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Australian Report Concludes Climate Change May Be More Extreme

Observed increase in major flood events by continent from 1950 to 2000. The report suggests a link between climate change, streamflow, severe flooding and large impacts on people and infrastructure, among other impacts.

A new report released today by the Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, concludes that climate change may be occurring at a more rapid rate than scientists previously thought.

The report, Stronger Evidence but New Challenges: Climate Change Science 2001- 2005, confirms the patterns of climate change described in the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR), released in 2001, but concludes from the new evidence that there is now a much greater risk of reaching or exceeding the upper estimate (5.8° C) by the end of 2100.

The TAR report estimated the degree of global warming by the end of this century lies between 1.4 and 5.8° C. In part, the spread is due to uncertainty about the nature and strength of processes that could dampen or amplify the initial greenhouse gas forcing.

In addition to the focus on feedbacks associated with water vapour and clouds, however, research over the past few years has yielded a better understanding of three additional effects that were recognized as being important in the IPCC TAR but for which little quantitative information was available at the time.

  • The radiative properties of aerosols. Estimates are now moving towards a higher cooling effect for aerosols—small particles suspended in the atmosphere that generally scatter incoming solar radiation and thus cool the Earth’s surface—than previously thought. In other words, as greenhouse gas concentrations increase and aerosol loadings are reduced, warming increases.

  • A decrease in albedo. Albedo—the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface—is decreasing due to the melting of snow and ice, with the most extreme example being the Arctic Ocean. Retreating ice and snow expose darker underlying land and ocean surfaces, leading to enhanced absorption of sunlight and further warming.

  • Changes in the terrestrial carbon cycle. Several processes—the oxidation of soil organic matter, the number and areal extent of major disturbances such as fire, and the stability of carbon pools in wetlands and frozen soil—are all sensitive to climate. As temperature rises, these processes in general release further amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, forming a feedback loop that intensifies the warming.

Although much uncertainty still surrounds the timing, rate and magnitude of these effects, they all operate to amplify the initial greenhouse warming. Thus, there is now perceived to be a greater risk that the upper end of the well known IPCC TAR estimate of a 1.4 to 5.8°C temperature rise will be reached or exceeded by 2100.

The observational evidence which supports the fundamental principles of climate change science has grown even stronger in the post-TAR years. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 continues to increase, and several lines of evidence, most notably isotopic analysis, attribute most of this increase to the combustion of fossil fuels.

The instrumental record showing a warming Earth is supported by satellite measurements of tropospheric warming and by observations in the cryosphere and biosphere. The heat content of the upper layers of the ocean is increasing. A growing number of reconstructions of surface temperature over the past 1000 to 2000 years shows that the sharp temperature rise over the past century is now beyond the bounds of natural variability.

The imprint of greenhouse gases as the primary cause of the observed warming has also become clearer. The pattern of heat uptake in the world’s ocean basins agrees well with that simulated by climate models for greenhouse gas forcing. The observed moistening of the upper troposphere accords with expectations for greenhouse gas-driven changes in atmospheric water vapour content.

In summary, post IPCC TAR research has confirmed with stronger evidence the patterns of climate change described in the TAR.

—“Stronger Evidence but New Challenges”

The author of the report is Will Steffen, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) from 1998 through mid-2004 and, since then, IGBP Chief Scientist and Director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University.

I have drawn on the work of thousands of scientists around the world; however, the selection of the material to be incorporated in this synthesis, the emphases made and the inferences drawn are entirely my own. They do not necessarily represent the views of the IGBP, the Australian National University, the Australian Greenhouse Office or the Australian Government

—Will Steffen

Australia opted out of the Kyoto Protocol agreement. It is, however, on track to meet what would have been its obligation under the Kyoto terms—an 8% increase in greenhouse gas emissions above 1990 levels. The country is also part of the US-led Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.



allen zheng

As we clean up aeorsol/smog but not C02 or other GHGs, we will reap a whirlwind of climate change that had been masked/modified by Global Dimming.

Adrian Akau

Why is it that the Australian government is so cogniscent of the climate problem but now has removed itself from supporting its young rapidly growing wind energy program. The result has been the hurtful collapse of several large megawatt projects. Why is it that their government is now promoting nuclear and giving strong support to the coal industry?

It is like the Canadian situation with processing its tar sands. National revenue seems more important than a sustainable way of life. Australia has lots of uranium and seems to have a strong coal industry that does not wish to have competition from wind power, no matter the benefit.

The Australian government is, in effect, saying "yes we like to talk about renewable energy but no, we don't really support it for our country because our coal industry and uranium production for nuclear reactors is our greater priority and we feel certain will provide us with the greatest revenues."

I hope that the Australian government will change its views in this matter because their present position does not help with climate change.

[email protected]

Robert Schwartz

The sky is falling. The sky is falling.


Why is it that the Australian government is so cogniscent of the climate problem but now has removed itself from supporting its young rapidly growing wind energy program. The result has been the hurtful collapse of several large megawatt projects. Why is it that their government is now promoting nuclear and giving strong support to the coal industry?

It's the awareness that, according to projections, Australia and New Zealand won't undergo any massive geographical compromises due to ocean levels rising. ;)

Shaun Williams

Australia is already suffering from the effects of climate change. Our Queensland State Premier has admitted several times that this why we are suffering a severe drought that may last many more years.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has stated that the last cyclone that crossed the Australian coast (Monica) was the most intense ever recorded.

We are the biggest exporter of coal in the world.

The penny will drop one day...

shaun mann

enough studies about how nasty it is going to be.

anybody know of a study about ways to prevent or reduce the problem? or are all environmental studies still assuming that people can only hurt the environment?

(sort of like the Christian belief that all animals were created perfect and evolution could only make them worse. off subject, but interesting to parallel scientists with a community they consider closed-minded)

seriously, though. when was the last time you read a paper about a study of how humans can build a coral reef or the ability of carefully managed hydro to increase salmon populations in the rivers they block, or how well-placed reforestation projects could be used to reduce heat absorption, improve soil, increase reflectivity (in the form of clouds), and increase rain downstream, in addition to the direct economic benefits from forest products?

anyone who knows of a paper discussing any of the above, please let me know.

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Thomas Pedersen

There is no question, the climate is changing! How do I know this? Because, it has ALWAYS been changing.

There are huge problems with our perception of these changes:

- The longes meteorological record dates back from 1870 (accurate temperature measurements)!
- Most other records are much younger
- our own memory is even shorter
- ..and heavily biased towards remembering extremes
- TV coverage of extreme weather is rising exponentially.
- We modify our surroundings in ways that tend to increase the consequences of extreme weather (New Orleans, flooding in central Europe in 2002)
- Time scales for most natural climate changes are longer than all of the above.
- Etc.

Btw, according to ice core measurements in Greenland, 1870 was, coincidentally, the COLDEST year of all in the past 8000 years on the northern hemisphere...

However, I still think we are playing with fire with our emission of greenhouse gasses. I would like to base my fears on facts rather than religion or populistic fearmongering.

Sure, Kyoto costs money. Sure, it is inadequate. But it is a relatively cheap insurance policy agains future damage. Some say the cost of Kyoto is trillions of dollars. Well, anything of global consequences, accumulated over many years, costs lost of money. How much will the western countries spend on coffee over the next 20 years..? Probably also trillions of dollars. Others have estimated that the cost of Kyoto is between ½ and 1 percentage point of global economic growth. These analyses are all based on $20 oil...

Renewable energy is an answer to both reduced oil dependence and global warming. And it is fast becoming an economical alternative to dirty coal and gas. How about we get cracking on those wind turbines and solar panels..?



This planet has embarked upon the biggest lab experiment ever conceived. If it succeeds, we will be happy with our SUV's, high definition flat screen tv's, air conditioned homes and monthly trips to exotic countries. If it fails, we'll end up with wet feet, mass migrations and a few less animal species. The outcome will probably end up somewhere in the middle.

It's the smartest thing to do. It really is. I see no other way to stop those endless climate discussions. One day we will know who's right: the believer or the skeptic.


anybody know of a study about ways to prevent or reduce the problem?

They're not scientific papers, but

"Good News for a change - Hope for a troubled planet"
David Suzuki / Holly Dressel
ISBN 0-7737-3307-8

"Get A Life - How to make a good buck & save the world while you're at it"
Wayne Roberts / Susan Brandum
ISBN 0-9697755-1-2

The simplest way to save yourself a whack of cash, reduce you taxes, experience the world, save the planet, screw the military-industrial complex, piss off the government, gain a pile of spare time, breathe easier and not join the grossly obese? Divorce your car.


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