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Australia has much to lose if climate change continues unabated, the head of a new review of climate science has warned.
Stronger evidence climate change man-made
Scientists say it's clear human activities are to blame for the earth's warming in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Dr Qin Dahe, a glaciologist and respected Chinese academician, was co-chair of the working group that wrote the fifth major assessment of climate science for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released on Friday.
In an exclusive interview with Fairfax, he urged Australia not to think of itself as a small, unimportant player in climate change.
Our scientists played a key part in writing the report, and our country is at risk from what they discovered, he said.
“Climate change is a global concern and no country can be free from it, neither China nor Australia,” he said after the report's release in Stockholm.
The Chinese government is very aware of the risks of a more extreme monsoon climate on its food supply, the economy and society.
“Even if the climate changes slightly that would lead to very catastrophic consequences to China,” he said. “That is why the Chinese government attaches great importance to climate change, including its physical science basis.”
Australia, though smaller in population, has a land mass comparable to China and its population is concentrated along coastlines – “sea level rises pose a hazardous impact to cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane,” he said.
Climate change could disrupt farming. And the frequency of bushfires is indirectly linked to climate change.
He praised the work of Australian scientists and organisations such as the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO whose research, and volunteered time, helped refine climate science.
“We have key scientists from Australia and Australia is a leader in several fields,” he said.
Environment minister says report supports policies
Meantime, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the report reinforced the government's "bi-partisan support for the science and the targets set for emissions reductions".
He cited advice by the Bureau of Meteorology that this year was "on track to be the second hottest or hottest recorded year experienced since 1910", but noted last year was 0.11 degrees above the average temperatures between 1961 and 1990.
The government will proceed with plans to ensure Australia meets its emissions reduction targets by 2020, Mr Hunt said.
The government's direct action scheme aims to abate emissions by mass tree planting, soil carbon programs and other methods.
However Prime Minister Tony Abbott has acknowledged that the $3.2 billion policy may not reach its promised 5 per cent cut in emissions by 2020.
Labor climate change spokesman Mark Butler said the government had suppressed scientific and expert advice by axing the Climate Commission and two departmental secretaries involved in pricing carbon pollution.
"What we're seeing is a well-worn path of conservative governments in Australia - silence those who disagree with you and hide evidence that discredits your policy position," Mr Butler said.
He criticised the government's decision to scrap the carbon tax and described the direct action policy as "embarrassing".
Greens leader Christine Milne said "urgent and deep emission cuts" were needed and the government should dump its direct action plan.
''Greg Hunt is plain wrong to say that his 5 per cent target is consistent with the drastic cuts required to stay within the carbon budget the world's top climate scientists say must be met,'' she said.
She cited a call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for nations to bring strong pledges to a UN summit next year ahead of 2015 treaty negotiations.
The Greens will call on the government to formally respond to the report when parliament resumes, Ms Milne said.
Scientists have gone to great depths, says Australian co-author
Scientists have gone to the depths of the ocean, and buried themselves in history to understand our climate future, says one of the authors of a major new climate report.
Dr Lisa Alexander, a senior lecturer at the University of NSW was a lead author of the chapter on climate observations in the fifth major assessment of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published on Friday.
She said the climate change signal was becoming clearer thanks to detective work by scientists around the world.
Some had gone back to old ships’ logs and old weather records that had never been digitised. Others had sent buoys to trawl the deep ocean to start building a picture of temperature changes below the surface.
“There are more centres around the world independently gathering and assessing temperature,” Dr Alexander said. “They all sit on top of each other – the lines of evidence are very coherent – and that gives us strong evidence that what we’re seeing is real.”
Dr Alexander does not believe there has been a ‘pause’ in global warming recently – she considers it a “statistical artifact” – but if it does turn out to be partly due to a change in the way oceans absorb heat, as some have suggested, it is vital to have a better understanding of the deep ocean.
It is not just temperature that’s relevant to climate change. In Australia, the high-quality Bureau of Meteorology records show an increase in rainfall in the north-west, and a decrease in the south-east.
“In temperature in Australia we have a coherent signal for the last 100 years of warming, and since the 1950s this has manifest itself in the frequency of heatwaves,” she said.
The IPCC report found “medium confidence” of an increase in heatwaves around the world, but Dr Alexander said the caution was largely due to the lack of observations from South America and Africa.