Still time to tackle the climate crisis

Mia Armitage & Jim Beatson

Two major reports on Australian climate change have been released in the past month and while neither has good news experts still say it’s not too late.

The first was last month’s report from the Climate Council released in the lead-up to a federal election.

The report showed the federal government had engaged in what the council called ‘climate deceit’ by delaying and playing down emissions reports.

Then, once again, the government released the national quarterly report on greenhouse gas emissions the morning after a major football match.

The latest report shows Australia’s emissions in 2018 have increased by 0.7 per cent since 2017 if you include the ‘land use sector’ and 0.6 per cent without.

It all ‘adds up’

An increase of less than one per cent in Australia’s emissions since the country’s 2017 report may not sound like much, but Dr Annika Dean, an expert in climate science impacts and adaption, says any increase is significant.

Australia’s emissions have increased every quarter for the past four years and it all ‘adds up’ she says.

‘The data clearly show that without a credible climate policy, emissions will continue to rise.’

Dr Dean says with land use emissions excluded from calculations, Australian carbon gas emissions are at a record high.

‘It’s really the wrong direction if we want to be reducing our emissions to meet our Paris targets, let alone reducing climate change’.

World not on track

Dr Dean says emissions ‘in a lot of other countries’ are decreasing but in some, like Australia, emissions continue to increase.

‘In the US, the transition to renewables, the closure of multiple coal-fired power stations, means emissions are slowly falling,’ she says.

Other countries have set higher targets, along with the European Union and a lot of small island countries, very vulnerable to climate change, are transitioning away from fossil fuels.

But largely, Dr Dean says, ‘we’re not really on track to meet the Paris goal of limiting global warming to two degrees’ above pre-industrialisation levels.

‘If you take all countries’ pledges we’re still on track for warming around three degrees,’ she says.

Last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report backs this up.

IPCC vice chair and co-author of the report Professor Howden said that if the world keeps on its current trajectory, global warming will probably be ‘four degrees or over’ the Paris targets.

The professor says if the world sticks to Paris gas-emissions targets, warming will be restricted to about three degrees but to achieve global warming targets, ‘we have to really significantly reduce emissions’.

‘On steroids’

Professor Howden says the world is ‘going up and up in sea level just as we keep on going up and up in temperature’.

He says the warming is likely to lead to an increase in ‘big storm events and cyclones’ that will be more intense and will travel further.

At the same time, droughts and heatwaves will probably increase in frequency and intensity.

‘So the things that we’ve seen over the last couple of years but on steroids,’ he says.

Climate crisis

Dr Dean says Australia is facing a climate crisis that includes extreme heat, bushfire, and sea-level rise.

‘We’ve just had the hottest summer on record and we keep on seeing records broken,’ she says. ‘We’ve just seen the hottest March and it’s actually been the hottest January to April period on record. That heat exacerbates extreme weather.’

Human extinction

While Professor Howden says he doesn’t think humanity will go extinct, ‘Many, many people will die needlessly and many, many people will suffer needlessly, and of course many species apart from humans are going to be impacted’.

But while a million species are predicted to go extinct in the next few decades, Professor Howden says, ‘Humans are very adaptable. We find ways of surviving in extraordinary environments… from polar environments through to the hottest places on Earth’.

‘But even if we can keep ourselves cool, there are other costs that aren’t economic. You won’t get to send your kid out to play soccer on the weekend because it will get too hot’.

Dr Dean echoes Professor Howden’s warnings, ‘Australians’ livelihoods are being affected by climate change,’ she says. ‘We really need to address our greenhouse gas emissions and turn them around so that they start to decline rather than increasing to mitigate this problem of climate change.’

To hear full interviews with Dr Annika Dean and Professor Mark Howden, go to Community Newsroom at

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2 responses to “Still time to tackle the climate crisis”

  1. Joachim says:

    The Prof doesn’t think humanity will go extinct is a gutsy call. We humans are like all the other species on Earth, we live in The Environment that we all depend upon to survive. We might last a bit longer than most species but when The Environment is destroyed ( which is the pathway that we are on ) then we eventually will go down with it.

  2. Yes – you said it, Joachim.

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