An image from space of the cloudpatterns associated with a mid-latitudecyclone off southwest Australia.
An image from space of the cloud patterns associated with a mid-latitude cyclone off southwest Australia. by NASA
Professor Andrew Holmes

The purpose of this booklet is to provide an understanding, based on our present scientific knowledge, of some key questions about climate change.

It is an extensively revised update of a similarly titled Academy publication in 2010 that summarised the state of knowledge at that time. It has been prepared by a broadly-based Working Group of Australian climate scientists with review and guidance provided by an Oversight Committee composed of Academy Fellows and the former Chair of the Academy’s National Committee for Earth System Science.

Along with its sister Academies, the Australian Academy of Science has played an active role in assessing the science of climate change since the 1970s. The Academy recognises the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the mechanism for the international scientific assessment of climate change science, impacts and response strategies. However, it believes that it is important that Australian climate scientists explain the science, including its uncertainties and implications, to the Australian community in simpler terms than can be found in most of the IPCC reports.

The Working Group who prepared this update was led by Professor Michael Raupach FAA FTSE and Dr Ian Allison AO with special support, in the later stages, from Professor Steven Sherwood. The views presented in the answers to the nine key questions were carefully reviewed by an Oversight Committee and 12 independent climate scientists* who agreed to help with the preparation of this document. The role of the Oversight Committee was to make sure that all reasonable review comments were properly considered by the Working Group in preparing their final text. While the reviewers provided more than 600 individual comments on the penultimate draft, neither they nor the Oversight Committee are responsible for the final wording of the detailed answers that represent the views of the expert members of the Working Group.

Nevertheless the summary on pages 4 and 5 represents the fully agreed views of both the Oversight Committee and the Working Group. It has been endorsed by the Academy as a balanced, objective and authoritative summary of the current state of knowledge of the science of climate change.

As in all areas of active science, uncertainties remain. However, enormous scientific progress has been made in our understanding of climate change and its causes and implications. Since 2010, the IPCC has prepared a new international assessment with the active involvement of many Australian researchers, including several members of the Academy Working Group. This Q&A update is thus well informed by recent international developments in the science as well as the most recent work by our own scientists on peculiarly Australian aspects of the climate change problem.

As the summary states, ‘Societies, including Australia, face choices about how to respond to the consequences of future climate change.’ It is incumbent on society to consider these choices.

I wish to thank all the members of the Working Group and Oversight Committee (whose names are listed on the back cover) for their painstaking work in the preparation of this update. I also acknowledge the assistance of the reviewers and others who helped with this update. The Academy is especially grateful to the Department of the Environment, which provided the financial support for the preparation and publication of this document.

On behalf of the Academy, I am pleased to commend the information in the following pages to all those who are looking for authoritative answers to the key questions we are all asking about the science of climate change.

Andrew Holmes AM PresAA FRS FTSE
Australian Academy of Science

*In addition to multi-stage review carried out by the Oversight Committee, the penultimate draft of this document was reviewed by Dr G Ayers FTSE, Dr I G Enting, Professor D Griggs FTSE, Professor D Karoly, Mr WR Kininmonth, Professor M J Manton FTSE, Dr K G McCracken AO FAA FTSE, Professor N Nicholls, Dr N Smith FTSE and three anonymous reviewers.

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