Australian Climate Commission says act now or “the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life.”

Another week, another group of leading scientists pleading with humanity to stop the self-destruction of modern human civilization as we know it ASAP. The Australian Climate Commission even titled their report, “The Critical Decade.”

The figure on the right shows the catastrophic warming we risk if we stay on our current emissions path (in °C — multiple by 1.8 for °F). The report warns, “A plausible estimate of the amount of sea-level rise by 2100 compared to 2000 is 0.5 to 1.0 meter.” The report notes that we are acidifying the oceans at “an exceptionally rapid rate of change, likely unprecedented in the 25 million years of the record,” gravely threatening marine life. The study documents how the weather is already becoming more extreme in Australia — worse droughts, worse deluges, and worse heatwaves — and warns of “Abrupt, non-linear and irreversible changesin the climate system.”

The report opens by slamming the media miscoverage of the story of the century. It explains that climate science “is being attacked in the media by many with no credentials in the field…. By contrast to the noisy, confusing ‘debate’ in the media, within the climate research community our understanding of the climate system continues to advance strongly.”

Indeed, the conclusion uses language that will be familiar to Americans — language I recommend everyone use: “we know beyond reasonable doubt that the world is warming and that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause.”


The report warns, “Failing to take sufficient action today entails potentially huge risks to our economy, society and way of life into the future. This is the critical decade for action.”

Here are the “key messages” of the report:

1. There is no doubt that the climate is changing. The evidence is overwhelming and clear.

– The atmosphere is warming, the ocean is warming, ice is being lost from glaciers and ice caps and sea levels are rising. The biological world is changing in response to a warming world.

– Global surface temperature is rising fast; the last decade was the hottest on record.

2. We are already seeing the social, economic and environmental impacts of a changing climate.

– With less than 1 degree of warming globally the impacts are already being felt in Australia.

– In the last 50 years the number of record hot days in Australia has more than doubled. This has increased the risk of heatwaves and associated deaths, as well as extreme bush fire weather in South Eastern and South Western Australia.

– Sea level has risen by 20 cm globally since the late 1800s, impacting many coastal communities. Another 20 cm increase by 2050, which is likely at current projections, would more than double the risk of coastal flooding.

– The Great Barrier Reef has suffered from nine bleaching events in the past 31 years. This iconic natural ecosystem, and the economy that depends upon it, face serious risks from climate change.

3. Human activities — the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation — are triggering the changes we are witnessing in the global climate.

– A very large body of observations, experiments, analyses, and physical theory points to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere — with carbon dioxide being the most important — as the primary cause of the observed warming.

– Increasing carbon dioxide emissions are primarily produced by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, as well as deforestation.

– Natural factors, like changes in the Earth’s orbit or solar activity, cannot explain the world-wide warming trend.

4. This is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change our children and grandchildren experience.

– Without strong and rapid action there is a significant risk that climate change will undermine our society’s prosperity, health, stability and way of life.

– To minimise this risk, we must decarbonise our economy and move to clean energy sources by 2050. That means carbon emissions must peak within the next few years and then strongly decline.

– The longer we wait to start reducing carbon emissions, the more difficult and costly those reductions become.

– This decade is critical. Unless effective action is taken, the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life. Thechoices we make this decade will shape the long-term climate future for our children and grandchildren.

The whole report is well worth reading, including chapter 3 discussion of “the budget approach” to reducing emissions.


Australian media coverage has been pretty good, see, for instance, The Age’s “Sea-level fright as climate report goes public.” The BBC writes:

… the commission says the evidence that the planet is warming is stronger than ever. It said that climate science was being attacked in the media by people with no credentials in the field….

The BBC’s correspondent in Sydney, Nick Bryant, says the commission’s report delivers a strong rebuke to those who question that human emissions are causing global warming.

It warned that the window to take action to limit global warming was closing fast.

It reminds me of the NPR headline on the (weaker) National Academy report, “Top U.S. Scientists To Nation: Global Warming. Really. We Are Not Kidding.

It is time to act. And is time for the media to stop misreporting and underreporting this most consequential of news stories.