This devastating, ongoing bushfire season affects us all. The extent and longevity of the fires and smoke, the loss of human lives, domestic animals and wildlife, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the immediate and long-term health hazards to our families and ecosystems are unprecedented and shocking. Shocking and yet, for the most part, predicted as a consequence of the extreme heat, drought and increased fire danger that accompany climate change in south-east Australia.
Despite overall cool-season drying, climate change projections for the ACT region include an increase in the intensity of extreme rainfall events. Monday's hailstorm reminds us how destructive those can be.
The past weeks have painfully reinforced the reality of the climate change emergency declared formally by the ACT Legislative Assembly in May last year. As the ACT's Climate Change Council, we are undertaking our remit with refreshed membership and resolve. That remit is to advise the ACT Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability on matters relating to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, addressing and adapting to climate change, and doing so in consultation with business and the community.
The council has already met twice this January to restructure its activities and practices to be more relevant and effective as we continue to work with the ACT government to plan for, act upon, and learn from the climate emergency in which we now live. We are fortunate, as a council and as Canberrans, that the ACT has already developed a strong response to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as set out in the ACT Climate Change Strategy (2019-2025) and Canberra's Living Infrastructure Plan. Other jurisdictions are following the territory's leadership, including our outstanding achievement of sourcing 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2020, and the formal enactment of interim emissions targets for 2025, 2030, and 2040 on a path to achieve net zero emissions by 2045 at the latest.
But clearly there is more to be done, and more to be learned together. The severity and persistence of bushfire smoke across the territory is one example. These horrific air quality conditions were not generally anticipated, particularly in coincidence with record-breaking heat and weeks of increased fire risk. Whilst the ACT has prepared for the increased risk of bushfires and anticipated the need to respond to increased urban heat, we now realise that extended exposure to wildfire smoke is a climate change impact that must be reflected in our future responses.
Further unpredicted consequences may appear as we navigate an evolving climate that has never been experienced by modern humans. As a community, we will be continually learning and adapting.
That is why over the next two months, the ACT Climate Change Council will convene an expert forum to begin to assess key new learning, understand how we can do better, and identify gaps in knowledge that the ACT community needs to prepare for the unprecedented climate we are experiencing and will experience in future.
The council will also conduct engagement sessions with the ACT community to seek your views and experiences in adapting to this changing, challenging climate. As a direct link between community and the ACT government, the council is one conduit through which your voice can be heard, and the most up-to-date information on climate change and its impacts can be shared.
One outcome of all this community- and expert-assisted work will be a public report by the council to the ACT Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability, Shane Rattenbury, the council's first since the ACT declared a climate emergency. This special report will assemble what the council has learned through our engagement with you about adaptation to future climate change in the territory, and include corresponding recommendations to the ACT government.
More details will be announced in the coming weeks, but if you would like to contact us, you can always do so by sending an email to email@example.com. Your participation is vital to making Canberra's response to climate change strong, effective and equitable.
- Professor Penny D Sackett is the chair of the ACT Climate Change Council.