‘It’s not good news’: ANU Climate Change Institute hosts global climate science update

polar bear on melting ice cap

It is time to start really wondering if it is possible to reverse climate change.

That was the message of ANU Research School of Earth Sciences’ Professor Eelco Rohling, at the ANU’s Climate Change Institute’s public lecture and panel discussion on the most recent climate change developments on Tuesday, 19 July.

‘It’s not good news,’ Rohling said. ‘One has to really wonder if we can reverse [climate change].’

Professor Sharon Friel, of the ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance, highlighted the human face of climate change, urging ‘a multi-pronged response for both [climate change] adaptation and mitigation’ that recognised the ‘sisterhood’ between physical and social sciences.

Climate change will contribute to human ill-health, particularly in underdeveloped and developing nations. Friel said that increases in deaths from heat exposure, diarrhoea, malaria and childhood undernutrition are of particular concern. Moreover, increases in allergenic pollens and fungi are significant in causing more problems such as Victoria’s ‘thunderstorm asthma’ event.

‘This is a plea not just to think of climate change as a technical and economic issue, but also a people issue and a health issue as well,’ she said.

Dr Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, laid out some of the latest findings, which will be released in the IPCC’s sixth Assessment Report.

The IPCC reviews and compiles information from the latest climate science literature, to provide concise reports particularly pertinent to policymakers. Dr Masson-Delmotte also noted that one of the key roles of Assessment Reports is in giving developing countries similar access to scientific knowledge as more developed nations.

Professor Mark Howden, of the ANU Climate Change Institute, facilitated the event. Professor Philip Boyd, from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, joined Rohling, Friel, and Masson-Delmotte.

Masson-Delmotte began with a rundown on the global context of climate change, noting that humanity has already used over two thirds of our CO2 budget for keeping climate change below a 2C change from pre-industrial levels.

‘If global temperature change goes above 2C [above pre-industrial levels], we’ll be out of the range of the last million years,’ she said.

She also highlighted new research into human influence on extreme weather events. She said that recent droughts in California and Syria, and the heavy rain France experienced in spring 2016, which reduced the area’s wheat yield by 30-40 per cent, could all be attributed, in varying degrees, to human influence.

The unusually high temperatures in the Arctic in 2016, which were responsible for flooding in the Svalbard seed vault, could become ‘business as usual’ with 2C warming, occurring every two years by 2050.

Rohling also discussed changing sea-levels, noting that the melting Greenland ice sheet is ‘a scarily strong contributor to sea-level rise’, but that research has also discovered new vulnerable areas in Antarctica.

‘It’s really a game now of getting on with it… this is the golden decade, we either do it or we don’t. Sink or swim,’ he concluded.