Australia’s sizzling summer continued well into autumn in 2017, according to the world’s leading science agency for climate and oceanic research.
By the end of March, the global climate report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed Australia experienced “unusually warm conditions”.
The average mean temperature was 1.66°C (3.0°F) above the 1961–1990 average and the third highest in its 108-year record. The national maximum and minimum temperatures in March were second highest, behind 1986 and 2016, respectively.
Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia had a top three warm March, with Victoria recording its warmest March on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2016 by +0.41°C (0.74°F).
By the end of May, the trend had continued for Australia with a national temperature departure from average of +0.71°C, according to the NOAA. This was the 21st highest May temperature in the nation’s 108-year record.
Maximum temperatures were unusually warm, with the month tying as the ninth highest May maximum temperature for the nation as a whole.
Regionally, Queensland had its sixth highest May temperature on record, with the Northern Territory and Western Australia also experiencing top seven figures for the month.
Globally, numbers were also up at the start of the southern hemisphere autumn, with the average March temperature over land and sea recorded at 1.05°C above the 20th century average of 12.7°C.
This was the second highest for March since global temperatures were recorded, behind the record 2016 by 0.18°C, and ahead of 2015 by +0.15°C.
The average mean temperature was 1.66°C (3.0°F) above the 1961–1990 average and the third highest in their 108-year record.
Much of the world’s oceans surfaces also experienced warmer- to much-warmer-than-average conditions during March. Record warmth was limited to sparse areas across the central, eastern and western equatorial, and southern Pacific Ocean, southern Atlantic Ocean, and southwestern Indian Ocean.
The warm start to the year continued through April. The combined global average temperature over the land and ocean surfaces was 0.90°C above the 20th century average of 13.7°C — the second highest April temperature since global records began, trailing 2016 by 0.17°C and ahead of 2010 by 0.07°C.
The year-to-date global temperature was also the second warmest on record at 0.95°C above the 20th century average of 13.7°C, and just 0.19°C behind the all-time high recorded the previous year.
On land, most of the world experienced hotter than usual temperatures, with an overall spike of 1.3°C above the 20th Century average of 8.1°C.
May offered some respite, but was still characterised by warmer- to much-warmer-than-average conditions across most of the world’s land and ocean surfaces, reports the NOAA. However, near- to cooler-than-average conditions were present across the eastern half of the contiguous U.S., eastern Europe, western and north-central Russia, as well as parts of the northern and southern Atlantic Ocean, northern and southern Pacific Ocean, and the tropical Indian Ocean.
The end of the Southern Hemisphere autumn, also spelt more bad news for Antarctica’s sea ice extent.
By May, the coverage was just 9.67 million square km, which was 1.14 million square km, or 10.55 percent, below the 1981-2010 average. This was the second smallest May Southern Hemisphere sea ice total on record, revealed the NOAA.
The US-based administration also reported below-average sea ice extent in the Amundsen Sea, Ross Sea and eastern areas of the Weddell Sea.
A spike of investment in wind and solar farms has Australia poised to breeze past the federal government’s renewable energy target (RET).
The latest report by Green Energy Markets – November’s Australian Renewable Energy Index – projected that the RET’s 33-gigawatt mark will easily be exceeded by the 2020 deadline.
Green Energy Markets, a Victorian-based research and advisory business focusing on greenhouse gas emission reduction, said that renewable sector is already cranking out enough energy to power 75% of Australian homes
If the trend continues – and the government puts its long-term Paris agreement commitments into a legally enforceable policy – the index predicts that renewables will account for half of all of Australia’s electricity output by 2030.
The news comes as rooftop solar installations reached a record in November 2017, 120 megawatts of capacity installed to surpass the previous peak in June 2012 when subsidies were two to three times higher.
Renewables, which made up just 7% of national electricity output a decade ago, accounted for 17% of the total output in November 2017. That’s a power sector carbon-saving equivalent to taking 7.7 million cars off the road.
The biggest single-source of renewable power remained hydro-electricity, followed by wind and rooftop solar, the index found.
More than 12,000MW of wind farm sites and 15,000MW of solar farm sites have been proposed for development across Australia, of which more than half already have planning approvals in place.
The 3,923 megawatts of projects currently under construction in Australia will create enough jobs to employ 13,443 people full-time, said the latest report. Queensland (5834) will deliver most of those roles, followed by NSW/ACT (3422), and Victoria (2459), which recently legislated for a 40% renewable target by 2025.
However, Green Energy Markets founder Tristan Edis also told The Australian that meeting the RET target could also herald the collapse in the value of the large-scale generation certificates – which wind and solar farm operators sell to retailers to boost the returns from clean generation – and with it investment in new capacity.
“Once the Queensland and Victoria schemes are filled we will have met the RET so the price of (certificates) could fall to zero or very low,’’ Mr Edis warned.
In its first report to state and federal governments in December 2017, the Energy Security Board said that the market was “not in the best of health”, with unaffordable energy bills, reliability risks increasing, and uncertainty over future carbon-emissions policy.
Established to co-ordinate the three main energy regulators, the board warned that the market operator was unable to dispatch the lowest priced power as needed and there were increasing incidents of high-priced power being ordered to ensure security.
A few weeks earlier, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball had hoped to restore confidence in the power sector by introducing a National Energy Guarantee (NEG), designed to produce cheaper and more reliable electricity, while cutting carbon emissions.
The plan requires retailers to use a percentage of electricity from so-called dispatchable sources such as coal and gas, batteries or pumped hydro, for reliability purposes. They would also be required to buy power that is efficient enough to ensure Australia is on track to meet its Paris target, reports the ABC.
Most Australians were again reaching for the short sleeves earlier than normal.
The nation’s September 2017 mean was above average at +1.25°C and the 11th highest in the books for the start of the Southern Hemisphere spring, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US, the world’s leading weather and oceanic information agency.
A new September record was set on the 22nd when the national area-averaged maximum temperature rose to 33.47°C, shattering the previous record set on September 30, 1998 by 0.08°C.
All Australian states had above-average conditions, with the exception of Tasmania which had its 20th coldest mean temperature on record at 0.68°C below the 1961–1990 average.
By spring’s end in Australia, the line between the seasons was hazier than ever, with a national mean temperature of 1.13°C above the 1961–1990 average and the sixth highest on record. Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania had a top 10 warm September–November period, with Tasmania, after a slow start, notching its highest spring temperature.
All regions except South Australia and the Northern Territory observed mean temperatures for the season amongst the 10 warmest on record. Both maximum and minimum temperatures were above to very much above average over the majority of Australia.
Since 1994, a cooler than average spring mean temperature for Australia has been observed in only two years.
The average global land and ocean temperature for September was 0.78°C higher than the 20th century average of 15.0°C. This was the fourth highest September temperature on record, behind 2015 (+0.93°C), 2016 (+0.88°C), and 2014 (+0.79°C).
The Southern Hemisphere spring also got off to warmer start at sea – the average global ocean surface temperature was 0.63°C above the 20th century average of 16.2°C, the fourth highest September temperature in the 138-year record, behind 2015 (+0.83°C), 2014 (+0.75°C), and 2016 (+0.74°C).
The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October was 0.73°C above the 20th century average of 14.0°C. This value tied with 2003 as the fourth highest October mark, behind 2015 (+1.0°C), 2014 (+0.79°C), and 2016 (+0.74°C).
Across Australia in October, the temperature was 1.42°C above the 1961–1990 average and the 10th highest for the month.
Queensland, NSW, Victoria, and Tasmania had a top nine warm October. NSW had the largest positive temperature departure from average at +2.16°C and the fourth highest for the state.
The trend continued in November with Australia’s mean temperature 0.70°C above average, the 18th warmest in the last 108 years.
Tasmania and Victoria had their highest and second highest November on record, respectively. Western Australia had its ninth warmest.
Globally, the NOAA’s January–November period was the third hottest 11-month stretch in the 138-year record for the world’s land and ocean surfaces, with an average temperature that was 0.84°C above the 20th century average of 14.0°C.
Concerns for the Antarctic sea ice extent were also at an all-time high in many scientific circles by the end of spring. The coverage was just 15 million square km, which was 900,000 square km, or 5.66 percent, below the 1981-2010 average. This was the second smallest November Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent on record, only the November sea ice extent in 2016 was smaller.
Long before the world became fixated on renewable energy, recycling, electric cars and what non-sequitur Trump would tweet out next, one environmental issue dominated the headlines above all else.
In the 1970s, scientists discovered that Earth’s primary protection from harmful UV radiation, the stratospheric ozone layer, was thinning at an alarming rate.
Australia and New Zealand were considered particularly vulnerable due to the biggest ozone hole forming over Antarctica at the beginning of each Southern Hemisphere spring.
The reason for the atmospheric breach, they claimed, was our ever-increasing dependence on products such as aerosols, plastic foams, refrigerants in refrigerators, and air conditioner units in the home and in commercial buildings.
At the time, they all were made with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), an ozone-depleting gas containing chlorine and bromine, which when broken down could destroy ozone molecules.
Scientists revealed that there was such a proliferation of CFCs – the brainchild of mechanical engineer Thomas Midgley, the American responsible for adding lead to petrol in the 1920s – that urgent action was needed.
In 1987, Australia joined 23 other countries and the European Union to sign the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol). This international treaty, which today boasts some 197 signatories, aimed to protect and restore the ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of certain ozone destroying substances (ODS) including CFCs, halons, methyl bromide, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).
Encouraging signs for the future
So, more than 30 years later, just how effective has the ground-breaking treaty been in saving the planet from an environmental disaster?
Our combined efforts to heal the hole, appear to be paying off, according to a new, first-of-its-kind study by NASA that looked at the ozone-destroying chemicals in the atmosphere.
Previous satellite observations had revealed changes in the hole size, noting that it can grow and shrink from year to year. For example, in 2000 and 2006, they were the largest on record, measuring around 32.9 million square kilometres (more than three times the size of Australia) and, for the first time, extending over populated areas.
But the new study is the first to directly measure changes in the amount of chlorine — the main CFC by-product responsible for ozone depletion — in the atmosphere above Antarctica, according to a statement from NASA.
The research, published in January 2018 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, used a Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) instrument aboard the Aura satellite, and showed a 20-percent decrease in ozone depletion due to chlorine between 2005 and 2016.
“By around mid-October, all the chlorine compounds are conveniently converted into one gas, so by measuring hydrochloric acid, we have a good measurement of the total chlorine,” lead study author Susan Strahan, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in the statement.
“This gives us confidence that the decrease in ozone depletion through mid-September shown by MLS data is due to declining levels of chlorine coming from CFCs.
“But we’re not yet seeing a clear decrease in the size of the ozone hole because that’s controlled mainly by temperature after mid-September, which varies a lot from year to year.”
Parallels to climate change
Although former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the Montreal accord “perhaps the single most successful international environmental agreement to date”, we’ll still need the SPF50 lotion for a good while yet.
“CFCs have lifetimes from 50 to 100 years, so they linger in the atmosphere for a very long time,” said Anne Douglass, a fellow atmospheric scientist at Goddard and the NASA’s study’s co-author.
“As far as the ozone hole being gone, we’re looking at 2060 or 2080. And even then, there might still be a small hole.”
Meanwhile, Susan Solomon, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, co-author of another comprehensive ozone hole study last year, is hopeful the success of CFCs eradication would be a harbinger for international action to avert the worst consequences of climate change.
“Obviously the economics of global warming are different because the fossil fuel industry is worth a lot more in dollars than the companies making these chemicals,” she said.
“But there are important parallels. It was amazing to see how quickly innovation solved the problem with CFCs so we got rid of them yet still have hair spray and air conditioning.
“We’re starting to see the same thing with global warming. We should look at the ozone problem and realise that nations can get together and come up with solutions.”
Australia’s 2017 winter was hot and dry with the average maximum temperature up nearly two degrees Celsius above the long-term trend.
The average maximum daily figure across all of the country for June, July and August was 23.7°C, which smashed the previous record of 23.4 set in 2009, reported the Bureau of Meteorology.
It was the hottest winter on record for Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, while New South Wales and South Australia made the top three.
Australia’s mean temperature for the start of winter was 0.47°C above the 1961–1990 average and ranked among the top-30 warmest Junes in the nation’s 108-year record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) global report.
The average maximum temperature was 1.33°C above average and the seventh highest June maximum mark since records began in 1910. Regionally, Queensland had its highest June maximum since 2001 and the ninth hottest recorded, while Western Australia had its third highest June temperature at 1.72°C above average.
Globally, the combined land and ocean surface temperature for June was 0.82°C above the 20th century average of 15.5°C and the third highest June on record, behind 2016 (+0.92°C) and 2015 (+0.89°C).
At sea, the northern Atlantic Ocean had the most notable cool temperature departure from average, with temperatures 0.5°C to 1.0°C below the 1981–2010 average. No land or ocean areas had record cold June temperatures.
Meanwhile, the average global ocean surface temperature during June was 0.70°C above the 20th century average of 16.4°C – the third highest June temperature since global records began in 1880, behind 2016 (+0.78°C) and 2015 (+0.74°C).
In July the global land temperature was 1.20°C above the 20th century average of 14.3°C and the highest July land temperature recorded. This value surpasses the previous record set in 2016 by 0.07°C. The global ocean temperature was third highest on record at 0.69°C above the 20th century average of 16.4°C, behind 2016 (+0.78°C) and 2015 (+0.75°C).
Australia had its highest July mean temperature since 1975 and the third highest in the books, with a mean temperature departure from average of 1.81°C above the 1961–1990 average.
The August 2017 global land and ocean temperature was 0.83°C above the 20th century average of 15.6°C and the third highest August global temperature recorded, behind 2016 (+0.90°C) and 2015 (+0.88°C).
Australia closed out its winter with a mean temperature that was 1.04°C above the 1961–1990 average and the ninth highest August temperature recorded.
Andrew Watkins, manager of extended and long-range forecasts at the Bureau of Meteorology, said the real reason for the warmth was the persistent high pressure seen particularly during early winter.
“But you also have to add to that the long-term warming trend,” he said.
“The higher than average pressure has kept the skies clear and rain away — meaning more heating of the inland from the sun and less evaporative cooling from ample water on the ground.”
The August Antarctic sea ice extent was 17.50 million square km, which was 650,000 square km, or 3.6 percent, below the 1981-2010 average.
This was the second smallest August Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent on record – ice growth nearly stopped for several days at the beginning and end of the month.
After a year of catastrophic weather on his own doorstep, would 2017 finally be the year the world’s most high-profile climate change sceptic had a change of heart?
Not judging by the end-of-year social media retort below, which President Trump fired off as the eastern seaboard in the U.S. was gripped by an icy winter storm.
Using a cold snap as an argument against the existence of global warming is nothing new for Mr Trump, who has discharged more than 100 climate denialism missives on Twitter since 2011.
In the years before running for president, he called it “non-existent,” “mythical” and a “a total con job”. Indeed, it seemed that whenever snow fell in Manhattan he’d mock the idea of global warming.
“Global warming has been proven to be a canard repeatedly over and over again,” he wrote on Twitter in 2012. In another post later that same year, he said, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” A year later, he wrote that “global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!”
This time, however, was the first occasion he’d tackled the issue head-on as president, and also included an implicit swipe at the Paris climate accord, which Mr Trump has vowed to abandon.
Climate scientists, however, have long warned against using individual weather events to deliberate the existence, or otherwise, of global warming. Weather, they point out, refers to atmospheric conditions during a short period; climate relates to longer-term weather patterns.
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University’s project on climate change communication, called Mr Trump’s tweet “scientifically ridiculous and demonstrably false”.
“There is a fundamental difference in scale between what weather is and what climate is,” he said.
“What’s going on in one small corner of the world at a given moment does not reflect what’s going on with the planet.”
David Karoly, a climate scientist from the University of Melbourne, was even more blunt, reports The Guardian.
“It’s winter in the US. Cold temperatures are common in winter.”
Climate modelling showed cold snaps like the one in the US were actually becoming less common as a result of global warming, Mr Karoly said, adding that rapid attribution analysis means scientists are now able to look more closely at “classes of events”.
That type of modelling for the north-east of the US, he said, showed that although there was a great deal of year-to-year variability, the average coldest temperature in December in the region has increased in the past 50 years.
Australian scientists from the Institute of Public Affairs John Abbot and Jennifer Marohasy managed to publish an alternative view for the sceptics in the journal GeoResJ, citing data from six 2,000 year-long proxy temperature series from different geographic regions.
“Proxies” are the markers scientists use – tree rings, sediments, pollen, etc – to try and assess global temperature trends in the days before the existence of thermometers.
All the evidence suggested that the planet was about a degree warmer during the Medieval Warming Period than it is now; and that there is nothing unnatural or unprecedented about late 20th century and early 21st century “climate change”, trumpeted far-right publications Breitbart and The Daily Caller.
But when The Guardian canvassed five genuine climate scientists for their view on the findings, they variously summarised the research as “junk science” and seriously flawed.
Climate change is good for us
Another outspoken climate change denier, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, also didn’t let established science derail his ‘message’ to the world in 2017.
In an October speech called Daring to Doubt to the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the UK, he likened climate change policy to “primitive people killing goats to appease volcano gods”.
Mr Abbott argued that “at least so far it is climate change policy that is doing harm; climate change itself is probably doing good — or at least more good than harm”.
“In most countries far more people die in cold snaps than in heatwaves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it is accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change might even be beneficial.”
Mr Abbott also used the platform to outline his opposition to renewable power by arguing it was possible to have “too much of a good thing”.
“The only rational choice is to put Australian jobs and Australia’s standard of living first; to get emissions down but only as far as we can without putting prices up,” the former prime minister said, arguing anything else would be a “dereliction of duty as well as a political death wish”.
He described the reality of climate change as very modest but the consequences of the policy to deal with it as “increasingly dire”.
That’s not a rhetoric likely to book Mr Abbott any speaking gigs with economic superpower China anytime soon.
So long reviled as a climate change villain, in 2017 China transformed into a green energy colossus.
The world’s top clean energy investor pledged to increase the amount of energy coming from non-fossil fuels to 20% of its total output by 2030.
To that end, China’s energy agency vowed to spend more than $360bn on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind by 2020, cutting smog levels, carbon emissions and creating 13 million jobs in the process.
Time to act is now
In June, it unveiled one of its early jewels in that masterplan, the world’s biggest floating solar farm off the shores of Huainan, in the central, coal-rich Anhui province, which can generate 40 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 15,000 homes.
More recently, China has also launched the world’s biggest ever mechanism to reduce carbon, in the form of an emissions trading system that will initially cover the country’s heavily polluting power generation plants, then expand to take in most of the economy.
“This is a game-changer,” said Nathaniel Keohane, vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, a US-based environmental group.
“This shows global leadership on the part of the Chinese government.”
Ironically, the very country whose leader and has routinely scoffed at the notion of mankind causing global warming, was also behind an indirect vindication of China’s stand.
The November-released Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) in the US – the most comprehensive summary of climate science since 2013 – concluded with 95 to 100 per cent certainty that global warming is man-made, mostly from the spewing of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.
“Over the last century, there are no convincing alternative explanations,” the report said.
In a year that also saw Scott Pruitt, the controversial new head of the Environmental Protection Agency end the US war on coal-fired emissions, one of the father’s of climate science James Hansen concluded that the best way forward was in the courts.
The former Nasa scientist ended 2017 by calling for a fresh wave of lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel companies on what he describes as the growing, mortal threat of global warming.
He tells The Guardian that the litigate-to-mitigate campaign is needed alongside political mobilisation because judges are less likely than politicians to be in the pocket of oil, coal and gas companies.
“We are entering a period of consequences and are in danger of being too late,” he warned.
“I have come to note that greenhouse gas climate forcings are accelerating, not decelerating, and sea-level rise and ocean acidification are accelerating.
“We confront a mortal threat, now endangering the very existence of island and low-lying nations in the Pacific and around the planet. Accordingly, ambition must be increased and enforced.”
“Even if we could magically reduce emissions to zero tomorrow, we would still have another decade or two where the climate system plays out its built-in momentum,” he said.
Worldwide, January 2017 was the third hottest beginning to a year since records began 138 years ago, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US, the world’s foremost scientific agency for climate and oceanic research.
The globally averaged temperature over the land and world’s oceans was 0.88°C above the 20th century average of 12.0°C. Only January 2016 (highest) and 2007 (second highest) have been hotter since 1880.
The NOAA’s state of the climate report also revealed that the global land surface temperature was also third highest for the month of January at 1.54°C above the 20th century average of 2.8°C.
At sea, the globally-averaged surface temperature was 0.69°C above the 20th century average of 15.9°C, the second highest for the month, behind the record-breaking year 2016 (+0.80°C) and besting 2015 by +0.08°C.
Australia’s mean temperature for the month was 0.77°C above the 1961–1990 average, and the 17th highest January recorded. NSW had its third warmest January, while Queensland had its sixth warmest on record.
February proved to be even more volatile. The combined average temperature over land and ocean surfaces was 0.98°C above the 20th century average of 12.1°C — a number only topped by the +1.20°C record set in February 2016.
The globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.69°C above the 20th century average of 15.9°C, the second highest for February, behind the record-breaking year 2016 (+0.80°C) and surpassing 2015 by +0.08°C.
Australia’s oppressive summer continued with warmer-than-average temperatures, with a national average 0.33°C above the 1961–1990 average. NSW and Queensland had their highest temperature departure from average since 2004 and 2006, respectively, and the fifth highest on record.
Regionally, NSW had its warmest summer (+2.57°C), surpassing the previous record set in 2006 by +0.13°C. Queensland had its second highest summer (+1.55°C) behind 2006 (+2.07°C).
“If you look at the east of Australia, particularly New South Wales and Queensland, the records that have really been tumbling there are high temperatures, heatwave type records,” Professor Steffen said.
“Over in the west in Perth and up in the Kimberley in the north-west, they’ve been setting extreme rainfall records, so we’ve seen extremes of all types across the continent in the past three months.”
Across the world’s oceans, the December–February average sea surface temperature was 0.66°C above the 20th century average of 15.8°C – the second highest for December–February on record, trailing 2015/2016 by 0.17°C, according to the NOAA.
The Southern Hemisphere summer was also the forerunner to a run of record lows in Antarctica sea ice extent.
The January total was 4.04 million square km, which was 1.19 million square km, or 22.8 percent, below the 1981-2010 average.
This was the smallest tally on record and 280,000 square km smaller than the previous record set in 2006. Most of the Amundsen Sea off the west coast of Antarctica was ice free by early February with near-average ice across other regions, reported the NOAA.