On Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Fifth Assessment Report (5AR). In summary it tells us that:
- The climate is warming
- Humans are responsible for the majority of climate warming
- The level of climate warming by the end of the century will be seriously bad news if we do not take preventative steps.
When I read that, I think about my very young daughter and my hope that one day she will experience the joy of having her own children. I think of my grandchildren and the conversations I am going to have with them about life in the ‘olden days’. Will we talk about a time when natural disasters weren’t so common? When the climate was such that it didn’t have such a major impact on the health and well being of the very young and the very old, or those with chronic conditions?
Or as I hope will we be discussing how science was able to warn us about the global health threat of climate change and how, while we were slow starters we were clever enough to listen to smart people and put our combined effort into the reduction of carbon emissions and the amazing technologies that will then exist?
Like many Australians I was appalled and embarrassed by the federal government’s decision to discontinue funding the Climate Commission. This is not a case of what we don’t know can’t hurt us. Knowledge is power, and in the face of some of the challenges that Australia and our neighbouring countries face, we need as much as we can get.
The subsequent decision, however, by Tim Flannery and his fellow commissioners to re-launch this important resource as the Climate Council made me feel immensely proud to be an Australian. It reminded me that as a community we can make our voice and opinions heard. Thanks to the IPCC, the Australian Climate Council and many others who share information, we will not be able to feign ignorance on the issue of climate change.
To quote the Department of the Environment’s summary of the IPCC report: “Most nations of the world have now agreed that a global temperature rise beyond 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels poses unacceptable risks to humanity. Temperature rise is already nearing 1°C, halfway to that limit.”
The Climate Council summary articulates the issue for this century thus:”If emissions continue to track at the top of the IPCC scenarios, global temperature could rise by up to 5.4°C by 2100, relative to pre-industrial levels. Limiting global temperature increase to 2°C requires limiting total post industrial carbon emissions from all sources to 1000 billion tonnes. By 2011 about half of this budget had already been emitted.”
The coalition government has a Direct Action Plan to tackle climate change. Given the evidence we have around the nature and progress of climate change, what evidence will the government be providing regarding the impact of Direct Action? This is a problem with a timeline; it requires intelligent debate and application of objective information, not politics. Can we see the numbers please? There is space for further information on the government’s (previously highly informative) climate change website.
Health professionals and health providers may be facing a host of new challenges in the forseeable future as a result of climate change. The need to follow the example of the members of the Climate Council and find new ways to raise your voices has never been greater.
Climate change is happening now, this is not a drill.
For more informative summaries of the IPCC report see the Climate Council – Unpacking the IPCC fifth assessment report or the Department for the Environment summary at www.climatechange.gov.au.- What’s new in the fifth assessment reportthey also provide this handy guide to decoding confidence and likelihood.