frequent) http://t.co/ZPpecOp9zo

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Key Points

  • Climate change is already increasing the intensity and frequency of heatwaves in Australia. Heatwaves are becoming hotter, lasting longer and occurring more often, and they are taking an increasingly heavy toll on health, agriculture, the environment and the economy. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has dismissed the links between climate change, bushfire and drought, but the scientific evidence continues to mount. So much so, US President Barack Obama has signalled he will propose a US$1bn “climate resilience fund” to deal with drought.
  • Australian cities such as Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne are already experiencing an increase in heat extremes previously predicted to arrive in 2030. This demonstrates once again that climate change is here now, and bringing with it dangerous extremes following maximum and minimum temperature increases of around 0.9DegC. Such a seemingly small increase gave 2013 the hottest rolling 12 months on record, in the hottest decade.
  • The world, including key countries such as the US and China, is increasingly moving to address greenhouse gas emissions. Limiting the increase in heatwave activity requires urgent and deep reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. This is the critical decade, and Australia will rapidly find itself on the wrong side of history if it continues to roll back meaningful climate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Background

According to a new report from the Climate Council, Australian cities such as Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne are already experiencing an increase in heat extremes previously predicted to arrive in 2030.

The annual number of record hot days across Australia has more than doubled since 1950, and both maximum and minimum temperatures have increased by around 0.9DegC. The frequency and severity of heatwaves is increasing and, with it, the pressure on agriculture, the risk of severe bushfires and, given that heat causes the greatest number of deaths of any natural disaster type in Australia, its threat to life.

Such an increasing risk to the health and wellbeing of Australia’s people, economy and environment demands a strong policy approach to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. However, the Coalition Government continues to cement its reputation for anti-science and hostility towards climate action, with Tony Abbott this week dismissing the link between climate change and drought, as he did with climate change and bushfires last year, saying there “have always been tough times and lush times”.

US President Barack Obama sees the link between drought and climate change, foreshadowing a US$1bn “climate resilience fund”, but Tony Abbott has left it out of his drought relief calculations. The Climate Council report shows climate change is and will continue to make heatwaves hotter and more frequent, and requires urgent and deep reductions to greenhouse gas emissions. It is hardly a lone voice.

The UK has set records for its most severe rainfall and most damaging floods in 248 years, with  voices across Britain, including Prime Minister David Cameron and the UK Met Office, have made the connection to climate change. The Winter Olympics in Sochi have also been abnormally warm, leading to athletes speaking out about climate change’s contribution and threat to winter sports as the number of cities able to host the Winter Olympics declines.

US Secretary of State John Kerry noted in Indonesia this week: climate change is a “weapon of mass destruction” that “knows no borders” and, as climate change bites harder with extreme weather events, the world is moving forward. This was demonstrated in no uncertain terms when Kerry signed an historic agreement with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang recognising the urgent need to address the climate challenge “[i]n light of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and its worsening impacts”.

International Monetary Fund chief Dr Christine Lagarde has urged Prime Minister Abbott to not abandon Australia’s role as a ”pioneer” on climate change, given previous Australian governments had played an important role. With the US and China moving on climate and impacts accelerating globally, there is little time left in the Critical Decade to take the actions needed to keep the world under an average temperature rise of 2DegC.

Unfortunately, Australia punches above its weight in international negotiations, mostly in the wrong direction and, given it is the largest per-capita emitters among western nations, one of the world’s largest exporters of coal, and stands to suffer some of the worst extreme weather impacts as climate change bites, what it does matters.

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Key quotes

  • “In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction. Terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: all challenges that know no borders. The reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them. We just don’t have time to let a few loud interest groups hijack the climate conversation. We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists … and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact. The science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand.” United States Secretary of State John Kerry.
  • “In light of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and its worsening impacts, and the related issue of air pollution from burning fossil fuels, the US and China recognise the urgent need for action to meet these twin challenges.” Text from an agreement signed between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
  • “Heatwaves are coming earlier, they are lasting longer and they are hotter. They build up for days and before you know it, elderly people, infants and the homeless are in danger. [They are the] most dangerous natural hazards in Australia. They kill hundreds of people and the fact they are accelerating beyond the predicted trends is a concern.” Professor Tim Flannery.
  • “The choices that we make over this decade will determine the severity of extreme heat that our children and grandchildren experience. To stabilise the climate and limit the increase in heatwaves, greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut urgently and deeply. This is the critical decade to get on with the job.” Climate Council lead report author Professor Will Steffen.
  • “Heatwaves are now more frequent and more intense, and we are witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of near deaths and deaths from heatwaves over the last decade. Heat is also precipitating more heart attacks, kidney failure, and other health emergencies. Acting on climate change is a vital and urgent public health initiative. It is simple: failure to act is killing people.” Climate and Health Alliance President Dr Liz Hanna.

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More tweets

  • RT @climatecouncil: Hot days have doubled in Australia in the last 50 years. See the full report: http://t.co/F4AIbsiek9 #heatwaves #climate
  • RT @pipcourtney: Tony Abbott can no longer turn his back on this weapon of mass destruction http://t.co/IUkHkXstdJ via @smh
  • MT @healthy_climate: Death in a hot climate: Aussie #heatwaves take their toll on health, ambulances, & pathologists http://t.co/z89VLIBVy9
  • RT @NSWFireLibrary: Heatwaves linked to an increase in Australian suicide rates http://t.co/8hIFoPDG9c #heatwaves #suicide
  • RT @EcoNewsDaily: #Heatwaves, #hotter, longer and more frequent, that’s the #prediction for #Australia http://t.co/Fo9caqVgki