The evidence is overwhelming: human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests, are rapidly changing Earth’s climate in every region and across every climate system.
This is the main thrust of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group 1 report (The Physical Science Basis) prepared by over 200 scientists.
The report also reveals how, as the driest inhabited continent, Australia is highly vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. Recent events, including the scale and intensity of the summer bushfires of 2019–20, and the severe coral bleaching impacting the Great Barrier Reef that occurred in three of five years from 2016, demonstrate just two of the consequences of a warming planet for Australia’s people, economy, and environment.
All countries have to act. Some have, some haven’t. It is in Australia’s national interest for us all to act quickly. We have much to lose if we don’t, and much to gain if we do. The evidence tells us we must move beyond our current commitments and do more. Only through collective real, rapid and large-scale greenhouse gas emission reductions can we lessen the scale of the impacts of global warming.
Whilst the IPCC report is sobering and the Code Red warning is real, the situation is neither hopeless nor insurmountable. But it is urgent. As with the COVID-19 pandemic, science has solutions. As the IPCC report concluded “Every tonne of CO2 emissions adds to global warming”, we can limit future warming by limiting Australian and global emissions of carbon dioxide from human activity today. Every nations’ actions count.
The Australian Academy of Science in March this year released a report on the risks to Australia of a three degrees warmer world. The Academy’s report shows Australia can become a clean energy exporter and potentially a global renewable energy superpower. It highlights Australia’s relative advantage with its abundant natural resources for solar and other renewable energy generation, as well as significant deposits of new economy minerals critical for developing batteries and other low emission technologies.
Today, Australia must again harvest our investment in science and technology, as we did urgently to fight COVID-19. We have enormous resources for the next wave of innovative technologies. We can and must grasp the exciting economic opportunities presented by the new economy. As a smart and agile nation with a skilled workforce, we can immediately scale up existing technology, and lean on our industrial base and plentiful renewable energy resources to enable greater emission reductions.
I often hear that the challenge of climate change is too hard, too big, too overwhelming, and not immediate, thereby not demanding the same urgency the pandemic has required. These excuses fail to recognise how far we have come, the available technologies, the urgency so clearly manifest in this IPCC Report, the willingness of the voting public to do their bit and their growing expectation that all our leaders do theirs.
Professor John Shine AC PresAA FRS
Australian Academy of Science
© 2021 Australian Academy of Science