Australia’s tourist hotspots at risk from climate change, finds new report

Many of Australia’s most iconic tourist attractions could be wiped off the map due to a barrage of catastrophic climate change issues, warns a grim new report from the Climate Council.

Citing multiple credible sources, the council’s 68-page study Icons at Risk: Climate Change Threatening Australian Tourism says Australia’s world-famous beaches, wilderness areas, national parks and the Great Barrier Reef are the most vulnerable hotspots, while our unique native wildlife is also at risk.

“Tourists travel across the globe to see Australia’s remarkable natural wonders. But these icons are in the climate firing line as extreme weather events worsen and sea levels continue to rise,” says Climate Councillor and ecologist Professor Lesley Hughes.

“Some of our country’s most popular natural destinations, including our beaches could become ‘no-go zones’ during peak holiday periods and seasons, with the potential for extreme temperatures to reach up to 50 degrees in Sydney and Melbourne.”

Paris agreement will help

The Gold Coast is also under threat from a whole host of climate change pressures, adds Prof Hughes.

Coastal erosion was already a huge issue on the ‘Glitter Strip’ with millions spent on replenishing sand — but it could become a losing battle.

“Places like Surfers Paradise can’t move inland because of development so there’s a risk of inundation and storm surges,” Prof Hughes says.

And then there’s the deadly jellyfish tempted south because of the slowly warming waters.

“Jellyfish, like the deadly Irukandji, are already in Hervey Bay and Fraser Island, not in large numbers but it shows what could happen.”

Prof Hughes says she isn’t trying to discredit the future of the tourism industry, just point out the dangers climate change will pose if changes aren’t made.

“Tourism employs half a million people, which is many times more than coal mining, so we need to be realistic about the risk the industry faces.”

Ultimately only bringing down global emissions to under 2C, the target set by the Paris Climate Agreement, would lessen the pressure on Australia’s natural attractions, says Prof Hughes

But she criticised the government for sidestepping the issue in its latest tourism strategy.

“What disappoints me most in Government planning is that the Tourism 2020 Plan focuses purely on growth and so paints a very optimistic picture rather than a realistic one.”

Other key report findings include:

  • Australia’s top five natural tourist attractions (beaches, wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef, wilderness and national parks) are all at risk of climate change.
  • Beaches are Australia’s #1 tourist destination and are threatened by rising sea levels.
  • Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Cairns, Darwin, Fremantle and Adelaide are projected to have a least a 100-fold increase in the frequency of coastal flooding events (with a 0.5m sea level rise).
  • The Red Centre could experience more than 100 days above 35ºC annually, by 2030. By 2090, there could be more than 160 days per year over 35ºC.
  • The Top End could see an increase in hot days (temperatures above 35ºC) from 11 (1981-2010 average) to 43 by 2030, and up to 265 by 2090.
  • Ski tourism: Declines of maximum snow depth and decreasing season length at Australian ski resorts have been reported for over 25 years, increasing the need for artificial snow-making.

The report, however, isn’t all doom and gloom for Australian tourism.

It also highlights moves by individual operators including hotels, resorts, airlines and even zoos which are taking action to tackle rising pollution.

“States and territories, local governments and individual tourism operators should be congratulated for rolling up their sleeves and doing their bit to slash pollution by embracing renewable energy and storage technology,” adds Climate Council Acting CEO and Head of Research, Dr Martin Rice.

“Now, for the sake of our iconic attractions, we just need the Federal Government to do the same.”

NOAA State of the Climate Report – January 2018

Another scorching start to the year across the globe

Climate change supporters can add another marker to the mounting evidence in their corner – January 2018 was officially the fifth warmest start to the year since records began, reveals the monthly State of the Climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Boosted in no small part by heatwave-like conditions in parts of Australia, the temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 0.71°C above the 20th century average of 12.0°C

The last four years (2015-2018) now rank among the five hottest Januarys on record, and the new data also extends an unbroken 397 consecutive months (since January 1985) in which temperatures were at least nominally above the 20th century average.

Also worth noting, says NOAA, is that the global land and ocean temperature during January has increased at an average rate of +0.07°C per decade since 1880; however, the average rate of increase is twice as great since 1975.

state of the climate report

Sydney hit by heatwave

Warmer-than-average conditions engulfed much of Australia with Sydney bearing the brunt of the sweltering heat. The 47.3°C recorded in Penrith Lakes was the hottest day in the city in 80 years.

Regionally, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia had a top eight warm start to the year, with Queensland and Tasmania having the second warmest January on record.

Across the Tasman, New Zealand also felt the blast with a national mean of 20.3°C, which is 3.1°C above the 1981-2010 average. That was the warmest January since national records began in 1909.

Other notable temperature spikes were recorded across the western half of mainland U.S., central and eastern Europe, and northern Russia, where temperature departures from average were +2.0°C, or greater. Record warmth across the land was limited to small areas across the southwestern North America, central Europe, and parts of Oceania.

Oceans also hotter than normal

Meanwhile, warmer-than-average conditions dominated across much of the world’s oceans in January, with record warmth observed across parts of the north Atlantic Ocean (off the coast of Portugal), and the central and southwestern Pacific Ocean.

Averaged as a whole, the global ocean surface temperature was 0.56°C above the 20th century average of 15.8°C. This value tied with 1998 as the fifth highest global ocean temperature for January in the 139-year record.

Antarctic sea ice extent during the month was 880,595 square kilometres (17.4 percent) below the 1981-2010 average, the second smallest January extent on record. Only the Antarctic sea ice extent in January 2017 was smaller. Below-average ice coverage was observed in the Ross and West Amundsen Seas.

In the Arctic, sea ice was the smallest spread in the 39-year record at 1.35 million square kilometres (9.4 percent) below the 1981-2010 average, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center using data from NOAA and NASA. Sea ice coverage was particularly sparse in the Barents, Kara and Bering Seas.

NOAA data also reveals that rain anomalies during January 2018 varied significantly around the world, as is typical at this time of the year.

Precipitation was above average across parts of eastern half of mainland U.S, Canada, northern Argentina, Paraguay, northern, central, and eastern Europe, northern, central, and southeastern Asia, and western Australia.

It was notably dry across the south-central contiguous U.S., northeastern Brazil, southern half of Argentina, southern Europe, southern Asia, southern Africa, and eastern Australia.

January 2018 was Austria’s wettest January since 1982 at 170% of normal rain levels. However, several locations across the nation set new precipitation records. Of interest, Nauders in Tyrol (western Austria) had a monthly total of 163mm, resulting in the highest rainfall since records began in 1896.

France was also hard-hit with several regions experiencing two to three times the normal monthly deluge. Overall, the national total was 80% above average and the wettest January since 1959.

Clean Up Australia Day, 2018 – Your business can make a difference!

The Carbon Reduction Institute (CRI) is once again proud to be partnering with Clean Up Australia (CUA) for the next Business Clean Up Day on February 27.

The nationwide initiative is part of a four-pronged environmental program at the end of summer, which also includes a youth and schools’ clean-up on March 2 and the marquee Clean Up Australia Day event on March 4.

CRI has a long-standing relationship with CUA, and as Major Partner of the Business Clean Up Day, can offer any CRI-certified business the opportunity to register a Business Clean Up site for just $100 (including GST), which is a 33% discount to the regular price.

“We have found the team at CRI to be highly knowledgeable lateral thinkers who consistently provide new ideas and ways of tackling issues,” says CUA founder Ian Kiernan (AO).

“The team at CRI continues to be the calibre of business partner that I am comfortable to refer to you.”

Organisers say Business Clean Up sites can vary greatly; some businesses use the day to clean up at a local area, park, beach or creek, whereas others use it as spruce-up their own office space and kick start environmental programs.

Whichever way participants decide to go, being involved is a fantastic way to be seen as a community leader and engage with your staff, customers and local community, says CUA. Previous Business Clean Up Days have proven to be excellent team building events and great for staff morale.

CRI client Baiada, a privately-owned supplier of premium quality poultry products throughout Australia, can attest to that – Baiada will be back for its 14th consecutive clean up this February.

In 2017, its first year as a CUA corporate sponsor, 255 Baiada volunteers from 43 registered sites around Australia collected 303 bags of rubbish weighing a staggering 3.2 tonne.

Efforts like that helped make a phenomenal difference to Australia’s annual CO2 emissions, reports CRI’s sustainability engineers.

In a study of the total rubbish collected in 2017, CRI calculated that if the 35,000 main pollutants – PET drink and milk containers, alcohol bottles, and soft drink holders – had been recycled, approximately 1100kg of emissions would have been prevented.

“The key is stopping litter becoming rubbish. If everyone took responsibility for the small stuff, it wouldn’t steamroll into the environmental disaster we are facing in the state of our oceans and waterways,” said Mr Kiernan.

“Signing up for 2018 Clean Up Australia Day is the ideal way for every Australian to take a positive position – lots of small actions like picking up local rubbish can help reduce the 8 million tonnes of plastic entering oceans worldwide each year.

“We can all play a part by simply caring for our local environment.”

Over the last 27 years volunteers have donated more than 32 million hours at over 171,000 locations across Australia. Together they have removed the equivalent of 344,000 ute loads of rubbish.

CUA had 6500 registered sites in 2017. This year, CRI is hoping to help organisers reach their target of 8000, with its own clean-up site at Taylors Bay, near Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, in operation from 1-4pm on February 27. Locals are welcome to come along and help out.

“This is a fantastic initiative for all Australian businesses to be involved in, whether on the day itself, or at a time that’s more convenient,” adds CRI Operations Director Marvin Van Stralendorff.

For more information on how your business can be involved, visit the official CUA website here.


Climate change goals at risk if new coal plants go ahead, says study

Just days after government data confirmed that Australia is on track to meet its 2020 Renewable Energy Target, a new study finds our climate control headway could be undone by other countries’ continued coal reliance.

Ottmar Edenhofer of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin, and three colleagues, say that if all the world’s planned coal plants are built we are closing the door on the Paris Agreement’s target of restricting temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius this century.

The research was published in Environmental Research Letters, with co-authors from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Technical University of Berlin.

The study is based on a concept of “lock-in” or “committed” emissions: Once a coal plant is completed and put into service, the thinking goes, it’s likely to operate for long time to justify the cost of the investment, reports The Washington Post.

The research finds that five countries — India, China, Turkey, Vietnam and Indonesia — are home to “nearly three quarters (73 percent) of the global coal-fired capacity that is currently under construction or planned.”

Vietnam, if plans are carried forward, could see 948 percent growth in coal emissions, the research asserts, by 2030.

The study is based on a database by CoalSwarm, a project of the Earth Island Institute, which carefully tracks coal plants in varying stages of completion across the globe, in collaboration with Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.

Christine Shearer, a researcher with CoalSwarm, said it’s important to bear in mind that not all coal plants are actually completed.

“Since we started doing this work, since 2010, only about a third of proposed coal plants ever begin construction or are commissioned,” she said.

China, the world’s biggest consumer of fossil fuels, is a classic example.

Just last October it announced it was stopping or postponing work on 151 coal plants that were either under, or earmarked for, construction.

A month earlier India reported its national coal fleet on average ran at little more than 60% of its capacity – among other things, well below what is generally considered necessary for an individual generator to be financially viable.

Study author Mr Edenhofer, however, countered that the current building plans are important information.

“This does not mean we are doomed, but these announcements are announcements which should be taken into account very seriously,” he said.

“These are not just paper plants, these are real plants.”

Cameron Hepburn, a professor in environmental economics at Oxford University, also weighed in on the recent study with a gloomy outlook.

“If we don’t stop building coal plants now, we will have four unpalatable options,” he tells The Washington Post by email.

“We either (1) shut down coal plants early, (2) retrofit expensive carbon capture technologies, (3) suck even more CO2 out of the atmosphere, potentially at high cost, or (4) burn through the 2 degree C target.”

Extreme Arctic weather event has climate scientists fearful of ramifications

With the sun still not due to rise there until March 20, the North Pole should be one of the coldest and most inhospitable places in the world.

But a strange and disturbing phenomenon struck the planet’s tip on the weekend of February 24-25: temperatures may have soared as high as 2°C, according to the U.S. Global Forecast System model, creating an historic thaw.

The Washington Post reports that Zack Labe, a climate scientist working on his PhD at the University of California, confirmed what several independent analysis showed – an intense pulse of heat through the Greenland Sea triggered a 30°C spike above normal temperature.

The warm disturbance penetrated right through the heart of the Central Arctic, Mr Labe said.

The temperature averaged for the entire region north of 80 degrees latitude jumped to its highest level ever recorded in February. The average temperature was more than 20°C above normal.

“No other warm intrusions were very close to this,” Mr Labe said in an interview, describing a data set maintained by the Danish Meteorological Institute that dates back to 1958.

“I was taken by surprise how expansive this warm intrusion was.”

“To have zero degrees at the North Pole in February – it’s just wrong,” added Amelie Meyer, a Hobart-based researcher of ice-ocean interactions with the Norwegian Polar Institute in another interview. “It’s quite worrying.”

A number of factors in play

The so-called Polar Vortex – a zone of persistent low-pressure that typically keeps high-latitude cold air separate from regions further south – has been weakening for decades, say scientists.

In this instance, “a massive jet of warm air” is penetrating north, sending a cold burst southwards, said Dr Meyer, who has relocated to Tasmania to research on the southern hemisphere, and is hosted by Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.

The polar blast southward resulted in a deadly storm dubbed ‘The Beast From the East’, which has killed as many as 48 people, according to one report. The Siberian weather pattern pummelled the Continent with snow, freezing rain and brutal wind chills – some parts of Britain recorded temperatures as low as -10°C.

Kent Moore, a professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Toronto, who published a study in 2016 linking the loss of sea ice to these warm events in the Arctic, believed a number of factors may have contributed to the latest episode.

For one, recent storms have tracked more toward the North Pole through the Greenland Sea, drawing heat directly north from lower latitudes, rather than through a more circuitous route over the Barents Sea.

He also said ocean temperatures in the Greenland Sea are warmer than normal.

“The warmth we’re seeing in the Greenland Sea is definitely enhancing the warm events we’re seeing,” Mr Moore said. “I’m surprised how warm it is, but I am not sure why.”

In 2016, Denmark’s Senior Climatologist John Cappelen reported: “Records from Camp Summit, at the top of the Inland Ice, show high temperatures. Camp Summit recorded 7.3oC warmer than normal (-24.3oC compared to the norm of -31.6oC).”

Greenland Inland Ice, in some areas, was up to 2.5 km thick and a source of water with a serious potential to increase global sea levels, concluded the report, which was also cited by NOAA.

Mr Moore said the most recent spike could be tied to a sudden warming of the stratosphere, the atmospheric layer about 30,000 feet high — above where most weather happens — that occurred several weeks ago.

One study, published last July, found that these bursts of warmer air are also becoming more frequent, longer-lasting and more intense.

“It happened in four years between 1980-2010, but has now occurred in four out of the last five winters,” said study author Robert Graham, a climate scientist from the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Other scientists are more worried about the dramatic impact the thaw is having on the rapidly diminishing Arctic sea ice.

They were shocked in recent days to discover open water north of Greenland, an area normally covered by old, very thick ice.

The part of the Arctic covered by sea ice in January was the smallest for the month since records began in 1979, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed recently – a whopping 1.35m square kilometres less than average, which is an area almost twice the size of NSW.

The amount of sea ice in the Arctic has steadily declined over the past few decades because of man-made global warming, according to NOAA. Sea ice in the Arctic affects wildlife such as polar bears, seals and walruses. It also helps regulate the planet’s temperature by influencing the circulation of the atmosphere and ocean.

“Greenhouse gases emitted through human activities and the resulting increase in global mean temperatures are the most likely underlying cause of the sea ice decline,” the National Snow and Ice Data Center said.