A summer that was just too hot

The Angry Summer of 2018/19 was the hottest on record in Australia and characterised by extreme heatwaves, devastating bushfires, torrential rainfall and flooding. In just 90 days, more than 206 records were broken around Australia. These and all major extreme weather events have been documented in the Climate Council’s latest report The Angriest Summer.

Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed countries in the world to the impacts of climate change, with worsening extreme weather events threatening public health systems, economy, and environment.

The report provides an overview of the bushfires that raged across the continent destroying properties in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Pristine rainforest in Queensland and Tasmania, previously not prone to bushfires, suffered devastating damage.

To slow and eventually stop the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather, Australia needs a credible and effective national climate policy that drives down greenhouse gas pollution deeply and rapidly as part of a global effort, the Climate Council states.

That means tackling pollution from fossil fuels across all sectors: electricity, transport and industry, as well as credible policies to address emissions from agriculture and land use.

Solutions include accelerating the uptake of renewable energy and storage, investing in energy efficiency, and switching to electricity powered by renewables in transport, industry and buildings.

The report was circulated by Climate Councillor Greg Mullins

A familiar name? He’s the decorated firefighter and former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner who says climate change is contributing to bushfires so horrendous that homes and lives cannot be protected, and the federal government will not acknowledge the link because it has failed on emissions reduction policy.

With 50 years of fire fighting experience he says "I feel quite passionately that the word needs to get out about how much the bushfire threat has worsened. I’ve watched it change, and I’ve watched our politicians sit on their hands, from both major parties. I don’t think either of them really have answers or are doing enough.”

Back to the key findings that revealed January was the hottest on record for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.

Meantime Port Augusta in South Australia sizzled, reaching a record- breaking 49.5°C on January 24 (the highest temperature in the summer).

At the other end of the scale, Townsville experienced 10-day accumulated rainfall totals of 1,257 mm, breaking the previous 10-day record by more than 330 mm.

Professor Mark Howden Director, ANU Climate Change Institute wrote the Angry Summer was driven by greenhouse gas pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas, and land clearing, and the record-breaking heat is part of a long-term warming trend from the burning of fossil fuels and land clearing.

“For many years scientists have warned that climate change is driving worsening extreme weather. The Angry Summer is another example of the consequences of climate change today,” he says.

The window to effectively tackle climate change is rapidly closing but many of the solutions we need are already at hand … phasing out fossil fuels and accelerating the transition to renewables and storage technologies.

The Climate Council is featuring a series of articles and events about how we can adapt and respond to climate change in future: what the work commute will look like, how farming practices and energy systems need to change, how health can be improved by acting on climate change and how to better prepare for extreme events.”

Coinciding with the timing of the report were claims by the Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Environment Minister that Australia’s emissions were declining.

It prompted Anna Skarbek of ClimateWorks to question ‘Are emissions of greenhouse gases in Australia going up or down?’

In a piece written for the ABC website she explained that different people interpret the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory that shows emissions have gone up over the past year and every financial year since June 2013. However they were down 1.4 per cent on the quarter to September last year, which was trumpeted by Minister Taylor.

Australia is in a large group of countries in the top 20 whose emissions are each around 1-2 per cent of total emissions, Scarbek wrote. And Australia, and our near neighbours, are at extreme risk from climate change, from rising sea levels and worsening extreme weather events.

Global warming won't stop until emissions stop rising — so we need to reach a balance point of net zero emissions ongoing.

ClimateWorks' analysis last year showed Australia is not expected to make its current 2030 target without substantial new policy. Emissions instead would be at about 11 per cent less instead — a similar level to what they are today.

They found that Australia needs to double its emissions reduction progress to achieve the current 2030 target and triple its progress to reach a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.

The most recent emissions data shows that emissions are falling in some sectors of the economy — notably from electricity — but are rising in nearly all other sectors, especially transport and industry.

Joint statement on emissions  

A group of academics and renewable energy specialists have signed the joint statement Australia needs new policy effort to get on track to meet its 2030 target

The statement reads “We, the undersigned, who have collectively devoted 600 years to climate and energy issues know that Australia is not on track to meet its current target to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 under current policy.

“Quarterly data released by the Federal Government shows Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution has been rising for four years in a row.”

The statement then documented why greenhouse gas pollution in 2030 is actually projected to be higher than today, with renewable energy rollout unlikely to continue at current rates without additional policy.

“Australia is in the firing line of climate change. Australians are facing increasingly frequent and/or severe extreme weather, such as heatwaves, intense rainfall, and extreme bushfire conditions, testing the limits of our coping capacity. Australians need the Paris Climate Agreement to work in order to limit the impacts of extreme weather on our livelihoods, safety and health,” the statement read.

“Tackling climate change effectively requires credible national policy to drive down greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors. The same evidence-based science that is already driving countries around the world to take urgent action should be the underpinning of Australian national policy.”

Among the many high-level signatories were Greg Bourne, Ric Brazzale, Tim Buckley, Simon Corbell, Dr Mark Diesendorf, Amanda McKenzie, Dr Hugh Saddler, Dr Martin Rice, Professor Will Steffen and Andrew Stock.