Hot and dry prompts calls for climate action

The government's support for a massive new coal mine goes against the community demand for reduced climate pollution.

If Australia feels to you like it's growing hotter and extreme weather events are becoming more common there is a very good reason – it is and they are. The just released Bureau of Meteorology annual climate statement concludes that 2015 is very likely to be confirmed as the hottest year globally on record.

In Australia we have seen record-breaking hot days, hot nights, early-season fires and drought. Australia's three warmest springs have occurred in the past three years – and eight of Australia's warmest years on record have now occurred since 2002.

Illustration: Matt Golding
Illustration: Matt Golding 

We are now experiencing changes to extreme events in Australia – notably more fire weather, record-breaking temperatures and heatwaves. We are experiencing the consequences of climate change here and now.

The bureau's statement confirms that every year since 1985 has recorded above-average temperatures globally. Every teenager alive today has experienced almost only record-breaking heat. How much hotter will the rest of their lives be?

Mallee farmer Leon Hogan on his property near Birchip. His wheat crop harvest is down 80 per cent in 2015.
Mallee farmer Leon Hogan on his property near Birchip. His wheat crop harvest is down 80 per cent in 2015. Photo: Justin McManus

The heat this year brought an early start to the fire season in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria; 236 homes were destroyed by fire across the country in 2015. Six people lost their lives. These are events of trauma and stress, from which it can take years to recover.

Farmers are also experiencing the stress of drought across the country. According to the bureau report, rainfall has been very much below average for large areas of eastern Australia, with water storage levels dropping as a result. Large parts of eastern Australia commenced 2015 with a long-term lack of rainfall and over the course of the year this got worse.


Southern and eastern Australia have experienced longer-term drying trends, with a 20 per cent drop in autumn-winter rainfall since about 1970 in south-west Western Australia. There has been a similar decline in late autumn and early winter rainfall in south-east Australia since the mid-1990s.

The drop in rainfall is well outside past variability.

Premier Daniel Andrews toured the Mallee and spoke with farmers in November.
Premier Daniel Andrews toured the Mallee and spoke with farmers in November. Photo: Justin McManus

The hot and dry spring meant losses for farmers as crops failed in southern Australia. Estimated losses were expected to be about $1 billion to $2 billion in Victoria alone.

When natural variability and climate change push in the same direction, we will experience weather and climate beyond anything we have known. According to the British Met Office, the warming of 2015 is predominantly from global pollution, with the El Nino event providing the icing on the cake.

One farmer's reaction after drought ruined his crop.
One farmer's reaction after drought ruined his crop. 

The global agreement in Paris struck a deal that aims to limit warming by 2.7 degrees when science tells us we need to aim for 1.5 or 2 degrees at most. This presents an enormous challenge, but it is a challenge we can take on.

Already one in four homes in South Australia has rooftop solar. Battery storage will create a revolution in the way we think about energy. The technology for a carbon-neutral society already exists. We just need to implement it – and do it fast.

The Australian government is talking the talk internationally but not walking the walk in our own backyard. Emissions in Australia are going up since the carbon price was removed.

China has declared it will not approve any coal mines for at least the next three years. The rest of the world is taking action. We need to start catching up – not taking backward steps.

If the Adani Carmichael coal mine – recently approved by the Turnbull government – goes ahead, the pollution resulting from that single project will almost entirely wipe out Australia's pollution reduction commitments in Paris.

Big polluting companies are continuing to damage our climate, and we are experiencing the consequences here and now. The consequences are more fires, more heatwaves, more drought and more extreme weather.

Australians deserve better. We owe it to our farmers, to our firefighters and nurses, the cooks and carers that hold our communities together in times of stress.

Australians want to keep our climate safe. We want renewable energy instead of polluting fossil fuels. We saw a mass outpouring of community support for action on climate change with the biggest climate rallies Australia has ever seen at the end of last year before the Paris conference. There were massive turnouts of an estimated 60,000 in Melbourne and 45,000 in Sydney.

This kind of community spirit and support shows that we can overcome the challenge of climate pollution, limit the extremes we will face and look after each other when they happen.

Our politicians represent us, and have a responsibility to plan ahead for challenges today and tomorrow. Our government has a duty of care to protect life and to look after our communities. They can't do this and at the same time allow new coal mines to open in our country.

Imogen Jubb is acting manager for the Climate Reality Project at the Australian Conservation Foundation.


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