Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Climate science audit slams skeptics

23 May 2011, Page: 3

THE government established Climate Commission has dismissed the skeptics and warned of dire consequences if adequate action to cut emissions is not taken in this "critical" decade. In a review of the scientific evidence, released today, the commission says: "We know beyond reasonable doubt that the world is warming and that human emissions of greenhouse gasses are the primary cause". It also says this year's Queensland and Victorian flooding "raised the question of a possible link between the floods and human induced climate change".

The government, embattled over the carbon tax, will use the report to bolster its case for action and to discredit critics. Prime Minister Julia Gillard set up the independent commission to give the public information as part of her move to price carbon. The audit of the science was done by one commissioner, climate scientist Will Steffen, and extensively reviewed by other experts.

Professor Steffen hit out at skeptics yesterday, telling The Age that Australia and the United States were "the two parts of the world where there is still significant media debate about the science". There was no debate within the credible scientific community. Professor Steffen, of the Australian National University, said the deniers were making a very emotional attack on the science it was not a rational criticism. "A lot of people who understand psychology say vocal denialism has less to do with the science but is more about a world view", he said.

Commission chairman Tim Flannery would not be drawn on the report's political implications, in particular between the Gillard carbon tax and Tony Abbott's direct action: "It underlines the need for a carbon price; it doesn't talk about the mechanism used to deliver that". But he stressed the need for a robust policy. fossil fuel emissions had to be dealt with directly it would not be adequate just to allow polluters to offset their emissions into agricultural sequestration, such as forestry and soil carbon, he said.

The report says the impacts of climate change are already being felt in Australia and elsewhere, with less than 1 degree of global warming; the economic, environmental and societal risks of future change are serious. "Minimising these risks requires rapid, deep and ongoing reductions to global greenhouse gas emissions. We must begin now if we are to decarbonise our economy and move to clean energy sources by 2050". The report also canvasses a "budget approach" to reducing emissions as an alternative to the present targets and timetables approach. This would set an amount of emissions consistent with a certain level of containment of global warming.

It "allows more flexibility in the economic and technical pathways to emissions reductions", it says, but warns "the fact that we have already consumed over 30% of our post 2000 budget means that much of that flexibility has been squandered if we wish to avoid the escalating risks associated with temperature rises beyond 2°". Highlighting the problems for Australia, the report points out that in the past 50 years, the number of record hot days has more than doubled, increasing the risk of heatwaves and associated deaths.