Australia's Greenhouse Gas Scientists Declare Climate Emergency

CANBERRA, Australia, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - Earth's warming climate is affecting the growth of plants, the productivity of farms, and habitats for animals right now, and further climate change is "inevitable," a meeting of 80 research scientists from across Australia has declared. The scientists, members of the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting, issued the warning Sunday after concluding their 2005 Annual Science Meeting.

The scientists have no doubt that human activities are responsible for the increased temperatures they are observing. "Human-induced climate change is a reality," they said in a statement. "Its primary cause is excessive emissions of greenhouse gases across the globe: burning fossil fuels for transport and generating electricity; clearing and burning forests; farming land; and raising animals for food and clothing materials."

power plant

Loy Yang A Power Station, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley 165 kilometers (100 miles) east of Melbourne. is a 2000 megawatt brown coal-fired power station next to the largest open cut coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere. Loy Yang Power Ltd supplies nearly 40 percent of the state’s electricity needs. (Photo courtesy Loy Yang Power Management)
“Atmospheric temperatures are increasing, oceans are becoming warmer, sea levels are rising, rainfall patterns are changing. The amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface directly is falling, as are evaporation rates from land-based water bodies and potential evaporation rates from the soil and vegetation,” the scientists wrote.

Chief Executive Dr. Michael Robinson, who heads the center, said far greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than those required under the Kyoto Protocol are necessary to stabilize the climate.

”Even 50 percent reductions in global emissions of greenhouse gases would see carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise to about three times their natural levels," Robinson said.

The Kyoto Protocol, which took effect on February 16, is "only a first small step on a journey that will be long and difficult," the scientists warn. The protocol seeks to cut average greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries in the five years to 2012 by 5.2 percent against 1990 levels.

"Further climate change is inevitable," even if protocol targets are met, the scientists warned in their statement. "Greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere – some of which will remain there for more than a century – and our continuing emissions ensure further climate change over the coming century."

They cite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prediction of further temperature rises of 1.4° Celsius to 5.8°C by 2100.

“Over the past six years the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting has made significant advances in developing our understanding of how forests, farms, grasslands and woodlands can play a part in the battle to limit climate change and its impacts,” Robinson said.


Australia's southwest has been dry for 27 years and the drought could extend across the south due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. (Photo courtesy CSIRO)
Sustainably managed forests, farms and grasslands have the capacity to limit climate change by storing more carbon in soils, plant material and wood products, removing the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But the scientists warned that global dimming - the widely observed decrease in direct sunlight arriving at the Earth’s surface over recent decades - could inhibit the enhanced plant growth which might otherwise be expected from increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

As a result, plants could act as a positive feedback mechanism, increasing the warming of the climate.

“Likewise, if climate change increases the frequency and extent of fire in Australia, some of the large quantities of carbon stored in vegetation and soil will be released to the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases,” the scientists said.

The Australian government, headed by Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, has chosen not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, yet the international agreement is used as a benchmark against which Australian climate control is measured.

Government projections suggest Australia is on track to meet its Kyoto Protocol target of limiting average annual greenhouse gas emissions in the five years 2008 to 2012 to 108 percent of 1990 emissions.

The scientists say progress toward this "modest" target is being achieved through reductions in land clearing and some planting of new forests, but emissions from generation of electricity, manufacturing and transportation more than wipe out the reductions accomplished by land activities.


Environmentists have campaigned for years to stop the clearing of native bushlands such as this operation in Queensland. In May 2004 the Queensland State Government passed new laws to phase out broadscale land clearing. (Photo courtesy The Wilderness Society)
They said that while scientific knowledge of climate change is much improved, many uncertainties remain and continued research is vital.

"The cause of global dimming and its future course remain subject to scientific debate," the scientists said.

While there is not yet scientific consensus on the causes of global dimming, research by scientists from the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting suggests that "it is accompanied by reductions in potential evaporation, and that global warming is implicated."

Global dimming has occurred while the sun’s output remains unchanged. It is a result of a change in the atmosphere – most likely more cloudiness, more aerosols - tiny particles of pollution - or a combination of both.

Increased cloudiness could be caused by more aerosols in the atmosphere or by increased water vapor pressure caused by global warming, the scientists speculate.

"The fact that global dimming extends to relatively unpolluted areas like Australia suggests the latter," they sayd. "Increased cloudiness would also help explain the widely observed decrease in the diurnal temperature range, with night temperatures increasing twice as fast as daytime temperatures."

"Further fundamental research is required if we are to reduce the many uncertainties in our understanding of how plants and soils will respond to continuing increases in the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the resulting changes in climate,” the scientists said.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting is one of more than 60 cooperative research centers in Australia. It is supported financially by federal government agencies such as the Australian Greenhouse Office and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; by state government agencies from Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia; and by three corporate sponsors: Alcoa Alumina Australia, Shell Company of Australia, and the Stanwell Corporation.