Two research papers released Thursday morning are further highlighting how humans contribute to the climate crisis, with scientists in one of the new studies saying they can prove Australia’s latest bushfire disaster is linked to man-made climate change.
The study by an international team of scientists at World Weather Attribution found man-made climate change had increased the bushfire risk by 30 per cent due to a lack of rainfall and higher temperatures in 2019, compared with 30 years ago.
“We’re very sure that is a definite number we can scientifically defend,” lead researcher Jan van Oldenborgh wrote.
It comes just a day after Nationals Senator Matt Canavan criticised Australian scientists after questioning the CSIRO over whether it could prove climate change had played a role in this summer’s fire weather.
CSIRO has said before that "no studies explicitly attributing the Australian increase in fire weather to climate change have been performed." When I asked why this view wasn't included in a recent bushfires "explainer", they couldn't explain it. pic.twitter.com/PejYYTRM4F
— Matthew Canavan (@mattjcan) March 4, 2020
While the newly-released report is yet to be peer reviewed, its release is significant because it addresses specific attribution – that is, it demonstrates links between climate change and a particular disaster.
Researchers wrote that the devastating early bushfire season was much greater than that predicted by traditional climate modelling. Australian heatwaves were also found to be 1-2 Celsius hotter and 10 times more likely to occur than in 1990.
“We can therefore only conclude that anthropogenic climate change has made a hot week like the one in December 2019 more likely by at least a factor of two,” the study wrote.
Further analysis released on Thursday shows a decade of insufficient political action on climate change means nations must now do four times the work to stop the planet warming 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
To meet the goals set in the Paris Agreement, we either need to do four times the work or the same in one-third of the time, research led by Dr Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute and first published in the science journal Nature has found.
“The past decade of political failure on climate change has cost us all dear. It has shrunk the time left for action by two-thirds,” Dr Höhne said.
“In 2010, the world thought it had 30 years to halve global emissions of greenhouse gases. Today, we know that this must happen in 10 years to minimise the effects of climate change.”
The picture is bleak. And made worse by the fact the world is a long way off meeting the Paris requirements – we’re currently heading for 3 degrees of warming.
“The gap is so huge that governments, the private sector and communities need to switch into crisis mode, make their climate pledges more ambitious, and focus on early and aggressive action,” he wrote.
“We do not have another 10 years.”
By analysing all 10 editions of the annual Emissions Gap Report – which examines what countries have pledged to do, and what they’re actually doing – the group found global annual greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 14 per cent, quickly becoming a ticking time bomb.
Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required to meet the emissions levels for 2 degrees would have been around two per cent, per year, on average up to 2030.
Instead, emissions increased.
Consequently, the required cuts from 2020 are now more than seven per cent, per year, on average for 1.5 degrees (close to three per cent for 2 degrees).
“Although many reports, scientists and policymakers continue to discuss rises of 2 degrees, it must be emphasised that, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that warming of more than 1.5 degrees would be disastrous,” he wrote.
Two degrees might not sound like a lot, but the consequences will be significant.
We can expect more intense storms, searing heatwaves, severe bushfire seasons and longer droughts.
If we don’t quickly reduce emissions, more than half the world’s beaches will be gone by 2100, and there will be mass extinction of animals and coral reefs.
Climate Council senior researcher Tim Baxter said Australia was on the front line of climate change.
“We know that at two degrees, the Great Barrier Reef will more or less not be a thing any more,” he said.
“With two degrees, you’re talking about mass bleaching happening at the frequencies it’s unlikely to recover from. Even at 1.5 degrees, it’s getting difficult.
“We know that sea levels will rise. There’s some uncertainty about how much, but we know when they rise there’s a bigger storm surge, so it goes further and further up the beach, so more homes are impacted.
“What we can say with absolute certainty, is that with the recent drought, the fires, then floods, we’ve seen what climate change looks like, and we’re talking about one-degree warming now.”
The consequences are alarming and Australia urgently needs to limit its contribution, Dr Höhne wrote.
“Countries are not even on track to achieve their now plainly inadequate 2015 pledges.
“Of the G20 countries, seven (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and the United States) need to implement existing policy or roll out new measures.”
Although challenging, there are signs of hope, the analysis showed.
“There are lessons to be learnt from places such as Costa Rica, Shenzhen in China and Copenhagen that have made strides through the use of renewable energy and electrified transport,” Dr Höhne said.
“The United Kingdom (together with 75 other parties) and California have at least set ambitious goals to become carbon neutral, which might send signals to industry even before supporting policies are implemented.
“Meanwhile, 26 banks have stopped directly financing new coal-fired power plants.”
Although it was clear from the science that Australia, the world’s 14th biggest emitter, was not doing enough federally – there is action coming out of the states and territories, Mr Baxter said.
“Australia is one of the sunniest and one of the windiest countries on the planet. We are blessed with every resource needed for decarbonisation,” he said.
“We have the solutions for at least 80 per cent, it’s just a matter of finding leadership that can bring that about.
“It doesn’t have to come from the federal government, you’ve got states who are stepping up. They’re not quite doing it enough but … they’re taking steps.”
In November, countries will meet in Glasgow for critical talks on limiting emissions and how they’re going to achieve the Paris Agreement.