In the last month alone, two reports have been released suggesting climate change has well and truly arrived and accelerating a lot faster than we were predicting.
Most notably, thousands of scientists from over 150 countries around the world in a paper published in Bioscience warned that “untold human suffering” is unavoidable without deep and lasting shifts in human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other factors related to climate change.
In another report released by the University of Queensland, researchers found the impact of destroying our forests is six times worse for our climate than what was previously thought according to according to recent University of Queensland-led research.
In the UQ-led international study, it was revealed between 2000 and 2013 the clearance of intact tropical forests resulted in a much higher level of carbon being emitted to the atmosphere than first believed – resulting in a 626 per cent increase in the calculated impact on climate.
UQ conservation scientist Dr Sean Maxwell said this difference equated to two years of global land-use change emissions, and was previously unaccounted for due to a lack of full carbon accounting.
“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”
UQ and Wildlife Conservation Society’s Professor James Watson said the study’s approach better captures the true carbon impact of intact forest loss.
“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626 per cent greater than expected is terrifying,” Professor Watson said.
“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger-than-realised role in stabilising the climate.”
As for the paper in BioScience, the authors from the University of Sydney, Oregon State University, University of Cape Town and Tufts University, declare a climate emergency and state scientists from around the world “have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat”.
“Results show greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, with increasingly damaging effects. With few exceptions, we are largely failing to address this predicament. The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity,”
The declaration is based on scientific analysis of more than 40 years of publicly available data covering a broad range of measures, including energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearing, deforestation, polar ice mass, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions.
Dr Thomas Newsome from the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environment Sciences who was one of the paper’s lead authors said “from the data we have, it is clear we are facing a climate emergency.”
Moreover, the paper states: “Mitigating and adapting to climate change means transforming the ways we govern, manage, eat, and fulfil material and energy requirements.
“While things are bad, all is not hopeless. We can take steps to address the climate emergency,” Dr Newsome said.
Interestingly, when it comes to doing something, Australia is well-placed to become a global winner in the transition to a post-carbon world.
According to a recent report by Ross Garnaut who conducted the 2008 and 2011 climate reviews for the Rudd and Gillard governments and is author of the book Superpower — Australia's Low-Carbon Opportunity, “Per person, Australia has natural resources for renewable energy superior to any other developed country and far superior to our customers in north-east Asia.”
He says that if Australia adjusted its policy settings and “played its full part in effective global efforts to hold warming to 2C or lower, it would show economic gains instead of losses in early decades, followed by much bigger gains later on.”