Thursday, May 15, 2008

Not enough Australian climate change research being done

Here is a great article highlighting the lack of Australian climate change report.
15th May 2008
ABC News

Around the world, glaciers are melting, flowers are blooming out of season and hibernating animals are waking up earlier than they used to.

A report in the journal Nature suggests human-induced climate change is having an impact on the natural environment much earlier than scientists had predicted.

But while the evidence from North America and Europe is overwhelming, there is a gap in the research coming from Australia.

Dr Cynthia Rosenzweig is the head of the Climate Impacts Group at NASA in New York.

She says that in the past three decades, global temperatures have increased by half a degree Celsius and that is having a discernible impact on the natural environment.

"First of all let me say in Australia, early arrival of migratory birds like the fly catcher and the fantail, declining water levels in western Victoria; in New Zealand there are glaciers melting," she said.

"There's a lot of evidence coming forward in Europe and North America, the warming lakes and rivers and then lots and lots of biological examples - earlier spring flowering of trees and shifts in ranges of both plant and animal species."

The study has been published in the latest edition of Nature and includes many of the scientists involved in last years' report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Human-induced climate change

Dr Rosenzweig and a team of scientists collected evidence from nearly 30,000 studies and analysed the possible causes of the observed changes.

They found that more than 90 per cent of the changes were caused by human-induced climate change.

"The IPCC said that there was a human-related temperature change that was having an effect on physical and biological systems at the global scale and that was likely," Dr Rosenzweig said.

"What we are doing is going further and saying that it's not only on the global scale but on the continental scale that we can also now do this attribution."

David Karoly is a professor of meteorology at the University of Melbourne and both an IPCC lead author and a co-author of the Nature report.

"Earlier studies had suggested that the impact of climate change would only be noticeable in the future, like in the 2020s and 2030s or 2040s," he said.

"What this study shows is that human-caused climate change is already having impacts on natural systems all around the world."

"It's not that climate change is something that's going to affect us in the future - it's already affecting not just Australia, but all the countries around the world already."

Professor Karoly says the study was able to rule out other human factors that might have an impact on plants and animals such as deforestation or water pollution, and he says they could also show that the observed changes are not due to natural climate variability.

"The climate does vary naturally, but it's quite unusual to get changes in temperature that are occurring over the whole globe in the same way and at the same magnitude in terms of rate of change," he said.

"So what we were able to do was to show that these patterns of impact couldn't be explained by natural temperature variations by using climate model simulations of natural temperature variations, and also climate model simulations of temperature variations that included responses to human causes of climate change, increase in greenhouse gases."

'Patchy records'

But some scientists say a major weakness of this report is that it is not as global as it claims to be, lacking evidence from many regions of the world, including Australia.

Dr Barry Brook is the director of the Research Institute for Climate Change at the University of Adelaide. He say the lack of evidence is due to insufficient domestic funding.

"Unfortunately across most of the continent we've got very patchy records," he said.

"That includes critical areas such as the Murray-Darling Basin, which we know is being affected by a loss of water, most of tropical northern Australia, much of the coastline, and also areas such as the Snowy Mountains, which are going to be affected very rapidly by climate change."

Dr Brook is calling for an ongoing endowment such as a future fund for science which enables researchers to do long-term studies without having to bid each year for funding grants.

This week's Budget has allocated $2.3 billion over four years for climate research, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to help adapt to a changing environment.