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Australian scientists call for urgent action to limit climate change

00:00 AEDT Tuesday 02 November 2021

The Australian Meteorological & Oceanographic Society (AMOS) today released its position statement on climate change—a summary of the key issues on human-induced climate change, and the uncertain future we now face as the world warms. As COP26 gets underway, AMOS scientists call for Australia to decarbonise by 2050.

The AMOS membership includes some of the world’s leading weather, climate, oceans, and energy scientists. AMOS Vice-President, Deputy Director of the Monash Energy Institute, and energy systems expert Dr Roger Dargaville said to avoid the most dangerous extremes of climate change, the world needs to limit warming to less than 2°C—and as close to 1.5°C as possible.

“To achieve this, we need to reduce energy-related carbon emissions to zero well before 2050,” Dr Dargaville said.

The position statement outlines Australia’s changing climate in terms of increased temperatures (on land and in the ocean), sea-level rise and less rainfall. 

The statement says, “any delay in reducing emissions will increase the practical and economic costs of avoiding dangerous climate change and place a greater burden on future generations to adapt to higher levels of warming.” It ends by warning we can no longer avoid climate change—we have to adapt.

Climate scientist Professor Nerilie Abram is based at the Australian National University and is also the Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Antarctic Science (ACEAS). She said every fraction of a degree of additional warming matters. 

“At 1.1°C of global warming we are already seeing the dangerous impacts of climate change through heatwaves, extreme rain, drought, and wildfires,” Prof Abram said. 

“Having lived through Australia’s Black Summer, do we really want to find out what an extreme fire risk year looks like at two degrees of warming or more?”

Prof Abram said as well as extreme events becoming more severe and frequent, important tipping points will pass if warming continues up to two degrees. 

“Beyond 1.5°C of warming the Great Barrier Reef as we know it will be pushed beyond its limits. Between 1.5 and 2°C of warming we also expect the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to pass the point where complete collapse becomes inevitable—this commits the world to multi-metre scale sea level rise that in some places will be catastrophic and require retreat from low-lying coasts.”

The world’s top sea level expert Professor John Church is based at the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He said sea level is already rising—with the rate accelerating—and will continue to rise during the 21st century and beyond.

“A warming world has important long-term implications over the next few decades,” Prof Church said.

“We are seeing rising coastal sea levels, which means we are also seeing more coastal flooding events. For many locations around the world, what was once a one in 100-year event could be happening at least every year by 2100.”

“Without urgent, very significant and sustained reductions in emissions, we could cross thresholds leading to metres of sea level rise from the loss of ice sheets from both Greenland and Antarctica.”

“This is one of the reasons why achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions before 2050, and 50% reductions by 2030 is so important.”

Prof Church said sea level rise won’t stop, we need to adapt. He said appropriate planning would help minimise the impacts and costs.

Dr Dargaville notes that while the Australian government has only just recently announced a net zero target for 2050, the states and territories have already pledged net zero by 2050 or sooner.

“Australia, as a wealthy, high-emitting country, has a responsibility to reduce emissions faster than others, and should ideally be decarbonised by 2040,” Dr Dargaville said.

“Carbon emissions need to be dramatically reduced by closing coal and gas fired power stations over the next decade, electrifying transport and industrial processes, and building dramatically more wind and solar PV capacity and largescale energy storage systems.”

The AMOS position statement on climate change notes: “Any delay in reducing emissions will increase the practical and economic costs of avoiding dangerous climate change and place a greater burden on future generations to adapt to higher levels of warming.”

AMOS is Australia’s premier society for the meteorological, oceanographic, and related sciences. The AMOS position statement digests complex climate, weather, and oceanography issues down to a few pages. The document helps the broader community understand the key issues ahead of implementing appropriate actions and policies. 

The AMOS position statement on climate change was written by expert working groups consisting of highly qualified scientists who have many years of experience in their fields, and who draw upon peer-reviewed literature.  

AMOS position statements are updated on a regular basis and are reviewed by the AMOS council and general membership.


Melissa Lyne, AMOS Communication Officer


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