Australia’s 2018 environmental scorecard: a dreadful year that demands action


Albert Van Dijk, Australian National University

Environmental news is rarely good. But even by those low standards, 2018 was especially bad. That is the main conclusion from Australia’s Environment in 2018, the latest in an annual series of environmental condition reports, released today.

Every year, we analyse vast amounts of measurements from satellites and on-ground stations using algorithms and prediction models on a supercomputer. These volumes of data are turned into regional summary accounts that can be explored on our Australian Environment Explorer website. We interpret these data, along with other information from national and international reports, to assess how our environment is tracking.

A bad year

Whereas 2017 was already quite bad, 2018 saw many indicators dip even further into the red.




Read more:
Australia’s 2017 environment scorecard: like a broken record, high temperatures further stress our ecosystems


Temperatures went up again, rainfall declined further, and the destruction of vegetation and ecosystems by drought, fire and land clearing continued. Soil moisture, rivers and wetlands all declined, and vegetation growth was poor.

In short, our environment took a beating in 2018, and that was even before the oppressive heatwaves, bushfires and Darling River fish kills of January 2019.

Indicators of Australia’s environment in 2018 compared with the previous year. Similar to national economic indicators, they provide a summary but also hide regional variations, complex interactions and long-term context.
source: http://www.ausenv.online/2018

The combined pressures from habitat destruction, climate change, and invasive pests and diseases are taking their toll on our unique plants and animals. Another 54 species were added to the official list of threatened species, which now stands at 1,775. That is 47% more than 18 years ago and puts Australia among the world’s worst performers in biodiversity protection. On the upside, the number of predator-proof islands or fenced-off reserves in Australia reached 188 in 2018, covering close to 2,500 square kilometres. They offer good prospects of saving at least 13 mammal species from extinction.

Globally, the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere accelerated again after slowing down in 2017. Global air and ocean temperatures remained high, sea levels increased further, and even the ozone hole grew again, after shrinking during the previous two years.

Sea surface temperatures around Australia did not increase in 2018, but they nevertheless were well above long-term averages. Surveys of the Great Barrier Reef showed further declining health across the entire reef. An exceptional heatwave in late 2018 in Far North Queensland raised fears for yet another bout of coral bleaching, but this was averted when sudden massive downpours cooled surface waters.

The hot conditions did cause much damage to wildlife and vegetation, however, with spectacled flying foxes dropping dead from trees and fire ravaging what was once a tropical rainforest.

While previous environmental scorecards showed a mixed bag of regional impacts, 2018 was a poor year in all states and territories. Particularly badly hit was New South Wales, where after a second year of very poor rainfall, ecosystems and communities reached crisis point. Least affected was southern Western Australia, which enjoyed relatively cool and wet conditions.

Environmental Condition Score in 2018 by state and territory, based on a combination of seven indicators. The large number is the score for 2017, the smaller number the change from the previous year.
source: http://www.ausenv.online/2018

It was a poor year for nature and farmers alike, with growing conditions in grazing, irrigated agriculture and dryland cropping each declining by 17-20% at a national scale. The only upside was improved cropping conditions in WA, which mitigated the 34% decline elsewhere.

A bad start to 2019

Although it is too early for a full picture, the first months of 2019 continued as badly as 2018 ended. The 2018-19 summer broke heat records across the country by large margins, bushfires raged through Tasmania’s forests, and a sudden turn in the hot weather killed scores of fish in the Darling River. The monsoon in northern Australia did not come until late January, the latest in decades, but then dumped a huge amount of rain on northern Queensland, flooding vast swathes of land.




Read more:
The Darling River is simply not supposed to dry out, even in drought


It would be comforting to believe that our environment merely waxes and wanes with rainfall, and is resilient to yearly variations. To some extent, this is true. The current year may still turn wet and improve conditions, although a developing El Niño makes this less likely.

However, while we are good at acknowledging rapid changes, we are terrible at recognising slow, long-term ones. Underlying the yearly variations in weather is an unmistakable pattern of environmental decline that threatens our future.

What can we do about it?

Global warming is already with us, and strong action is required to avoid an even more dire future of rolling heatwaves and year-round bushfires. But while global climate change requires global action, there is a lot we can and have to do ourselves.




Read more:
Australia is not on track to reach 2030 Paris target (but the potential is there)


Australia is one of the world’s most wasteful societies, and there are many opportunities to clean up our act. Achieving progress is not hard, and despite shrill protests from vested interests and the ideologically blind, taking action will not take away our prosperity. Home solar systems and more efficient transport can in fact save money. Our country has huge opportunities for renewable energy, which can potentially create thousands of jobs. Together, we can indeed reduce emissions “in a canter” – all it takes is some clear national leadership.

The ongoing destruction of natural vegetation is as damaging as it is unnecessary, and stopping it will bring a raft of benefits. Our rivers and wetlands are more than just a source of cheap irrigation for big businesses. With more effort, we can save many species from extinction. Our farmers play a vital role in caring for our country, and we need to support them better in doing so.




Read more:
To reduce fire risk and meet climate targets, over 300 scientists call for stronger land clearing laws


Our environment is our life support. It provides us our place to live, our food, health, livelihoods, culture and identity. To protect it is to protect ourselves.


This article was coauthored by Shoshana Rapley, an ANU honours student and research assistant in the Fenner School of Environment and Society.The Conversation

Albert Van Dijk, Professor, Water and Landscape Dynamics, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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2018-19 was Australia’s hottest summer on record, with a warm autumn likely too


File 20190228 150702 1t8sa4f.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Dirty water from Queensland’s historic flooding, triggered by weeks of exceptional monsoon rains earlier in the year.
NASA Worldview/EPA

David Jones, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Lynette Bettio, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and Skie Tobin, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Australian summers are getting hotter. Today marks the end of our warmest summer on record, setting new national temperature records. Worsening drought, locally significant flooding, damaging bushfires, and heatwaves capped a summer of extremes.

As we look to autumn, warmer temperatures overall and below average rainfall – especially in eastern parts of the country – are likely.

Australian summer mean temperature anomalies against the 1961–1990 average.
Bureau of Meteorology



Read more:
The stubborn high-pressure system behind Australia’s record heatwaves


Very hot…

The starkest feature of this summer was the record warmth. The national average temperature is expected to be about 2.1℃ above average, and will easily beat the previous record high set in summer 2012-13 (which was 1.28℃ warmer than average).

Very low rainfall accompanied the record heat of summer. At the national scale, each month was notably dry, and total summer rainfall was around 30% below average; the lowest for summer since 1982–83. The monsoon onset was delayed in Darwin until the 23rd of January (the latest since 1972–73) and typical monsoonal weather was absent for most of summer.

Preliminary summer 2018–19 mean temperature deciles.
Bureau of Meteorology

In December 2018 Australia saw its highest mean, maximum and minimum temperatures on record (monthly averages, compared to all other Decembers). Notable heatwaves affected the north of Australia at the start of the month, spreading to the west and south during the second half of December. Temperatures peaked at 49.3℃ at Marble Bar in Western Australia on the 27th, with mid-to-high 40s extending over larger areas.

The heat continued into January, which set a national monthly mean temperature record at 2.91℃ above the 1961–1990 average. Heatwave conditions which had emerged in December persisted, with a prolonged warm spell and numerous records set. Eight of the ten hottest days for the nation occurred during the month, while a minimum temperature of 36.6℃ at Wanaaring (Borrona Downs) in western New South Wales on the 26th set a new national minimum temperature record.

Temperatures moderated a little in the east of the country for February, partly in response to flooding rainfall in tropical Queensland. Even so, the national mean temperature will come in around 1.4℃ above average, making this February likely to be the fourth or fifth warmest on record.

…and very dry

Australia has seen dry summers before and many of these have been notably hot. The summers of 1972–73 and 1982–83 – which featured mean temperatures 0.90℃ and 0.92℃ above average, respectively – both came during the latter stages of significant droughts, and were both records at the time.

As the State of the Climate 2018 report outlines, Australia has warmed by just over 1℃ since 1910, with most warming occurring since 1950. This warming means global and Australian climate variability sits on top of a higher average temperature, which explains why 2018-19 was warmer again.

A major rain event affected tropical Queensland during late January to early February, associated with a slow-moving monsoonal low. Some sites had a year’s worth of rain in a two-week period, including Townsville Airport which had 1,257mm in ten days. Many Queenslanders affected by this monsoonal low went from drought conditions to floods in a matter of days. Flooding was severe and continues to affect rivers near the Gulf of Carpentaria, as well as some inland rivers which flow towards Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre.

Preliminary summer 2018–19 rainfall deciles.
Bureau of Meteorology

The outlook for autumn

Spring 2018 saw a positive Indian Ocean Dipole which faded in early summer. At the start of summer sea surface temperature anomalies in the central Pacific exceeded 0.8℃, which is the typical threshold for El Niño affecting the oceans, but these declined as summer progressed. Combined with a lack of coupling between the atmosphere and ocean, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation remained neutral, though normal rainfall patterns shifted to oceans to the north and east, leaving Australia drier as a result.

As we move into autumn, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation and Indian Ocean Dipole tend to have less influence at this time of year. The onset of new Indian Ocean Dipole or El Niño/La Niña events typically happens in late autumn or winter/spring.

Over recent years, autumn rainfall has also become less reliable, with declines in cool season rainfall in the southeast and southwest. Temperatures are also rising, in a local expression of the global warming trend.




Read more:
Explainer: El Niño and La Niña


The Bureau’s outlook for autumn shows high probabilities that day and night-time temperatures will remain above average for most of the country. We expect to see continued below-average rainfall in much of the east, where drought is currently widespread.

Looking to the winter, the Bureau’s ENSO Wrap-Up suggests the Pacific Ocean is likely to remain warmer than average. The potential for an El Niño remains, with approximately a 50% chance of El Niño developing during the southern hemisphere autumn or winter, twice the normal likelihood.

Rainfall outlook for autumn 2019.
Bureau of Meteorology


For more information watch BOM’s March–May 2019 Climate and Water Outlook video and subscribe to receive Climate Information emails.The Conversation

David Jones, Climate Scientist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Lynette Bettio, Senior Climatologist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and Skie Tobin, Climatologist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Farmed fish dying, grape harvest weeks early – just some of the effects of last summer’s heatwave in NZ



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Queensland groper, typical of coral reefs off Queensland at 27°S were found in the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland, at 35°S.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Jim Salinger, University of Tasmania and James Renwick, Victoria University of Wellington

As the Australian heatwave is spilling across the Tasman and pushing up temperatures in New Zealand, we take a look at the conditions that caused a similar event last year and the impacts it had.

Last summer’s heatwave gave New Zealand its warmest summer and the warmest January on record. It covered an area of four million square kilometres (comparable to the Indian subcontinent), including the land, the eastern Tasman Sea and the Pacific east of New Zealand to the Chatham Islands.

In our research, we looked at what happened and why, and found that the heatwave affected many sectors, leading to early grape harvests and killing farmed fish in parts of the country.




Read more:
Coastal seas around New Zealand are heading into a marine heatwave, again


Drivers of warmer than average conditions

We used a combination of land and ocean temperature observations, large-scale analyses of the atmospheric circulation, and ocean modelling to understand the drivers of the 2017/18 summer heatwave. It was memorable for a number of extreme events and statistics.

The average air temperature was 2.2°C above the 1981-2010 normal of 16.7°C, and it was the warmest summer ever recorded in more than 150 years. The number of extreme warm days and warm nights was also the highest recorded, going back several decades.

The peak month was January 2018, 3.2°C above normal and the warmest month recorded in observations as far back as 1867. Ocean surface temperatures were similarly extreme, with a marine heatwave that lasted about five months, at 2.0°C above normal at its peak.

The combined New Zealand annual land and sea surface temperature record, in °C, from 1867 to 2018, compared with the 1981-2010 average. The blue bars represent individual years, and the red line trends over groups of years.
Jim Salinger, CC BY-ND

The warming was mostly the result of very settled conditions over the country, especially to the east, bringing light winds, plenty of sun, and warm air from the subtropics. Such conditions in summer are associated with the positive phase of a polar ring of climate variability known as the Southern Annular Mode (SAM), which brings high pressures (anticyclones) to New Zealand and parts of other southern hemisphere countries in the mid-latitudes, including southern Australia and Tasmania, southern Chile and Argentina.

The SAM was strongly positive throughout last summer, especially in January, and weak La Niña conditions were prevalent in the tropics. The light winds in the New Zealand region allowed the ocean surface to warm rapidly, without the usual turbulent mixing to transport the heat away. The warmest waters in the Tasman Sea formed an unusually thin layer near the surface.

Impacts and repercussions

New Zealand was affected by more than its normal share of ex-tropical cyclones, notably Fehi and Gita. They brought strong winds, storm surges and heavy rainfalls that caused flooding as they passed through. The warm ocean waters around New Zealand would have helped maintain the intensity of the storms and supply moisture to drive the heavy downpours.

The warm conditions caused massive ice loss in South Island glaciers, estimated to be the largest annual loss of glacier ice in nearly 60 years of records for the Southern Alps. Satellite data from end-of-summer snowline measurements at the Tasman Glacier suggest that the Southern Alps lost 9% of glacier ice during last summer alone.

The Franz Josef glacier on New Zealand’s West Coast advanced during the 1980s and 1990s but is now retreating.
Andrew Lorrey/NIWA, CC BY-ND



Read more:
A bird’s eye view of New Zealand’s changing glaciers


Warm air temperatures had a marked effect on managed and natural ecosystems. The Marlborough grape harvest was unusually early in 2018, two to three weeks ahead of the normal maturation time. Marine ecosystems were significantly disrupted. Coastal kelp forests struggled to grow in the warm sea. In southern New Zealand, the temperature threshold was breached three times, resulting in substantial losses of kelp canopies.




Read more:
A marine heatwave has wiped out a swathe of WA’s undersea kelp forest


For the first time, Atlantic salmon had to be imported as farmed fish died in salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds. Commercial fishers reported that snapper was spawning approximately six weeks early off the South Island coast, and Queensland groper was reported in northern New Zealand, 3000km out of range.

Past and future

The summer of 2017/18 shared some characteristics with another hot summer, way back in 1934/35. That season was so warm that it prompted a special report by the New Zealand Meteorological Service. Conditions were similar: persistent high-pressure systems in the New Zealand region, positive SAM conditions, light winds over and around New Zealand, warm ocean surface and air temperatures. While those two summers shared some natural variations in the local climate, the recent summer was warmer for two reasons.

First, climate in the region is now more than half a degree warmer now than in the 1930s. Second, the SAM has been trending towards its positive phase over the last few decades, making settled conditions over New Zealand more frequent now than in the 1930s. That trend is mostly related to the ozone hole that occurs in spring and early summer, cooling the polar atmosphere and driving the strongest winds farther south towards Antarctica, leaving lighter winds and higher pressures over New Zealand.

Looking to the future, we can compare the conditions experienced in 2017/18 with what climate models predict for the future. We estimate that the extreme warm conditions of New Zealand’s last summer would be typical summer conditions by the end of the century, for an emissions scenario associated with a couple of degrees of global warming above pre-industrial temperatures. If emissions keep increasing as they have done in recent years, last summer will seem cool by the standards of 2100.The Conversation

Jim Salinger, Honorary Associate, Tasmanian Institute for Agriculture, University of Tasmania and James Renwick, Professor, Physical Geography (climate science), Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

State of the Climate 2018: Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO


Michael Grose, CSIRO and Lynette Bettio, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO have released their fifth biennial State of the Climate report.


State of the Climate 2018 is the latest biennial snapshot of climate change in Australia. It focuses on observed long-term trends that are happening now and are likely to continue into the near future, as well as significant climate events that have occurred over the past two years. These changes are described through the latest observations from CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology marine, atmospheric and terrestrial monitoring programs.

The report also summarises the latest climate research from Australia and around the world. This will help inform a range of economic, environmental and social risk assessments and responses by government, industry and communities.




Read more:
State of the Climate 2016: Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO


Multiple lines of evidence show the climate system changing in ways that are discernible from natural variability, and consistent with a human influence on climate. These changes are having an impact on our natural and built environment.

In particular, climate change is being felt through an increase in the frequency and severity of high-impact weather events such as heatwaves, extreme fire weather conditions, coastal inundation and marine heatwaves. These trends are projected to continue.

Some of the report’s major findings are described below.

Passing major milestones

Australia’s average air temperature has warmed by just over 1℃ since national records began in 1910. Oceans around Australia have also warmed by around 1℃ since 1910.

Annual mean temperature over Australia and the seas surrounding Australia.
Bureau of Meteorology, Author provided

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are rising globally. Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels continue to increase, and are the main contributor to the rise in CO₂, with some contribution from changes in land use.

Atmospheric CO₂ concentrations measured at Cape Grim, Tasmania (one of three main global measuring stations, alongside Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and Nunavut, Canada), have persisted at levels above 400 parts per million (ppm) since 2016. What’s more, the combined concentration of all greenhouse gases exceeded the equivalent of 500 ppm CO₂ in mid-2018. These milestones haven’t been crossed for at least 800,000 years, and likely 2 million years.

Changes in the atmosphere and land

Australia’s warming trend has led to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events. For example, very high monthly maximum temperatures that used to occur around 2% of the time (based on the average for 1951–80) now happen about 12% of the time (2003–17).

Other elements of Australia’s climate have also shown long-term changes. New analysis techniques now provide a more detailed picture of changes to fire weather through time. The annual total of daily values of the Forest Fire Danger Index is increasing over large areas of Australia. Most regions also saw an increase in the most extreme 10% of fire weather days, and fire seasons have lengthened.

Rainfall in April–October has been steadily decreasing in Western Australia’s Southwest, and has decreased since the 1990s in southeast Australia. In contrast, rainfall has increased in parts of northern Australia since the 1970s.

The observed long-term reduction in rainfall across southern Australia has led to even greater reductions in streamflow. Long-term average streamflow has decreased in most regions of southern Australia, and increased in regions of northern Australia.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, and this is an important driver of the observed increase in the intensity of short-duration rainfall, sometimes linked to flash flooding. Southern Australia is projected to experience decreases in average rainfall and more time spent in drought. Meanwhile, most of the country can expect an increase in rainfall intensity.

Historically, significant weather and climate events are often the result of the combined influence of several extreme factors at once. Higher temperatures during periods of below-average rainfall, for instance, can exacerbate drought conditions. Temperature, dryness and wind come together to create dangerous bushfire conditions.

Trend in the annual sum of Forest Fire Danger Index, 1978–2017.
Bureau of Meteorology, Author provided

Changes in the ocean

The warming in Australia’s oceans has contributed to longer and more frequent marine heatwaves – defined as periods when sea surface temperatures are much warmer than average. The world’s oceans are a crucial moderator of the climate, taking up more than 90% of the extra heat in the system – most of it is absorbed by the Southern Ocean.

Sea levels continue to rise through the combined effects of warming oceans and melting ice from land-based glaciers and ice sheets. Global average sea level has risen by more than 20cm since 1880, but the rate varies from place to place. About 25% of the CO₂ emitted by human activity diffuses into the oceans, making them more acidic in the process.

The past two years, 2016 and 2017, have seen back-to-back bleaching events in parts of the Great Barrier Reef, linked to marine heatwave events. These changes are very likely linked to warming oceans, and primarily driven by the human influence on the climate.

Global sea level change from 1880 estimated from tide gauges and satellites.
CSIRO, Author provided

Well-established scientific theory and climate model studies both show that the warming would largely not have occurred without the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. In addition, the current increase in temperatures accords with projections made nearly 30 years ago. Warming is projected to continue into the future as the effect of past emissions continue, and more greenhouse gases are emitted. Australia is projected to experience increases in sea and air temperatures, with more hot days and marine heatwaves, and fewer cool extremes.

It takes time for the climate system to warm in response to increases in greenhouse gases, and the historical emissions over the past century have locked in some warming over the next two decades, regardless of any changes we might make to global emissions in that period. However, by the mid-21st century, higher ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to greater warming and associated impacts, and reducing emissions will lead to less warming and fewer associated impacts.

Australian average annual temperature 1861-1900 period in observations and global climate models.
CSIRO, Author provided

State of the Climate 2018 can be read on either the Bureau of Meteorology or CSIRO websites. The online report includes an extensive list of references and useful links.

You can also watch accompanying behind-the-scenes videos on our research on climate extremes and ocean warming.The Conversation

Michael Grose, Climate Projections Scientist, CSIRO and Lynette Bettio, , Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ten feelgood environment stories you may have missed in 2018



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The Epic Duck Challenge: one of 2018’s happier environment stories.
Jarrod Hodgson, Author provided

Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

Let’s be honest – environment news isn’t always the jolliest, and 2018 was no exception. From climate change, to recycling, to energy policy, at times it has felt like we’ve been lurching from one crisis to the next.

So here are ten upbeat environmental stories from this year that prove it’s not all doom and gloom.


Cane toads cracked

In September, scientists announced they have decoded the cane toad genome, potentially paving the way for new weapons to repel the slimy invaders.

The successful effort potentially makes it easier to identify viruses that can be used to attack the toxic toads.

Cracking the cane toad genome.

Bears on the mend

The treatment of bears imprisoned in Asian bile farms is heartbreaking. But the good news is they can recover from their ordeal if given the right care during rehabilitation, going on to lead relatively stress-free lives even after years of torture.


Tasty trick

Blockchain isn’t just for bitcoin and other clever stuff best left to the financial experts. It can also help tackle illegal tuna fishing, helping to ensure the fish on your dish is more sustainable and bringing much-needed transparency to an important global industry.


Why did the fish cross the road?

Crossing roads is hard enough if you have legs. You might think it’s impossible for fish, and technically you’d be right. But Queensland researchers have invented a device that lets fish do the next best thing: swim upstream through culverts beneath the road, even if they’re facing a raging torrent in the opposite direction.

A breakthrough for fish.

Epic feat

The excitingly named “epic duck challenge” proved that drones can do an even better job of surveying wildlife than human scientists. This development should help this under-resourced area of research finally take flight (sorry).


Hey, good lookin’

And before we leave the animal stories, there’s just time to take you back inside the world of million-dollar beauty pageants… for camels. We guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Ready to wow the judges.
Mahmood Al amri and Jaime Gongora, Author provided

Feeling the energy

Yes, it was a spirit-sapping year for energy policy, with one round of bickering after another. But throughout the year, South Australia’s big battery has been quietly kicking goals.

It celebrated its birthday in late November, and although questions remain over what will happen when its battery packs need replacing, it made A$13 million during the first half of 2018, and has generally been a roaring success considering that it owes its existence to some billionaires’ banter on Twitter.


Grounds for optimism

Your coffee habit could do more than give you a pick-me-up. Used coffee grounds can boost the health of your garden too, as long as you compost them first.


Contain your excitement

And if you’re more of a cola drinker, take heart in the fact that container deposit schemes really do help reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans, by as much as 40% off the US and Australian coasts. We’ll drink to that.


And… breathe

The holiday season is traditionally a time to draw breath and recoup for the new year. So you might like to meditate on the fact that our breath (and other animals’ too) literally helps trees to grow.

And if you like thinking about trees, why not sign up to our Beating Around the Bush series, with plenty more uplifting musings on some of Australia’s favourite species.The Conversation

Michael Hopkin, Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s 2018 in weather: drought, heat and fire


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Queensland’s ‘unprecedented’ bushfires were part of a year of extremes.
RACQ CQ/AAP

Karl Braganza, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Last year was a time of exceptional weather and record-breaking heat according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement, which was released last night.

The Bureau issued four Special Climate Statements relating to “extreme” and “abnormal” heat, and reported a number of broken climate records.

One of the headline stories for the year was drought across eastern Australia — centred on New South Wales, but also affecting Victoria, eastern South Australia and southern Queensland.


Bureau of Meteorology

With the whole of NSW declared in drought during the latter half of 2018, this drought will be recorded as one of the more significant in Australia’s history, ranking alongside the Millennium, 1960s, World War Two and Federation Droughts. Of those historic droughts, only the Millennium Drought saw similar, accompanying high temperatures.

The below-average rainfall has persisted for around two years across much of NSW and adjacent regions. The drought conditions were particularly severe in the recent spring period, with low rainfall, persistently high temperatures, and record high evaporation.

This exceptionally dry period was influenced by sea surface temperatures to the west of the continent. Perhaps fortuitously, a developing El Niño in the Pacific Ocean failed to mature in the second half of the year. An El Niño would have typically exerted a further drying influence on eastern Australia.




Read more:
Australia moves to El Niño alert and the drought is likely to continue


The dry conditions in eastern states were severe enough to see Australia record its lowest September rainfall on record, and the second-lowest on record for any month — behind April 1902, during the prolonged Federation Drought. Over 2018, Australia’s annual rainfall was 11% below average, and the lowest recorded since 2005, during the Millennium Drought.

In contrast, above-average rainfall was recorded across parts of the tropical north, and most significantly in the Kimberley, consistent with recent trends of increasing rainfall in that region.

The drought conditions were exacerbated by record or near-record temperatures across many parts of the country. It was Australia’s third warmest year on record, behind 2013 and 2005. Daytime maximum temperatures were the warmest on record for NSW and Victoria, and second-warmest for South Australia, the Northern Territory and Australia as a whole.


Bureau of Meteorology

Persistent dry conditions through winter are typically associated with low soil moisture and heatwaves in the following spring and summer, and 2018 followed this pattern — with the added contribution of a warming climate.

The year ended with some record-breaking heat events. Perhaps the most significant of these was the extreme heat along the central and northern Queensland coast in late November and early December, which saw maximum daytime temperatures of 42.6 °C in Cairns and 44.9 °C in Proserpine on the 26th of November.

These temperatures, combined with persistent dry conditions in the preceding months, saw catastrophic fire weather and bushfires along 600km of the Queensland coast, an event that fire agencies have called unprecedented for the state.




Read more:
Sydney storms could be making the Queensland fires worse


The year ended with a burst of heat over the Christmas-New Year period, with temperatures at least 10 degrees warmer than average across southern South Australia, most of Victoria and southern NSW, leading to Australia’s warmest December on record.


Subscribe to receive Bureau Climate Information emails.The Conversation

Karl Braganza, Climate Scientist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As they meet in Poland for the next steps, nations are struggling to agree on how the ambitions of the Paris Agreement can be realised



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The Spodek complex in Katowice, Poland, will host this year’s UN climate summit.
Shutterstock.com

Edward Morgan, Griffith University; Brendan Mackey, Griffith University, and Johanna Nalau, Griffith University

International leaders and policymakers gathering in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th annual round of UN climate talks know that they have plenty of work to do.

They are hoping to make progress on the Paris Agreement Work Programme, otherwise known as the Paris Rulebook – the guidelines needed to guide implementation of the Paris Agreement. That agreement was struck three years ago, but it is still not clear how the treaty’s goals to curb global warming will actually be achieved.

The Paris Agreement was a diplomatic landmark, under which nations pledged to hold global temperature rises to “well below 2℃”, and ideally to no more than 1.5℃.

This requires all countries not only to slash global greenhouse emissions, but also to help the world adapt to the impacts of climate change. The agreement requires countries to develop national climate plans, to report back on their progress, and to ramp up their efforts in the coming years.

The ‘what’ and the ‘how’

Whereas the Paris Agreement talks about what needs to be done, the Paris Rulebook to be agreed at Katowice is about how nations can set about achieving it. Unlike the previous, more prescriptive Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement allows countries to choose their own approach to climate change. But it is important that actions taken by countries are done within an agreed, transparent framework of rules.

Rules need to be agreed about nations’ emissions targets, climate finance (including climate aid for developing countries), transparency, capacity building and carbon trading. Bringing all of this together is a huge challenge for negotiators. They need to establish a common set of rules applicable to all countries, while also maintaining the crucial principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” that underpins the UN climate process.

Already lagging behind

As well as being difficult, the task is also urgent. There is already evidence that countries are struggling to live up to their Paris commitments.

Analysis of the current emissions targets (known as Nationally Determined Contributions) shows that countries need to do more to reach the 2℃ goal. Meeting the 1.5℃ goal will be harder still and will need ambitious and swift action, as recently highlighted by a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Although much of the focus has been on the challenge of bringing emissions targets into line with the Paris goals, our research suggests that climate adaptation efforts are also lagging behind.

Climate adaptation involves managing climate-related risks and deciding on how to manage and prepare for unavoidable impacts, such as increases in intensity and frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves and extreme storms, along with slow-onset impacts from sea level rise.

Many countries have developed climate adaptation policies as part of their climate change response. Our recent research analysed 54 of these national adaptation plans to understand how they match up to the intent of the Paris Agreement (as outlined in Article 7 of the Agreement).

We found that most adaptation plans only partially align with the Paris Agreement. Plans were largely focused on the social and economic aspects of adaptation, and were broadly aligned to countries’ existing policy priorities, especially around disaster management and economic development. For developing countries, there was a strong focus on linking adaptation and development.

However, countries are struggling to include environmental considerations into their planning. While the Paris Agreement clearly emphasises the important role that ecosystems play for climate adaptation, most plans are silent on this point.

What’s more, developed countries tended to take a less participatory approach to adaptation planning. Planning in developing countries was hampered by limited access to scientific knowledge but they made more use of local and traditional knowledge. The issue of resourcing and support for developing countries remains a challenge for climate change adaptation.

More work needed

Our results suggest that countries need to build on their existing adaptation plans to meet the ambitions in the Paris Agreement. There are good opportunities to better balance social and economic aspects with environmental and ecological considerations to improve planning.

Many countries, including Australia, have ratified the Paris Agreement, but few are delivering the ambitious action it requires. Besides pursuing deeper cuts to greenhouse emissions, countries need to revisit and update their adaptation strategies. Australia is well positioned to do so, given its economic wealth, its technical abilities, and the extensive climate adaptation research it has already undertaken.

Increasingly, we know what needs to be done to combat climate change. The Katowice summit will hopefully advance an agreement on how countries can do it. But actually doing it on a globally coordinated scale will be the biggest challenge, and there is some way to go to catch up.The Conversation

Edward Morgan, Research Fellow in Environmental Policy and Planning, Griffith University; Brendan Mackey, Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University, and Johanna Nalau, Research Fellow, Climate Adaptation, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.