EXPERT REACTION: 2017 among the three warmest years on record

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Analysis by the World Meteorological Organization of five leading international datasets has confirmed 2017 as one of the three warmest years on record. They state increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases as the likely cause for the continuing streak of warmest years, with 2017 joining 2015 and 2016 in the record. The global record is still held by 2016, however, 2017 was the warmest year without an El Niño, which can boost global annual temperatures.

Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), University of Tasmania, The University of Melbourne

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Paul Read is Senior Research Fellow at the Monash Sustainability Institute at Monash University and a Co-Director of the National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson

The World Meteorological Organization has confirmed the last three years as the hottest on record just as we see dangerously high temperatures at the Australian Open.

A few years back scientists in NSW used wet-bulb temperature - the same process used to protect athletes during tennis championships - to estimate the limit of human survival in a hotter world. The limit of complete human anhilation was only 12 degrees.

The original estimates conducted by Stern in the United Kingdom estimated global impacts at smaller increments, for example, 0.5, 1, 2.5 and 4 degrees. Even at these small increases, the global impact meant more bushfires, collapse of the Amazon, ocean acidification, species extinction, famine and disease.

In a 2013 paper we estimated that developing nations aspiring to an Australian standard of living would emit enough greenhouse gases to greatly surpass 4 degrees. And yet some form of equality of consumption and production is needed for the whole world to negotiate a global brake on emissions. We can't even talk about this yet because the conversation in Australia is still mired in politics.

This is an issue that transcends politics, and remains just as urgent as nuclear weapons, rising political instability and terrorism. In fact, the same processes driving climate change are also driving many of Australia's social problems. Bushfire is just one symptom of a tangled and distorted system.

As long as we're distracted by short-termism, climate change is one issue that, like compound interest, will inevitably call in its debt. Our current leaders bequeath that debt to our children.

If some of our greatest athletes are challenged by the heat at the Australian Open in 2018, then think what a hotter world would mean for our most vulnerable in say, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. I wonder whether we are any less culpable than the person who leaves a child in a hot car?

Last updated: 19 Jan 2018 4:32pm
Dr Rebecca Cunningham is a Research Principal for the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures

The WMO’s global findings will not be a surprise to people living in SA, Vic or NSW, who yet again are preparing to swelter through another run of 40-degree-plus days.

Extreme heat in summer is a new normal, particularly for urban populations. Sydney and other Australian cities need to urgently focus on ways to help people cope through extreme heat.

In Western Sydney our heat-mapping research has underpinned Penrith City Council’s ‘Cooling the City’ strategy, where climate adapted infrastructure, such as bus stops, are helping those without air-conditioned cars get around safely.

Last updated: 19 Jan 2018 2:02pm
David Bowman is Professor of Environmental Change Biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Tasmania

The record breaking warming despite neutral ENSO and La Niña is contributing to a spate of globally extreme fires- the bushfire risk situation is deteriorating and Australians remain poorly prepared. We need to urgently start adapting to this new reality.

Last updated: 19 Jan 2018 1:57pm
Dr Andrew King is Climate Extremes Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of Melbourne.

Despite there being no boost from natural climate variability, such as an El Niño event, we've seen one of the three warmest years on record for the globe in 2017.

The Earth is now about 1°C warmer than it would be without human activities so we are well on the way to the Paris goal of 1.5°C unfortunately. Much stronger reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be necessary if we are to meet the 1.5°C target. 

The impacts of climate change aren't just seen globally of course. In Australia we are seeing increases in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, like the one we are currently experiencing in the southeast of the continent.

If we don't act on climate change we will see more heatwaves affecting Australia in future decades.

Last updated: 19 Jan 2018 1:51pm

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