I’m writing this amid torrential rain in Sydney and as the Bureau of Meteorology issues another severe weather warning alert for New South Wales, including the Sydney metropolitan region.
The east coast deluge has continued since late February, almost unabated, giving communities no time to recover. Sydney has experienced its wettest summer in 30 years.
This is not a “once-in-1000-year” event, as some MPs would have us believe. Neither can the intensity of the flooding be blamed on the La Niña weather pattern, which often causes major flooding.
According to the Climate Council’s A Supercharged Climate: Rain Bombs, Flash Flooding and Destruction report there is an unequivocal link between climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the intense rainfall and flooding.
Scientists have warned for decades that a hotter earth means more rain, heavier rain and increased risk of floods. For each degree the world warms, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water. Extra heat in the atmosphere creates more energy that, in turn, causes intense rainfall, storms and extreme weather events.
A marine heatwave in the east coast waters has contributed to the recent floods. Marine heatwaves are becoming more prevalent. Last year was the hottest year on record for the world’s oceans. Higher water temperatures trigger more extreme weather events, like storms, and cause higher rainfall and flooding.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Mitigation of Climate Change Working Group III report released on April 4 said it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius — provided fossil fuels stay in the ground.
The report is somewhat optimistic, noting the ability to reduce emissions is higher than previously thought due to the decreasing cost of renewable energies. Modelling by IPCC scientists shows global temperatures will begin to stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero.
IPCC co-chair Jim Skea stressed that it is “now or never” and that “without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible” to limit warning to 1.5°C.
He said that without stronger policies, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are projected to rise beyond 2025 levels “leading to a median global warming of 3.2 degrees by 2100”. Countries signing the Paris Agreement agreed to not exceed 1.5°C rise by 2100. Three or 4°C warming would be catastrophic.
The IPCC’s climate and earth system scientists’ modelling found all predictions limiting warming to 1.5°C “involve rapid and deep and, in most cases, immediate GHG emission reductions in all sectors”.
The mitigation strategies modelled include transitioning “to very low- or zero-carbon energy sources, such as renewables or fossil fuels with CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage]”.
This is of some concern, as climate activists and scientists say the technology behind CCS and the related CDR (carbon dioxide removal) are yet be tested on a large scale.
Including CCS in its modelling predictions raises questions about the IPCC’s optimism.
The Climate Council said CCS is a distraction from halting new fossil fuel projects and phasing out others, and therefore benefits fossil fuel corporations.
CDR can also be used as an excuse to keep emitting carbon. Oxfam noted last August that a plan by four large corporations for carbon dioxide removal — afforestation — would require “land twice the size of the UK”. It said CDR was already displacing poor communities in India, which leads to more extreme poverty.
While the IPCC’s latest report said CDR will be necessary to reach zero carbon emissions targets, it acknowledged the limits of its modelling. It noted that challenges, including CDR put “pressure on land and biodiversity” and rely on technologies “with high upfront investments”. It also said its modelling pathways assume using resources “more efficiently”.
Modelling can only provide a snap shot: the bottom line is that the use of fossil fuels for energy must be stopped — urgently.
United Nations secretary-general António Guterres, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, underscored this fact. He said the IPCC report revealed “the yawning gap between climate pledges and reality”. He criticised the failure of “high-emitting governments and corporations” who add “fuel to the flames by continuing to invest in climate-choking industries”. Governments must stop funding coal, he said, and move their investments and subsidies to renewables.
Australia’s climate movement, led by students, First Nations people, workers and unions, has been demanding the major parties act now. The question is how to build the necessary people-powered movement with the power to force them to address the climate emergency.
We cannot wait for Canberra to be submerged before politicians end their love affair with the fossil fuel industry. If you agree and want to help, become a Green Left supporter here and make a donation to our Fighting Fund.
[The Green Left office in Brisbane was flooded and we lost a lot of equipment. Donations can be made via BSB: 064 128, Acct: 1013 2292.]