Australia hardest hit by climate change

Australia — a country whose leader has refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol, who has denied that climate change exists, and who these days says he’s “not convinced by the more gloomy predictions” (whatever that means) — is suffering the negative effects of climate change worse than any other country, according to a Bureau of Meteorology report.

Howard’s refusal to act on, or even acknowledge, what is emerging as the greatest threat to Australia’s environment, economy and way of life will be a defining characteristic of his term in office. His failure to see the elephant in the room gives the lie to his oft-repeated claim of “sound economic management”.

In 2006, average temperatures nationally were about 0.5C above average, making the year the 9th warmest on record, according to the 2006 Annual Australian Climate Statement, issued yesterday. But averages tell only part of the story — the tropical parts of the country were unusually cool and wet while southern areas experienced higher temperatures and a severe drought which has persisted for the last decade.

That the average temperature in Australia is increasing — an idea repeatedly pooh-poohed by the PM — is now abundantly clear: take a look at this graph from the BoM:


The wiggly line in the middle of the graph shows the 5-year mean temperature compared to the average between 1961 and 1990. It shows a +0.9C increase since 1910 — yet our leaders continue to bury their head in the sand, refusing to take action on climate change because doing so would hurt the economy. One can’t help but wonder what sort of an economy we will have if this trend continues.

The rainfall picture is even more stark. Check this out:


This is a map of rainfall (compared to average) in 2006, but it could just as easily be a population map. The north and west of the country (blue), has very low population (much of it is desert) and had very high rainfall. The south, east and south-west (red) supports perhaps 95 percent of the country’s population, and is gripped by drought.

Preliminary data indicate that the average total rainfall throughout Australia for 2006 was about 490 mm, slightly more than the long-term average of 472 mm. However, it is unlikely that many Australians will remember 2006 as a wet year. The near-normal all-Australian total was made up of well above average totals across the north and inland Western Australia cancelling out the well below average totals recorded in the southeast and far southwest. Parts of southeast Australia experienced their driest year on record, including key catchment areas which feed the Murray and Snowy Rivers, as did parts of the Western Australian coast, including Perth. In contrast, record high falls were observed in parts of the tropics and inland Western Australia. It was the third-driest year on record for both Victoria and Tasmania, while for the broader southeast Australian region, which also takes in southeast South Australia and southern New South Wales, it was the second-driest.

Is this not a national crisis? Isn’t it time to at least consider the possibility that some of those “more gloomy predictions” might need to be planned for? Or will we just continue doing the same old thing, burning brown coal, yapping about nuclear power, shifting the blame about water policy to the states, comfortable in the knowledge that the worst effects of climate change won’t happen before the next election?

I’m off to water the lawn.