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EXPERT REACTION: Global science leaders call for further action on climate change ahead of CHOGM 2018

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The Australian Academy of Science has joined Commonwealth of Nations science leaders from around the globe to call on the Commonwealth Heads of Government to use the best available science to guide action on climate change. The call is part of a Consensus Statement on Climate Change launched today by 22 national academies and societies of science from around the Commonwealth, ahead of next month’s CHOGM summit in the United Kingdom. The consensus statement, which represents the consensus views of tens of thousands of scientists, marks the first time Commonwealth nations have come together to urge their Governments to take further action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases emissions during the second half of the 21st Century.

Organisation/s: Australian Academy of Science, Curtin University, The University of Queensland, The Australian National University, The University of Western Australia, University of Melbourne, Griffith University, University of New South Wales

Media Release

From: Australian Academy of Science

The Australian Academy of Science has joined Commonwealth of Nations science leaders from around the globe to call on the Commonwealth Heads of Government to use the best available science to guide action on climate change.

The call is part of a Consensus Statement on Climate Change launched today by 22 national academies and societies of science from around the Commonwealth, ahead of next month’s CHOGM summit in the United Kingdom.

The consensus statement, which represents the consensus views of tens of thousands of scientists, marks the first time Commonwealth nations have come together to urge their Governments to take further action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases emissions during the second half of the 21st Century.

Secretary of Science Policy at The Australian Academy of Science, Professor David Day, said the long-term goal of keeping the increase in average global temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, agreed to by 160 parties in the 2015 Paris Agreement, was only the first step in a long journey.

“Even if all the country commitments from the Paris Agreement are met, the best interpretation of the latest data shows that by the end of the century the global climate is likely to be 3°C above pre-industrial levels.

“This is substantially higher than the Paris target to limit warming to less than 2°C, and would have profound impacts affecting billions of people throughout the world,” Professor Day said.

Sustainability is one of the key themes to be discussed by Commonwealth leaders at the 2018 CHOGM summit, with a focus on the resilience of developing and vulnerable countries to climate change.

“Recognising different capacities, challenges and priorities, the approaches of each nation will not be the same. But, they must be informed by the best available scientific evidence, monitoring and evaluation,” Professor Day said.

“The Academy stands ready to assist the Australian Government, and indeed broader Commonwealth efforts, by continuing to provide sound scientific advice on issues relating to climate change.”

The Consensus Statement can be found here. A video about the Consensus Statement can be found here.

Further reading

  • The Australian Academy of Science’s Australian climate science capability review characterises Australia’s current climate science capability and identifies how well the climate science sector is positioned to meet current and future demands for weather and climate knowledge.
  • The Australian Academy of Science’s science of climate change publication explains the current situation in climate science, including where there is consensus in the scientific community and where uncertainties exist.

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Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives and reflect independent opinion 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.

Professor John Quiggin is an Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland

The science leaders of the Commonwealth have restated, with growing urgency, what we have known for the past twenty years: human action is causing dangerous climate change, and determined action is needed to mitigate this change. The Australian government will doubtless respond, if at all with meaningless platitudes.

The reality is that climate policy in Australia is held hostage by anti-science culture warriors on the government benches, and that the Prime Minister is unable or unwilling to challenge them.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:56pm
Tom Worthington is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University.

I support scientists from around the Commonwealth calling for government action to reach net-zero greenhouse gases emissions. This action can support economic as well as environmental goals.

My masters students at the Australian National University are investigating ways computers and telecommunications can reduce carbon emissions. One area for investigation is how the environmental effects of bitcoin can be reduced and block-chain used for environmental benefit.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:53pm
Professor Andrew Blakers is the Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University

The way to very deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions is clear - a rapid shift to solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind energy followed by electrification of nearly all energy services.

PV and wind constitute more than half of net new generation capacity being installed worldwide, and all new generation capacity in Australia.

Renewable electricity coupled with electrification of land transport and air & water heating allows 50 per cent emission reductions worldwide and in Australia by 2030 at zero net cost, because PV and wind are cheaper than other electricity sources, and continue to fall in price.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:51pm
Professor Kadambot Siddique is a Hackett Professor of Agriculture Chair and Director at The UWA Institute of Agriculture, The University of Western Australia

Sustainable food production and food security are a major concern and are likely to be exacerbated by projected climate change and variability. It is expected that changes in meteorological patterns such as precipitation and temperature will result in decreasing the mean yield of all crops especially due to drought and high temperatures - the main constraints for crop productivity. This in turn will adversely impact food and nutritional security in regions where the bulk of the population is dealing with chronic hunger and malnutrition.

Australia faces the challenges of climate change especially frequent droughts, high temperatures, nutrient poor soils and dryland salinity. It is the driest human inhabited continent in the world and our agricultural system is largely based on drylands. 

Drylands cover more than 40% of the world’s land area and are home for one third (2.5 billion people) of the global population. Thus, Australia is well-placed to find improved adaptation and resilience in agricultural production and food supply through high quality science and technology.

The University of Western Australia collaborates with national and international partners to find strategies by which farmers around the world can adapt to the immense challenges facing global food production systems especially in the drylands. We support the call to use the best available science and technology to guide action on climate change.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:48pm
Associate Professor Grant Wardell-Johnson is from the ARC Centre for Mine Site Restoration and School of Molecular and Life Sciences and President of the Australian Council of Environment Deans and Directors (ACEDD), at Curtin University

It gives scientists no pleasure in bringing news of the difficult challenges facing humanity. But it is essential that they do engage with government and with all sectors of society. But it also isn’t any wonder that they are getting frustrated. Collectively the science community understands deeply the perils facing humanity. They also know that it makes sense economically and socially to be acting with urgency. 

The one degree of human-induced warming already being experienced is having significant impact world-wide, regionally and locally in most sectors of society. Much adaptation is happening to this 1 degree (as demonstrated in ‘four corners’ this week). Much is known on the impacts of 2 degrees, 3 degrees and beyond. Humanity is facing a serious turning point. Adaptation may not be enough if society does not act with greater urgency. 

So far there has been a collective failure to appreciate and build in both emission reduction and adaptation mechanisms with an appropriate level of urgency. It is at least as serious as if we are facing imminent invasion. We have the skills and capacity to act. We need the courage to do so and to sell that need in all the ways we can muster. We have dealt with imminent perils before. We must do so again. It will require government, scientists and society as a whole to act collectively – and very soon indeed.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:37pm
Dr Liz Hanna is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Climate Change Institute at The Australian National University

To protect ourselves, our children and our planet, adaptation must occur in synchrony with mitigation efforts. Yet investment in human health adaptation research stalled in 2012, just when we needed it, and just when Australia was gaining international recognition. 

Australia is well adapted to our naturally highly variable and extreme climate, but this does not imply current practices will provide future protection against increasing climatic extremes. We know that 50°C days are coming. If we don’t act, death rates will soar. The lead time to transform urban infrastructure, transport systems, work practices and cooling landscapes that can continue to produce our food and secure water supply is very long. Health systems need to prepare for shifts in the health burden. Indeed, alongside personal mitigation efforts, everyone and every industry needs to embrace adaptation, so the looming climate shocks are less damaging to our national health and wellbeing, our economy and ecosystem. 

Financial returns on investment in health protection commonly vary from 3:1 to 70:1 and higher. So it makes good economic sense to invest now in climate protection. The moral imperative clinches the deal. Australia’s children deserve a healthy future.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:33pm
Professor Ben Hankamer is the Director of the Centre for Solar Biotechnology at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland

I strongly support the position taken by the Australian Academy of Science. Climate change is one of the most critical issues facing the human population and the natural world.

The predicted effects of climate change are rapidly getting worse and determined, fact based leadership is now essential. It is critical that political leaders have the courage to lead on this issue, and that they support our scientists and industry to face and tackle this challenge of our time."

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:25pm
Dr Paul Read is from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at The University of Melbourne

Peak scientific bodies from 22 nations have called on the 2018 London meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) to live up to its stated ideals of achieving a common future of sustainable prosperity, fairness and security. 

If this petition on behalf of 2.3 billion of the world's people is to succeed, it's high time to recognise that the issue of planetary health is bigger than any other issue, its global impact when multiplied by risk bigger even than recent threats of nuclear war.  At every level of the ecosystem this planet is deeply unwell and the changes are happening under our noses - climate change, plastics in the ocean, poisons in the soil, endocrine disruptors in the waterways, particulates in the air, massive loss of species. 

This is the one planet we have to live from, and many are living as if we can borrow three planet's worth every year.  That's ultimately like borrowing from the mouths of children to support your own drug habit.

The most respected scientists and scientific peak bodies from 22 nations have called on CHOGM to make a commitment to the future of the planet and humanity. 

Without soberly facing up to this issue most every other government decision made will have but an illusory and short-term effect, in fact the role of government - if not to protect all, not just the wealthy - is called into question. 

Government must immediately allow for proper funding of cross-disciplinary work that helps integrate social and economic systems with sustainability, focusing simultaneously on both mitigation and adaptation. 

There's no choice here anymore - we need both as time runs out - and the problems are now so intimately entangled with the ways in which we live and relate to each other politically and economically that nothing short of a global spring-cleaning exercise will make the difference we need. 

Note that the very countries representing the extremes of both communism and capitalism not only represent the biggest threats to our common future but also have the greatest pollution and the most inhuman, indecent, frankly obscene, levels of wealth inequity the world has ever seen. If the democratic free-market is too slow to act, then I'm afraid the invisible hand of the market is blind - the market simply does not respond to ecological and social externalities.

By social, yes, I'm pointing to poverty, slavery, starvation - the tip of the iceberg of human misery that our systems need to fess up to. We must use our brains and manage markets for the good of all, and it's far better we move now and control the way we want to live in the future than to wait and see how circumstances, both planetary and political, ultimately force us to live. 

Led by the Royal Society and others we must as a commonwealth of nations protect that common wealth and resist the forces that would erode it.  The planet is part of that wealth of nations - we can protect planetary health and simultaneously protect what we value most of humanity.  But it has to be done soon.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:20pm
Dr. Olaf Meynecke is a research fellow with Griffith University and CEO of Humpbacks & High-rises

As a researcher involved in the study of climate change impacts for the past 15 years I support the statement by the Academy of Sciences. This is a strong statement delivered by some of the most outstanding scientists. 

We are no longer in the position to believe or not believe in climate change. Climate change is a fact that our societies need to address in all aspects. Adapting to climate change is necessary but reducing climate change drivers an obligation. We need many nations to come together and the Commonwealth Nations should act as leaders. 

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:11pm
John Church is a Professor in the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

To meet the Paris Target of keeping temperatures well below 2C requires significant greater mitigation than current commitments.  Thresholds leading to metres of sea level rise with major impacts around the globe are fast approaching and are likely to be crossed without significant and urgent mitigation.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2018 2:08pm

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