Sunday, June 1, 2014

Australia's past two years the hottest on record, Climate Council says

The Age, June 2, 2014   

Read and download the Climate Council Seasonal update here - 

Australia has experienced its hottest two-year period ever recorded as the country feels the impact of climate change, a report released today finds.

Australia in the second half of 2014 will probably have an El Nino event, which often brings drought, extreme heat and bushfire risk to rural areas, according to the Climate Council  relaunched as a nonprofit group after Prime Minister Tony Abbott scrapped the government's Climate Commission last year.

"El Nino exacerbates the longer-term warming trend," Will Steffen, a researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra who helped compile the report, said. "People have been saying, hasn't the warming trend stopped? In no way has it stopped. If anything it has intensified."

Deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed to limit an increase in extreme weather, including heat waves, drought and bush fires, according to a study from the group earlier this year. The government accepts the science of climate change and is committed to meeting its promised 5 percent reduction in emissions by 2020, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in April.

Australia's climate change plans are in the spotlight because Abbott is hosting meetings of the Group of 20 nations this year. The US has encouraged Australia's prime minister to include climate change on the G-20 agenda.

"The real policy question is what plan does the government and the opposition have for decarbonizing the Australian economy around mid-century," Steffen said. "The 2020 target is pretty immaterial. The long-term target is what's very important to hit, and as far as I can see we don't have clarity from either side of politics about what they're going to do."

Record May
The 24 months through April set an Australian record for the hottest average temperature over a two-year period, the Climate Council said. Sydney had 19 straight days with temperatures of at least 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit) between May 10 and May 28, 10 days longer than the previous record, according to the council.

Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide also broke records for the number of consecutive days with temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius or above in May.

The Abbott-led government has vowed to replace Australia's carbon levy with an alternative program that would provide funds to companies and projects that reduce emissions. The government plans to get rid of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corp., set up by Abbott's predecessor to spur investment in the industry.