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The science of climate change

questions and answers

february 2015
page contents

3 Foreword
4 Summary
6 Q1: What is climate change?
8 Q2: How has climate changed?
12 Q3: Are human activities causing climate change?
16 Q4: How do we expect climate to evolve in the future?
20 Q5: How are extreme events changing?
22 Q6: How are sea levels changing?
24 Q7: What are the impacts of climate change?
28 Q8: What are the uncertainties and their implications?
30 Q9: What does science say about options to address climate change?

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Published by the Australian Academy of Science
ISBN 978 0 85847 413 0
Please cite The science of climate change: Questions and answers,
AustralianAcademy of Science, Canberra, 2015
Cover: Wollongong Harbour, NSW. Photo: Robert Montgomery

2 | The science of climate change


The purpose of this booklet is to provide an understanding, based on our As in all areas of active science, uncertainties remain. However, enormous
present scientific knowledge, of some key questions about climate change. scientific progress has been made in our understanding of climate change
It is an extensively revised update of a similarly titled Academy publication and its causes and implications. Since 2010, the IPCC has prepared a new
in 2010 that summarised the state of knowledge at that time. It has been international assessment with the active involvement of many Australian
prepared by a broadly-based Working Group of Australian climate scientists researchers, including several members of the Academy Working Group. This
with review and guidance provided by an Oversight Committee composed of Q&A update is thus well informed by recent international developments in the
Academy Fellows and the former Chair of the Academys National Committee science as well as the most recent work by our ownscientists on peculiarly
for Earth System Science. Australian aspects of the climate change problem.
Along with its sister Academies, the Australian Academy of Science has played As the summary states, Societies, including Australia, face choices about how
an active role in assessing the science of climate change since the 1970s. to respond to the consequences of future climate change. It is incumbent on
The Academy recognises the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate society to consider these choices.
Change (IPCC) as the mechanism for the international scientific assessment of I wish to thank all the members of the Working Group and Oversight
climate change science, impacts and response strategies. However, it believes Committee (whose names are listed on the back cover) for their painstaking
that it is important that Australian climate scientists explain the science, work in the preparation of this update. I also acknowledge the assistance
including its uncertainties and implications, to the Australian community in of the reviewers and others who helped with this update. The Academy is
simpler terms than can be found in most of the IPCCreports. especially grateful to the Department of the Environment, which provided the
The Working Group who prepared this update was led by Professor Michael financial support for the preparation and publication of this document.
Raupach FAA FTSE and Dr Ian Allison AO with special support, in the later On behalf of the Academy, I am pleased to commend the information in the
stages, from Professor Steven Sherwood. The views presented in the answers following pages to all those who are looking for authoritative answers to the
to the nine key questions were carefully reviewed by an Oversight Committee key questions we are all asking about the science of climate change.
and 12 independent climate scientists* who agreed to help with the
preparation of this document. The role of the Oversight Committee was to Andrew Holmes AM PresAA FRS FTSE
make sure that all reasonable review comments were properly considered by President
the Working Group in preparing their final text. While the reviewers provided Australian Academy of Science
more than 600 individual comments on the penultimate draft, neither they
nor the Oversight Committee are responsible for the final wording of the
detailed answers that represent the views of the expert members of the
Nevertheless the summary on pages 4 and 5 represents the fully agreed *In addition to multi-stage review carried out by the Oversight Committee, the penultimate
left: An image from space of the cloud
patterns associated with a mid-latitude
views of both the Oversight Committee and the Working Group. It has been draft of this document was reviewed by Dr G Ayers FTSE, Dr I G Enting, Professor D Griggs
cyclone off southwest Australia. endorsed by the Academy as a balanced, objective and authoritative summary FTSE, Professor D Karoly, Mr WR Kininmonth, Professor M J Manton FTSE, Dr K G McCracken
Photo:NASA of the current state of knowledge of the science of climate change. AO FAA FTSE, Professor N Nicholls, Dr N Smith FTSE and three anonymous reviewers.

The science of climate change | 3

Earths climate has changed over the past century. The
atmosphere and oceans have warmed, sea levels haverisen,
and glaciers and ice sheets have decreased in size. Thebest
available evidence indicates that greenhouse gas emissions
from human activities are the main cause. Continuing increases

in greenhouse gases will produce further warming and other
changes in Earths physical environment and ecosystems.
The science behind these statements >> Measurements from the recent
is supported by extensive studies past (the last 150 years) tell us
based on four main lines of evidence: that Earths surface has warmed
>> Physical principles established as atmospheric concentrations
more than a century ago tell of greenhouse gases increased
us that certain trace gases through human activities, and
in the atmosphere, such as that this warming has led to
carbon dioxide (CO2) and water other environmental changes.
vapour, restrict the radiant flow Although climate varies from
of heat from Earth to space. decade to decade, the overall
This mechanism, known as the upward trend of average global
greenhouse effect, keeps Earths surface temperature over the last
surface and lower atmosphere century is clear.
considerably warmer than they >> Climate models allow us
would otherwise be. The gases to understand the causes of
involved are called greenhouse past climate changes, and to
gases. An increase in greenhouse project climate change into the
gas concentrations raises the future. Together with physical
temperature of the surface. principles and knowledge of
>> The record of the distant past variations, models provide
past (millions of years) tells us compelling evidence that recent
that climate has varied greatly changes are due to increased
through Earths history. It has, for greenhouse gas concentrations
example, gone through ten major in the atmosphere. They tell
ice age cycles over approximately us that, unless greenhouse
the past million years. Over the gas emissions are reduced
last few thousand years of this greatly andgreenhouse gas
period, during which civilisations concentrations are stabilised,
developed, climate was unusually greenhouse warming will
stable. Evidence from the past continue to increase.
confirms that climate can be This document aims to summarise
sensitive to small persistent and clarify the current scientific
changes, such as variations in understanding of climate change
Earths orbit. by answering nine key questions.

4 | The science of climate change

1 What is climate change? 3 Are human activities causing 5 How are extreme events 8 What are the uncertainties
The term climate, in its broadest climate change? changing? andtheir implications?
sense, refers to a statistical Human activities are increasing Since the mid-20th century, climate There is near-unanimous agreement
description of weather and of greenhouse gas concentrations change has resulted in increases in among climate scientists that
the related conditions of oceans, in the atmosphere. This increase the frequency and intensity of very human-caused global warming is
land surfaces and ice sheets. This is extremely likely to have caused hot days and decreases in very cold real. However, future climate change
includes consideration of averages, most of the recent observed global days. These trends will continue with and its effects are hard to predict
variability and extremes. Climate warming, with CO2 being the largest further global warming. Heavy rainfall accurately or in detail, especially
change is an alteration in the contributor. Some observed changes events have intensified over most at regional and local levels. Many
pattern of climate over a long in Australias climate, including land areas and will likely continue to factors prevent more accurate
period of time, and may be due to a warming throughout the continent do so, but changes are expected to predictions, and some uncertainty is
combination of natural and human- and drying trends in the southwest, vary by region. likely to remain for considerable time.
induced causes. have been linked to rising Uncertainty in climate science is no
greenhouse gas concentrations. 6 How are sea levels changing? greater than in other areas where
2 How has climate changed? Sea levels have risen during the policy decisions are routinely taken to
Global climate has varied greatly 4 How do we expect climate 20thcentury. The two major minimise risk. Also, the uncertainty
throughout Earths history. In the toevolve in the future? contributing factors are the means that the magnitude of future
final decades of the 20th century, If greenhouse gas emissions expansion of sea water as it warms, climate change could be either
the world experienced a rate of continue to grow rapidly, it is and the loss of ice from glaciers. Sea greater or less than present-day
warming that is unprecedented for expected that, by 2100, the global levels are very likely to rise more bestestimates.
thousands of years, as far as we average air temperature over quickly during the 21st century than
can tell from the available evidence. the Earths surface will warm by the 20th century, and will continue to 9 What does science say
around 4C above mid-19th century rise for many centuries.
aboutoptions to address
Global average temperature rise has
temperatures. There are many
climate change?
been accompanied by ongoing rises
in ocean temperatures, ocean heat likely ramifications of this warming. 7 What are the impacts Societies, including Australia, face
storage, sea levels and atmospheric However, if emissions are reduced ofclimatechange? choices about how to respond to
water vapour. There has also been sufficiently rapidly, there is a chance Climate change has impacts on the consequences of future climate
shrinkage in the size of ice sheets that global average warming will not ecosystems, coastal systems, fire change. Available strategies include
and most glaciers. The recent exceed 2C and other impacts will regimes, food and water security, reducing emissions, capturing CO2,
slowdown in the rate of surface belimited. health, infrastructure and human adaptation and geoengineering.
warming is mainly due to climate security. Impacts on ecosystems These strategies, which can be
variability that has redistributed and societies are already occurring combined to some extent, carry
heat in the ocean, causing warming around the world, including in different levels of environmental risk
at depth and cooling of surface Australia. The impacts will vary from and different societal consequences.
waters. Australias climate has one region to another and, in the The role of climate science is to
warmed along with the global short term, can be both positive and inform decisions by providing the
average warming. negative. In the future, the impacts best possible knowledge of climate
of climate change will intensify outcomes and the consequences of
and interact with other stresses. alternative courses of action.
If greenhouse gas emissions
facing page: People flocked to the
continue to be high, it is likely that
beach for respite one evening during
Melbournes record breaking four-day the human-induced component
heatwave in January 2014, under a sky of climate change will exceed the
made hazy bysmoke from a scrub fire. capacity of some countries to adapt.
Photo: Neil OConnor

The science of climate change | 5

Q1 left: Meteorological variables such as
wind, temperature and humidity are
space. This is called the greenhouse
effect, and the gases that cause
measured by instruments attached to it by interacting with infrared
balloons and relayed by radio to ground radiation are called greenhouse
stations on land or on ships. gases. The most important are water
Photo: Kyle D. Gahlau
vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2) and

What is climate change? by long-term influences that are

known or predictable (Box 1.1).
methane. The greenhouse effect was
identifiedmore than a century ago9, 10;
Earths surface would be about
33oC cooler without it, so it keeps
Climate is determined by
manyfactors that influence Earth habitable.
flows of energy through the
climate system, including Changes in climate can occur
greenhouse gases through both natural and
human-induced causes
Energy from the Sun is the ultimate
driver of climate on Earth. The solar Global climate varies naturally
energy received by Earth depends over time scales from decades to
on how much the Sun emits and thousands of years and longer. These
the distance between Earth and natural variations can originate in
the Sun. Part of this sunlight is two ways: from internal fluctuations
reflected directly back to space by that exchange energy, water and
the atmosphere, clouds, and land, ice carbon between the atmosphere,
and water surfaces. Aerosols (tiny oceans, land and ice, and from
particles in the atmosphere, some external influences on the climate
coming from human activities) can system, including variations in the
increase the reflection of sunlight7, 8. energy received from the sun and
the effects of volcanic eruptions.
Eventually the solar energy absorbed
by Earth is returned to space as Human activities can also influence
infrared (heat) radiation. In the climate by changing concentrations
process it interacts with the whole of CO2 and other greenhouse gases
climate systematmosphere, oceans, in the atmosphere (Box 1.2), altering
Climate change is a change in system13. Climate, in its broadest in the climate system, or due to land surfaces and ice sheets. The the concentrations of aerosols and
the pattern of weather, and sense, is the statistical description of humaninfluences such as changes in flows of radiation in the atmosphere altering the reflectivity of Earths
related changes in oceans, the state of the climate system. the composition of the atmosphere (Figure 1.1) are very important in surface by changing land cover.
land surfaces and ice sheets, Climate change is a change in the or land use4. determining climate. The main
occurring over time scales of statistical properties of the climate Weather can be forecast with gases that make up the atmosphere, A disturbance to the climate
decades or longer nitrogen and oxygen, do not interact system can trigger further
system that persists for several considerable skill up to about a week
with infrared radiation. However, changes that amplify or damp
Weather is the state of the decades or longerusually at least in advance. Short term fluctuations
certain gases present in smaller the initial disturbance
atmosphereits temperature, 30 years. These statistical properties in climate, such as droughts, can
humidity, wind, rainfall and so onover quantities absorb infrared radiation There are close connections
include averages, variability and be predicted with limited skill from
flowing upwards from Earths surface between temperature, atmospheric
hours to weeks. It is influenced by the extremes. Climate change may season to season5, 6. In contrast,
and re-radiate it in all directions, water vapour, the extent of polar
oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets, be due to natural processes, such changes in the long-term statistics
including back downwards. By doing ice sheets and the concentrations
which together with the atmosphere as changes in the Suns radiation, of the climate system (climate
this they impede the outward flow of long-lived greenhouse gases
form what is called the climate volcanoes or internal variability change) can be predicted if caused
of infrared energy from Earth to (especially CO2) in the atmosphere.
6 | The science of climate change
solar incoming solar reflected infrared outgoing Box 1.1: If weather can only be forecast about a week in advance, how can
we determine future climate?
The challenges of predicting weather and climate are very different.
340 100 239 Predicting the weather is like predicting how a particular eddy will move
(Units: W m-2) and evolve in a turbulent river: it is possible over short time scales by
extrapolating the previous path of the eddy, but eventually the eddy is
influenced by neighbouring eddies and currents to the extent that predicting
its exact path and behaviour becomes impossible. Similarly, the limit for
predicting individual weather systems in the atmosphere is around 10 days.
On the other hand, predicting climate is like predicting the flow of the whole
window river. It requires a consideration of the major forces controlling the river
such as changes in rainfall, the operation of dams, and extraction of water.
79 Projections of human-induced climate change over decades to centuries are
latent heat greenhouse possible because human activities have predictable effects on the future
solar absorbed gases atmospheric composition, and in turn a predictable effect on climate.
solar down
(surface) 24 Box 1.2: How do human activitiesenhance the greenhouse effect?
solar Today, human activities are directly increasing atmospheric concentrations
84 20 398 342 of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, plus some chemically manufactured
greenhouse gases such as halocarbons (Question 3). These human-
161 generated gases enhance the natural greenhouse effect and further warm
solar absorbed evaporation sensible infrared up infrared down the surface. In addition to the direct effect, the warming that results from
(surface) heat (surface) (surface) increased concentrations of long-lived greenhouse gases can be amplified
by other processes. A key example is water vapour amplification (Box 1.3).
Figure 1.1: The rates at which energy enters the Earth system from the Sun, and leaves the system, approximately balance on Human activities are also increasing aerosols in the atmosphere, which
averageglobally. Energy absorbed at the surface is transferred to the atmosphere via infrared radiation, conduction of sensible heat, reflect some incoming sunlight. This human-induced change offsets some
andevaporation of water whose latent heat is released later when the water condenses again. Energy leaves the system mostly via of the warming from greenhouse gases7.
infrared radiation from the atmosphere. The arrows show global average energy transfer rates in units of Watts per square metre.
Withmore greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but no other changes, the system must reach a higher temperature to maintain balance.
Adapted from IPCC (2013)11, Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group 1, Figure 2.11.
Box 1.3: If water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas, why all
thefuss about CO2?
When one of these is disturbed, An example of a slow feedback is
the others react through feedback the ice age cycles that have taken Water vapour accounts for about half the natural greenhouse effect8. Its
processes that may amplify or concentrations in the atmosphere are controlled mainlyby atmospheric
place over the past million years,
temperatures and winds, in contrast with the concentrations of other
dampen the original disturbance. triggered by fluctuations in Earths
greenhouse gases which are directly influenced by human-induced inputs
These feedbacks occur on a wide rotation and orbit around the
of these gases to the atmosphere. When global average atmospheric
range of time scales: those involving sun. These fluctuations changed
temperatures rise, global water vapour concentrations increase, amplifying
the atmosphere are typically rapid, the distribution of solar radiation
the initial warming through an enhanced greenhouse effect. In this way,
while those involving deep oceans received by Earth, which caused human activityleads indirectly to increases in water vapour concentrations.
and ice sheets are slow and can temperatures to change, in turn
cause delayed responses. above: Surface meteorological observing The reality of the water vapour feedback is supported by recent
inducing changes in ice sheets
station at Cranbourne, Victoria, typical observations and analyses. Increased water vapour concentrations
An example of a rapid feedback and carbon cycling that together
of stations used for observing climate have been observed and attributed to warming12, 13, and this feedback
is the role of water vapour as amplified the temperature response. around the world. Photo: Bureau of approximately doubles the sensitivity of climate to humanactivities14.
explained in Box 1.3. (Question 2). Meteorology

The science of climate change | 7


How has climate changed?

Past climate has varied in the atmosphere2426, the evolution about 5C in ice-age cycles, roughly Most past changes in global
above: Aerial view of the Norman River
enormously on a variety of of life27 and meteorite impacts28 have every 100,000 years or so3134 (Figure temperature occurred slowly, flowing towards the Gulf of Carpentaria
time-scales also caused climate change in the 2.1a). In the coldest period of the over tens of thousands or millions in far north Queensland. Photo:
Earths climate has changed past. Several million years ago, for last ice age, about 20,000 years ago, of years. However, there is also Carnemolla
dramatically many times since example, global average temperature sea level was at least 120metres evidence that some abrupt changes
the planet was formed 4.5 billion was a few degrees higher than lower than today35, 36 because more occurred, at least at regional scales.
years ago15, 16. These changes have today and warm, tropical waters water was locked up on land in For example, during the last ice age,
been triggered by the changing reached much farther from the polar ice sheets. The last 8,000 temperatures in the North Atlantic
configuration of continents and equator, resulting in very different years, which includes most recorded region changed by 5C or more over
oceans17, 18, changes in the Suns patterns of ocean and atmospheric human history, have been relatively as little as a few decades40, 41, likely
intensity19, variations in the orbit of circulation from today29, 30. stable at the warmer end of this due to sudden collapses of Northern
Earth2022, and volcanic eruptions23. Over the past million years, temperature range37, 38. This stability Hemisphere ice sheets or changes in
Natural variations in the Earths globally averaged surface enabled agriculture, permanent ocean currents4244.
concentrations of greenhouse gases temperature has risen and fallen by settlements and population growth39.

8 | The science of climate change

(a) Changes over the last 800,000 years

Temp. change (C) 0



2013 CO2 concentration (396 ppm)
CO2 (ppm)

Figure 2.1: Past changes Past records demonstrate that Global average temperatures
250 in temperature align with global climate is sensitive to have increased over the past
changesinCO2 at a variety of small but persistent influences century
175 timescales. These graphs show Climate and sea level were
Ice-age cycles were initiated by
800,000 700,000 600,000 500,000 400,000 300,000 200,000 100,000 0 thechanges from longterm
average temperature (oC)20, 45, 46 small variations in the rotation of relativelystable over thousands of
Years BC
and average atmospheric Earth and in its orbit around the years of recorded human history up
(b) Changes over the last 2,000 years CO2 concentration (parts per sun. These changed the seasonal to the 19th century, although with
million)25, 47, 48 over the last (a) and latitudinal distribution of solar some variations45, 49 (Figure 2.1b).
0.4 800,000 years, (b)2,000 years and energy reaching Earths surface21, 22. However, globally averaged
Temp. change (C)

0.2 (c) 160 years. The temperature

Measurements from climate archives near-surface air temperature rose
changes in (a)arefor Antarctica,
-0.2 while for (b)and (c) they are
such as ice cores (Box 2.1) show that by around 0.8C between 1850 and
-0.4 global averages. Source:Compiled changing temperatures20 triggered 201246, 50 (Figure 2.1c). The rate of
-0.6 from various publicly available changes to other climate factors warming increased in the mid-1970s,
data sources (fordetails, see such as the concentration of carbon and each of the most recent three
400 web version of thisdocument) dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere25 decades has been warmer than all
assummarised inBox 2.1 (see (Figure 2.1a), amplifying the initial
360 preceding decades since 185050. The
CO2 (ppm)

disturbances. During warm periods,
320 last decade has been the warmest
the major greenhouse gases CO2
of these. Satellite observations
280 and methane were released into the
anddirect measurements also show
atmosphere, and receding ice sheets
0 500 1000 1500 2000
reflected less sunlight to space. warming in the lower atmosphere
Years AD over the past three decades50.
These observations confirm that the
climate system is sensitive to small In contrast, the atmosphere
(c) Changes over the last 160 years
disturbances that can be amplified above about 15 km elevation (the
by reinforcing feedback processes. stratosphere) has cooled over
Temp. change (C)

0.2 Likewise, the climate system today thistime5153.
0.0 is sensitive to disturbances from The temperature of the oceans has
human influences. also risen. More than 90% of the
-0.6 total heat accumulated in the climate
system between 1971 and 2010 has
been stored in the oceans54, 55. The
360 greatest ocean warming has taken
CO2 (ppm)

320 place close to the surface, with the

upper 75 m of the ocean warming
by an average of 0.11oC each decade
1850 1870 1890 1910 1930 1950 1970 1990 2010 between 1971 and 2010.
Years AD

The science of climate change | 9

Box 2.2: Has climate warming recently stopped?
According to most estimates46, 8185, the rate of average surface warming
has slowed since 2001, despite ongoing rises in greenhouse gases. This
slowdown is consistent with known climate variability. Indeed, decades
of little or no temperature trend can be seen throughout the last century,
superimposed on the long-term warming trend86.
Two main factors have contributed to the most recent period of slowed
surface warming. First, decadal variability in the ocean-atmosphere system
has redistributed heat in the ocean, especially in the eastern and central
Pacific85, 87, 88. This has caused warming at depth and cooling of surface
waters and the lower atmosphere in this region. Second, several temporary
globalcooling influences have come into play including unusually weak
solar activity (Box3.1, see page 15), increased aerosol production, and
volcanic activity9598.
None of these influences is likely to continue over the long term.
Moreover, despite the slowdown in warming at the surface, there have
been continuing increases in heat extremes99 and in the heat content of
the oceans87, 8994, as well as rising sea levels, shrinking Arctic sea-ice, and
Box 2.1: How do we detect climate change?
ongoing melt of ice sheets and glaciers. Some models predict that, when
Identifying temperature change that is global in extent requires frequent the current slowdown ends, renewed warming will be rapid87.
observations from many locations around the world. Thermometers, rain
gauges and other simple instruments have been used to measure climate Changes are evident in many the year and particularly in
variables, starting in the mid-19th century. Over time the quality, variety parts of the climate system summer63, 64. The thickness of the
and quantity of observations has improved. Since the 1970s, sophisticated Changes consistent with an increase ice has also decreased by more
sensors on earth-orbiting satellites have provided near global coverage in global temperature have been than 30% over the last 30 years6568.
of many climate variables. By carefully analysing the data gathered using observed in many other components >> In the Southern Ocean, there are
top right: Scientists use ice core these techniques (with careful account for changes in instrument types,
samples to reconstruct climatic records of the climate system. strong regional differences in the
over hundreds of thousands of years.
observational practices, instrument locations and urban areas) it has been changes to areas covered by sea
>> Mountain glaciers have been
Photo:NASA/Lora Koenig possible to map the distribution of temperature and other climate changes ice69, but a small increase in total
shrinking and contributing
top left: Tree rings provide one source since the late 19th century. coverage70, driven by shifts in winds
to global sea-level rise since
of climate change data over hundreds To study climate changes that occurred before direct measurements were and ocean currents in a warming
ofyears. Photo: LandLearn NSW about 1850. Melting accelerated
made, scientists use indirect evidence from other sources that record a significantly in the 1990s5661. Southern Ocean. Strengthening
above left: Scientists have been using climate signal. These include climate signals encoded in the composition circumpolar winds around
specialised equipment to measure >> The Greenland and West Antarctic
and record weather and climate since
of ice cores, corals, sediments in oceans and lakes, and tree rings. All Antarctica have also been linked in
Ice Sheets have both lost ice
1850. NASAs Global Precipitation these records are laid down sequentially over time as an organism grows part to thinning of the ozone layer.
since 1990, further contributing
Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory or as sediments accumulate. Ice cores from polar ice sheets, which >> The amount of water vapour in
satellite is designed to provide rain to sea-level rise as discussed in
are built from snow laid down over tens to hundreds of thousands of theatmosphere has increased
and snow observations worldwide. Question 6. This is from increased
years, provide records of both past CO2 and temperature. As the snow since the 1980s12, 13, which is
Visualisation:NASA discharge of ice into the ocean,
transforms into ice, it traps air in sealed bubbles that provide a sample of consistent with warmer air
and also increased surface melting
past atmosphericcomposition, while the ratio of stable isotopes of either (Box1.3, seepage7).
in Greenland. The rate of loss
oxygen or hydrogen in the water molecule is related to the temperature
from Greenland appears to be >> The surface of the ocean in rainy
at the time when the snow fell. More recent historical changes can be
increasing56, 62. parts of the world is becoming
identified by analysing written and pictorial records, for example of
>> The area of the Arctic Ocean less salty, which is consistent
changes in glacier extent.
covered by sea ice has decreased with freshwater dilution from
significantly since 1987 throughout increased rainfall71.
10 | The science of climate change
>> Some ocean currents have MLOST 1901-2012
Figure 2.2: Surface temperature has
changed in response to changes increased across most of the world
in surface winds, ocean since1901. This map shows the
temperature and ocean saltiness. distribution of the average temperature GISS 1901-2012
The changes include a southward change between 1901 and 201250. Adapted
from IPCC (2013)79, Fifth Assessment
shift of the Antarctic Circumpolar Report, Working Group 1, Figure 2.21.
Current7274 and increasing
southward penetration of the
East Australian Current75.
>> An increasing number of plants
and animals, on land and in the
oceans, are undergoing shifts in
their distribution and lifecycles Trend ( C over period)
GISS 1901-2012

that are consistent with observed

-0.6 -0.4
-0.6 -0.4 -0.2
-0.2 0.0
0 0.2
0.2 0.4
0.4 0.6
0.6 0.8 1. 1.25
0.8 1.0 1.25 1.5
1.5 1.75
1.75 2.5
temperature changes76, 77.
Trend (C over period)

There are regional differences Figure 2.3: Temperature has risen over
Australia and in the surrounding ocean
toclimate change including
since the beginning of the 20th century,
within Australia

Temperature anomoly (C)

1.00 Departures from 19611990 climatological average
although there are regional differences.
Over the past 100 years, temperature Plot on left shows deviations from
has increased over almost the entire the 19611990 average of sea surface
temperature and temperatures over land
globe; the rate of increase has in the Australian region; map on right
been largest in continental interiors shows distribution of annual average
(Figure 2.2). The average surface temperature change across Australia
temperatures over the Australian since 1910. Adapted from BOM/CSIRO
continent and its surrounding oceans State of the Climate 201478 p.45.
-0.6 1960
1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 -0.4 1970
-0.2 1980
0 0.2
1990 0.4
0.8 1. 1.25 1.5 1.75 2.5
have increased by nearly 1C since
the beginning of the 20th century78 Sea-surface temperature Trendair(C
Surface over period)
(Figure2.3 left). Seven of the ten Sea-surface temperature Surface air temperature
10-year average 10-year average
warmest years on record in Australia
have occurred since 2002. However
there are differences across Australia Figure 2.4: Recent rainfall in northern
with some regions having warmed Australia has been higher than average
faster and others showing relatively during the northern wet season, and
in southern Australia it has been drier
little warming78 (Figure 2.3 right).
duringthe southern wet season. The
Since the mid 1990s there have been maps show the relative ranking (in 10%
significant increases in wet season increments) of rainfall from July 1995 to
rainfall over northwest Australia78 June 2014 compared with the average
since 1900 for (left) northern Australian
(Figure 2.4 left), a declining trend wet season (OctApr) and (right)
in southwest Australia80, and a 15% southern Australian wet season
decline in late autumn and early (AprNov). Adapted from BOM/CSIRO
winter rainfall in the southeast78 State of the Climate 201478, p.67.
(Figure 2.4 right).

The science of climate change | 11

Q3 Human activities have
increased greenhouse
responses to warming and rainfall
changes (though the mix of these
gas concentrations in the mechanisms remains unclear)109111.

Are human activities atmosphere

Atmospheric concentrations of
carbon dioxide (CO2), methane
The other 45% of emissions
accumulated in the atmosphere112114.
These changes to the carbon cycle

causing climate change? and nitrous oxide began to rise

around two hundred years ago,
after changing little since the end
of the last ice age thousands of
are known from measurements in
the atmosphere115121, on land and in
the ocean122125, and from modelling
years earlier. The concentration of The dominant cause of the
CO2 has increased from 280 parts increasing concentration of CO2
per million (ppm) before 1800, to in the atmosphere is the burning
396 ppm in 2013100, 101. This history of of fossil fuels123. Over the last two
greenhouse gas concentrations has centuries, the growth of fossil-
been established by a combination fuel combustion has been closely
of modern measurements100103 and coupled to global growth in energy
analysis of ancient air bubbles in use and economic activity126. Fossil-
polar ice47, 104, 105 (Box2.1, see page 10). fuel emissions grew by 3.2% per
Particularly important is CO2. year from 2000 to 2010 (Figure 3.3),
Enormous amounts of it are a rapid growth that is dominated
continually exchanged between bygrowth in Asian emissions and
the atmosphere, land and oceans, has exceeded all but the highest
as land and marine plants grow, recent long-range scenarios for
die and decay, and as carbon-rich future emissions126128.
waters circulate in the ocean. For Although fossil-fuel emissions of
several thousand years until around CO2 have grown fairly steadily,
200 years ago, this carbon cycle the upward march of the CO2
was approximately in balance and concentration in the atmosphere
steady. Since the 19th century, varies from year to year. This is
human-induced CO2 emissions from caused mainly by the effects of
fossil fuel combustion, cement weather variability on vegetation130132,
manufacture and deforestation have and also by sporadic volcanic activity:
disturbed the balance, adding CO2 to major volcanic eruptions have a
the atmosphere faster than it can be significant indirect influence on
taken up by the land biosphere and atmospheric CO2 concentrations,
the oceans (Figures 3.1 and 3.2). On causing temporary drawdown of
average over the last 50 years, about CO2 through the promotion of
25% of total CO2 emissions were plantgrowth by the light-scattering
absorbed by the oceanmaking and cooling effects of volcanic
sea water more acidic208and 30% haze132136. By contrast, the direct
was taken up on land, largely by contribution of volcanic emissions
increased plant growth stimulated to atmospheric CO2 is negligible,
by rising atmospheric CO2, amounting to around 1% of current
increased nutrient availability, and human-induced emissions137.
12 | The science of climate change
Atmospheric CO sources and accumulation
Emissions from fossil fuels
Figure 3.2: An atmospheric CO2 budget
Emissions from land use changes reveals the amount of carbon in the
Accumulation in the atmosphere net amounts of CO2 entering, leaving

Annual flow of CO (billion tonnes of carbon per year)

and accumulating in the atmosphere123.
6 The upper panel shows the inflows of
CO2 to the atmosphere from fossil fuel
Global carbon dioxide budget emissions (red) and net land use change
(gigatonnes of carbon per year) 4
2004-2013 (orange), together with the net annual
CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere
2 (pale blue). The lower panel shows the
Fossil fuel & Atmospheric outflows of CO2 from the atmosphere
cement growth Land sink to the ocean (dark blue) and to plants
8.9 0.4 4.3 0.1 change 2.9 0.8 1850 1870 1890 1910 1930 1950 1970 1990 2010 on land (green). The accumulation in the
atmosphere is the difference between the
0.9 0.5
sum of the two emissions and the sum of
Ocean sink Atmospheric CO sinks the two sinks Source: Working Group for
2.6 0.5 6 this document, with data from the Global
oceans Carbon Project107.
land (

1850 1870 1890 1910 1930 1950 1970 1990 2010

Glouced by
bal C the In
arbo te
n Pro rnation
ject a
2010 l Geosp reservoirs
iosp 14
for th High emissions pathway Figure 3.3: CO2 emissions from burning
e Glo
bal C
arbo (billion tonnes of carbon per year) Low emissions pathway fossil fuels have continued to increase
n Pro
over recent years. The black dots show
12 Intermediate 1
observed CO2 emissions from fossil fuels
Fossil Fuel CO emissions

Intermediate 2
and other industrial processes (mainly
cement manufacture); the coloured
10 lines represent four future pathways
Figure 3.1: The natural carbon cycle, in which CO2 circulates between the atmosphere, land as envisaged in 2006 for low to high
and oceans, has been changed by emissions of CO2 from human activities. In this diagram emissions129. Observed emissions are
of the global carbon cycle, numbers on arrows represent carbon flows averaged over tracking the highest-emission pathway.
20042013, in gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon per year106. Source: Global Carbon 8
Source: Working Group for this document,
Project, with updated numbers107. with data from the Global Carbon Project107.

1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030

facing page: Southern approach to the

Sydney Harbour Bridge, NSW.

The science of climate change | 13

Most of the observed recent Of these, solar fluctuations and Using climate models, it is possible
global warming results from volcanic eruptions are entirely to separate the effects of the natural Effect on climate (Watts per square metre)
human activities natural, while the other four are and human-induced influences on
-3 -2 -1 0 1 2
Climatic warming or cooling arises predominantly caused by human climate. Models can successfully
from changes in the flows of influences. The human-induced reproduce the observed warming
energythrough the climate system drivers have been dominant over the over the last 150 years when both
(Figure 1.1, see page 7) that can past century138 (Figure 3.4). Changes natural and human influences are
Methane + other long-lived gases
originate from a number of possible in greenhouse gas concentrations, included, but not when natural
driving factors. The main drivers that dominated by CO2, caused a large influences act alone139 (Figure 3.5).
warming contribution. Some of This is both an important test of the Ozone + other short-lived gases
have acted over the last century are:
this has been offset by the net climate models against observations
>> increases in atmospheric CO2 and Land use change
cooling effects of increased aerosol and also a demonstration that
other long-lived greenhouse gases
concentrations and their impact recent observed global warming
(methane, nitrous oxide and
on clouds. Black carbon or soot has results largely from human rather Aerosol
probably exerted a smaller, warming than natural influences on climate.
>> increases in short-lived influence. The net effect of all aerosol It is also possible to distinguish Solar
greenhouse gases (mainly ozone) types including soot remains hard the effects of different human and
>> changes to land cover to quantify accurately. Among the natural influences on climate by
(replacement of darker forests natural influences, the effect of studying particular characteristics
with paler croplands and changes in the brightness ofthe Sun of their effects. For example, it was Figure 3.4: Human-induced drivers of climate change have been much larger than natural
grasslands) has been very small (Box3.1). Volcanic predicted more than a century ago drivers over the last century138. The strength of these drivers, which are changing the
influences are highly intermittent, long-term energy balance of the planet, is measured in Watts per square metre (see also
>> increases in aerosols (tiny that increases in CO2 would trap Figure 1.1). Orange and green bars respectively indicate human and natural drivers; error
particles in the atmosphere) with major eruptions (such as more heat near the surface and bars indicate 5-95% uncertainties. The solar effect (shown in green) is very small. Volcanic
Pinatubo in 1991) causing significant also make the stratosphere colder10. effects are highly variable in time (see text) and are not shown here. Source: Working
>> solar fluctuations (changes in the
cooling for a year or two, but their In recent years, satellite and other Group for this document, with data from IPCC (2013)79, Fifth Assessment Report, Working
brightness of the sun) Group 1, Chapter 8 Supplementary Material.
average effects over the past century measurements have provided strong
>> volcanic eruptions. have been relatively small138. evidence that the upper atmosphere

14 | The science of climate change

Land Land + Ocean
2.0 2.0
Figure 3.5: Climate models can correctly
replicate recent warming only if they
1.5 1.5 include human influences. Comparison
of observed changes (black lines) in
global temperatures (C) over land (left)
Temp change (C)

Temp change (C)

1.0 1.0 and land plus ocean (right) with model
projections including both natural plus
human influences (red lines) and natural
0.5 0.5 influences only (blue lines). Shadings
around model results indicate 5-95%
confidence bands139. Adapted from
0.0 0.0 IPCC (2013)79, Fifth Assessment Report,
Working Group 1, Figure 10.21.

-0.5 -0.5

-1.0 -1.0
1850 1910 1960 2010 1850 1910 1960 2010

has cooled and the lower atmosphere have been observed in the Australian
Box 3.1: Do changes in the Sun contribute to global warming?
has warmed significantlythe region over the past two decades.
predicted consequence of extra These include stronger westerly In comparison with other influences, the effects of solar variations on
greenhouse gases140, 51, 52. This winds over the Southern Ocean, present global warming are small138, 156158. Indirect estimates suggest that
supports the inference that the strengthening of the high-pressure changes in the brightness of the Sun have contributed only a few percent
observed near-surface warming ridge over southern Australia144146, of the global warming since 1750138, 159161. Direct measurements show a
is due primarily to an enhanced and a related southward shift of decreasing solar intensity over recent decades, opposite to what would be
greenhouse effect rather than, say, an weather systems147149. These trends required to explain the observed warming162, 163. Solar activity has declined
increase in the brightness of the Sun. are consistent with climate model significantly over the last few years, and some estimates suggest that weak
projections, and are likely to be activity will continue for another few decades, in contrast with strong
Some recent changes in largely human-induced through activity through the 20th century156. Nevertheless, the possible effects on
Australias climate are linked a combination of increases in warming are modest compared with anthropogenic influences156.
to rising greenhouse gases greenhouse gases and thinning of
Modelling studies indicate that the ozone layer148, 150, 151, 80, 152.
rising greenhouse gases have Past decadal trends in Australian There has very likely been net
facing page: Wollongong, NSW at night.
made a clear contribution to the rainfall (Question 2) cannot yet uptakeof CO2 by Australian Photo: Jim Vrckovski
recent observed warming across be clearly separated from natural vegetation124, 125, consistent with right: Rainforest canopy,
Australia141143. Depletion of the climate variations78, except in global uptake of CO2 by vegetation BellendenKerRange, North Queensland.
ozone layer in the upper atmosphere southwest Western Australia153 on land (Figure 3.2, see page 13). This Photo: Robert Kerton
overAntarctica and rising where a significant observed has been accompanied by increases
greenhouse gas concentrations declinein rainfall has been in the greenness of Australian
are also likely to have contributed attributedto human influences vegetation154, which is also consistent
significantly to climate trends that onthe climate system80. with globaltrends155.

The science of climate change | 15


How do we expect climate With continued strong growth

in CO2 emissions, much more
warming is expected
for CO2, coupled with rises in the
other greenhouse gases, would

to evolve in the future?

be expected to result in a global-
If society continues to rely on average warming of around 4.5C by
fossil fuels to the extent that it 2100, but possibly as low as 3C or
is currently doing, then carbon as high as 6C165. A low emissions
dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the pathway, based on a rapid shift away
atmosphere are expected to double from fossil fuel use over the next
from pre-industrial values by about few decades, would see warming
2050, and triple by about 2100164. significantly reduced later this
This high emissions pathway century and beyond (Figure 4.1).

6 30


Global temperature change (C)


4 0

1980 2000 2020 2040 2060 2080 2100
3 Year

1980 2000 2020 2040 2060 2080 2100

High emissions pathway Low emissions pathway

above: Drawing on data from multiple satellite missions, Figure 4.1: Future projected climate change depends on net emissions of greenhouse
NASA scientists and graphic artists have layered land gases. Retrospective and future projected global surface air temperature changes
surface, polar sea ice, city lights, cloud cover and other (C; relative to 18611880) under both high and low emissions pathways. Individual model
data in a visualisation of Earth from space. Image: NASA simulations are shown as faint lines, with bold lines indicating the multi-model average.
Goddard Space Flight Centre/Reto Stckli The corresponding two emissions pathways, including all industrial sources, are included
in the inset. Emission units are gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon per year (GtC/y).
Source: Data from Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) 5166.

16 | The science of climate change

Projections of surface air temperature and precipitation change for years 20812100

A model with high climate sensitivity A model with low climate sensitivity Figure 4.2: Projections of temperature
and rainfall show consistent features at
11 large scales but differ regionally, especially
for rainfall. Projected global distributions

temperature changes C
9 of surface air temperature changes (top)

Projected surface air

and percentage precipitation change
7 (bottom) averaged for the years
20812100 (relative to 19812000), under a
5 high emissions pathway for two particular
climate models, one with relatively high
3 sensitivity to an initial disturbance to the
climate system (left hand panels) and
one with relatively low climate sensitivity
(right hand panels). The projections have
many similar patterns but differ in regional
details, as is typical of climate projections
from different models. Source: Data from
Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5166.


precipitation change

Projected %

During the next few decades and and decreases in many subtropical worldwide, broadly agree on the under a high emissions scenario.
beyond, global warming is expected and mid-latitude regions), further patterns of global-scale warming, At more localised regional scales
to cause further increases in ocean warming, and further rises with greater atmospheric warming the models can produce different
atmospheric moisture content, more in sea levels167. The magnitude of over land than over the oceans, and results: for example, some models
extreme heatwaves, fewer frosts, expected change depends on future greater warming at high northern project substantial changes to
further decreases in the extent and greenhouse gas emissions and latitudes than in the tropics and phenomena such as El Nio or
thickness of sea ice, further melting climate feedbacks. Southern Ocean (Figure 4.2 top). dramatic changes to vegetation168,
of mountain glaciers and ice sheets, Future projections, based on Future changes depend on the and regional projections of
shifts in rainfall (increases in most climate models operated across a emissions pathway, and will be precipitation vary between
tropical and high-latitude regions large number of research centres less if emissions are curtailed than models(Figure4.2bottom).

The science of climate change | 17

Australia can expect further Long-term climate change is
warming and changes in water effectively irreversible
availability The decisions we make on carbon
Australian temperatures are emissions over coming decades will
expected to rise by approximately affect our climate for a long time to
half a degree or more by 2030 come, as emissions will profoundly
relative to 1990, bringing more hot impact the rate of future climate
days and nights169, 170. Average sea change, particularly after 2030
level is expected to be about 15 (Figure. 4.1, see page 16). Even if
cm higher by 2030 relative to 1990 emissions of greenhouse gases are
and some models project tropical reduced to near zero during this
cyclones becoming less frequent but century, we will have to live with
more severe in peak rainfall intensity a warmer climate for centuries181.
as the world warms171. For those parts of the climate
It is likely that future rainfall system that respond slowly, such
patterns across Australia will be as the deep ocean, ice sheets and
different from today. However, permafrost, change will continue
compared with temperature trends, for a long time. Many associated
changes in rainfall patterns are impactssuch as sea-level rise
harder to predict. Regional rainfall and processes that exacerbate
projections from different climate climate changesuch as releases
models are frequently different of methane and CO2 from thawing
from one another (e.g. over permafrost soilswill continue long
Australia; Figure 4.2, see page 17). after emissions are stopped.
Nevertheless, some future trends are These characteristics of the climate
projected by a majority of models, system mean that the only way
including decreases over southwest to stop human-induced climate
Western Australia coastal regions169, change (without resorting to
172, 173
. Future rainfall trends across geoengineeringthe deliberate,
the Murray Darling basin remain large-scale modification of climate)
uncertain174. is to reduce net greenhouse gas
Changes in rainfall greatly affect emissions to near-zero levels182. The
water availability because changes longer this takes to achieve, and the
in rainfall are amplified in the more greenhouse gases that are
resulting changes in runoff to rivers: emitted in the meantime, the larger
the runoff in typical Australian the scale of future climate change.
catchments changes by 2 to 3% for
each 1% change in rainfall175180.
left: Low water levels in the Cotter Dam
near Canberra, ACT. Photo: Nick Pitsas
above right: 1 Bligh St, Sydney, NSW is an
energy efficient development with six-star
green status. Improving urban energy
efficiency will help reduce emissions.
Photo: Sardaka

18 | The science of climate change


Warming relative to 18601880 (C)


0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000
Cumulative CO2 emissions from 1870 (billion tonnes of carbon)

To keep global warming temperatures to no more than emissions were 530billion tonnes. Figure 4.3: Global warming is closely
belowany specified threshold, 2Cabove preindustrial levels, the The remaining quota is equivalent related to cumulative CO2 emissions.
there is a corresponding total CO2 emitted from human to around 30years worth of current Points represent Intergovernmental Panel
limiton cumulative carbon activities (accounting also for effects emissions188, 189. To stay within such on Climate Change projections from
dioxide emissions the Fourth and Fifth Assessments (IPCC
of other gases) would have to stay a carbon quota, long-term global
AR4, AR5); coloured bands represent
The amount of future global warming below a carbon quota between emissions reductions would have uncertainty, by showing the relationship
is closely related to cumulative CO2 820187 and 950188 billion tonnes toaverage between 5.5% and ifthe climate were more (red) or less
emissions114, 164, 183187 (Figure4.3). of carbon. So far,humanity has 8% peryear, accounting for time (blue) sensitive to disturbance than
emitted well over half of this quota: required to turn around present current best estimates. Source: Working
For example, to have a 50:50
Group for this document, with data from
chance of keeping globalaverage between 1870 and 2013 cumulative emissions growth189.

The science of climate change | 19


How are extreme

events changing?
Australia has a variable observed196, 197. For example, in recent For other extreme weather events
climate with many extremes decades, hot days and nights have such as tropical cyclones, there
With its iconic reference to become more frequent, more intense are not yet sufficient good quality
droughts and flooding rains, and longer lasting in tandem with observational data to make
Dorothea Mackellars 1904 poem decreases in cold days and nights conclusive statements about past
My Country highlights the large for most regions of the globe196198. long-term trends78, 171, 205, 206. However, above: Flooding in Darwin, NT, following
Since records began, the frequency, as the climate continues to warm, tropical cyclone Carlos in 2011. Photo:
natural variations that occur in
duration and intensity of heatwaves intensification of rainfall from Charles Strebor
Australias climate, leading to
extremes that can frequently have increased over large parts of tropical cyclones is expected171.
cause substantial economic and Australia78, with trends accelerating Recent scientific advances now
environmental disruption. These since 1970199. allow us to begin ascribing changes
variations have existed for many Because a warmer atmosphere in the climate system to a set of
thousands of years, and indeed contains more moisture, rainfall underlying natural and human
past floods and droughts in many extremes are also expected to causes207, 208. For example, it is now
regions have likely been larger than become more frequent and intense possible to estimate the contribution
those recorded since the early 20th as global average temperatures of human-induced global warming hot extremes threshold

century190195. This high variability increase. This is already being to the probabilities of some kinds

poses great challenges for recording observed globally200: heavy rainfall of extreme events. There is a
and analysing changes in climate events over most land areas have discernible human influence in the
extremes not just in Australia, become more frequent and intense observed increases in extremely
but the world over. Nevertheless, in recent decades, although these hot days and heatwaves209, 210. While
some changes in Australias climate trends have varied notably between the record high temperatures of
extremes stand out from that regions and seasons. In southern the 2012/2013 Australian summer
background variability. Australia194, 195, for example, the could have occurred naturally, they
frequency of heavy rainfall has were substantially more likely to cold extremes threshold
Human-induced climate decreased201 in some seasons. While occur because of human influences
change is superimposed on there is no clear trend in drought on climate211, 212. By contrast, the
natural variability occurrence globally50, indications large natural variability of other Time
In a warming climate, extremely cold are that droughts have increased in extremes, such as rainfall213 or
days occur less often and veryhot some regions (such as southwest tropical cyclones171, means that Figure 5.1: Temperature extremes change as average temperature increases. In this
days occur more often (Figure 5.1). Australia) and decreased in others thereis still much less confidence schematic illustration, the increase in average temperature is shown by the sloping line
(such as northwest Australia) since in how these are being affected by on the right. The idealised temperature time series has similar variability throughout the
These changes have already been
whole record. In the latter part of the record, the hot extremes threshold is exceeded
the middle of the 20th century202204. humaninfluences.
progressively more frequently. Source: Working Group for this document.

20 | The science of climate change

1960 1980 2000 2020 2040 2060 2080 2100
Year Year

(e) Future change in 20yr RV of warmest daily Tmax (TXx) (f)(c)Future RP for present
Warmdaydays (TX90p)
20yr RV of wettest day (RX1day) (d)
Warm days Very Wet Days 29 historical 18
70 RCP2.6 70
40 40 60
60 60 RCP4.5
60 RCP8.5 60
30 30
50 50

Exceedance rate (%)

Relative change (%)

Exceedance rate, %

Relative change, %
20 20
50 50 40
40 40

30 30 10 10 40 40

20 20 0 0 30 30 20

(C) Years
10 10 -10 -10 20 20
-2 -1.5 -1 -0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 3 4 5 7 9 11 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
1960 1980 2000 2020 2040 2060 2080 2100 1960 1980 2000 2020 2040 2060 2080 2100 0
Year Year
Figure 5.3: Over most continents, a heavy rainfall event that occurs only once in 20 years
today is expected to occur at least twice as often by end of the 21st century. The map
shows projections, under a high emission pathway, of the return period during 20812100
1960 1980
for daily precipitation 2000
values that 2020 return
have a 20-year 2040period2060 2080 2100
during 19862005. Adapted
from IPCC (2013) Fifth Assessment Report,Year
Working Group 1, Technical Summary, TFE.9,
Extremes are expected to future will likely mean that extreme
Figure 1f.
Figure 5.2: Future increases in extreme
change in the future precipitation is more intense and more
As the climate continues to warm in frequent, interspersed with longer dry
temperatures in Australia are strongly
linked to global greenhouse gas emissions.
(e) Future change in 20yr RV of warmest daily Tmax (TXx) (f) Fut
response to further greenhouse gas spells214, 215, likewise with substantial But future changes in heavy rainfall are
much less certain. Plots show Australia-
emissions, high temperature extremes regional variability. wide changes in (left) the percentage
will become hotter and cold extremes In many continents, including of days annually with daily maximum
will become less cold214. The rate of surface air temperature warmer than the
Australia, a high temperature event temperature exceeded by the hottest 10%
change of temperature extremes
expected once in 20 years at the of days during 19611990; and (right) the
in Australia will depend on future
end of the 21st century is likely to percentage change in annual precipitation
emission levels215: higher emissions from the wettest 5% of rainfall days
will cause progressively more frequent be over 4oC hotter than it is today
(relative to 19862005). Red and blue lines
high extreme temperatures (Figure 5.2 (Figure 5.4). Furthermore, what represent outcomes under high-emissions
left). Climate model projections also we experience as a one-in-20-year and low-emissions pathways214, 218, 219.
Source: working group for this document.
suggest (though with considerable temperature today would become
uncertainty) that in the next several an annual or one-in-two-year event
decades, heavy rainfall events in by the end of the 21st century in C
Australia will tend to increase under manyregions216. -2 -1.5 -1 -0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 3 4 5 7 9 11
a high emissions pathway (Figure 5.2
Future changes in other extreme
right). Across the globe, projections
weather events are less certain.
point broadly to an intensification of Figure 5.4: The maximum temperature in any 20-year time period is expected to increase
the wettest days214, 216 and a reduction Evidence suggests there will with time, being substantially higher at the end of the 21st century than today. The map
be fewer tropical cyclones, but shows projections under a high emissions pathway of the change from 19862005 to
in the return time of the most
20812100 in 20-year return values of daily maximum temperatures. Adapted from IPCC
extreme events (Figure 5.3), although that the strongest cyclones will
(2013)79, Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group 1, Technical Summary, TFE.9, Figure 1e.
there is much regional variation in produceheavier rainfall than they
these trends. For Australia, a warmer docurrently171, 217.

The science of climate change | 21

Q6 In past warmer climates, sea
level was higher than today
expansion of ocean water as it
warmed, and the addition of water
to the ocean from loss of ice from

How are sea

Sea level was between 5 metres and
10 metres above current levels during glaciers238240. Since 1990, there have
the last interglacial period (129,000 been further contributions from
surface melting of the Greenland ice

levels changing?
to 116,000 years ago)16, 220, 221 when
global average surface temperatures sheet, and the increased discharge
were less than 2C above their values of ice into the ocean from both
the Greenland and Antarctic ice
just before the start of the industrial
sheets62. This increase in ice-sheet
era in the 19th century222. The
discharge is related to increases in
estimated contributions from ocean
ocean temperatures adjacent to and
thermal expansion223 and a then
underneath the glacier tongues and
smaller Greenland Ice Sheet16 imply
floating ice shelves that fringe the
acontribution also from Antarctica
coast of Greenland and Antarctica241.
to this higher sea level.
The sum of storage of water in
terrestrial reservoirs242 and the
Globally, sea levels are
depletion of ground water243, 244 have
made a small contribution to sea-level
For two thousand years before rise during the 20th century244, 245.
the mid-19th century, the long-
term global sea-level change was Australian sea levels are rising
small, only a few centimetres per
Around the Australian coastline,
century224232. Since then, the rate of
sea level rose relative to the land
rise has increased substantially233;
throughout the 20th century, with
from 1900 to 2012, sea level rose
a faster rate (partly as a result of
by a global average of about 19 natural climate variability) since
centimetres234237. In the past 20 years, 1993246, 247. This follows several
both satellite and coastal sea-level thousand years when there was
data indicate that the rate of rise a slow fall of Australian sea levels
has increased to about 3 centimetres relative to the land at rates of a few
per decade. A similarly high rate centimetres per century. This was
was experienced in the 1920 to 1950 a result of ongoing changes to the
period234, 235, 237 (Figure 6.1). solid Earth following loss of the large
The two largest contributions to surface loading from ice sheets of the
sea-level rise since 1900 were the last ice age248.

left: Coogee Beach sea pool, NSW.

Photo: Robert Montgomery

22 | The science of climate change

Sea levels are projected to Regional sea-level change266, 267 Sea levels will continue to rise
rise at a faster rate during the can be different from the global forcenturies
21stcentury than during the average because of changes in By 2300, it is projected245 that high
20thcentury ocean currents266, 267, changes in greenhouse gas emissions could lead
By 2100, it is projected245 that the regional atmospheric pressure268, to a global sea-level rise of 1 metre
oceans will rise by a global average the vertical movement of land, and to 3 metres or more. This may be an
of 28 to 61 centimetres relative to changes in the Earths gravitational underestimate because it is difficult
the average level over 19862005 field269272 as a result of changes to accurately simulate the changes
if greenhouse gas emissions are in the distribution of water, in the discharge from the Antarctic
low, and by 52 to 98 centimetres if particularly icesheets, on the Earth. and Greenland ice sheets.
emissions are high (Figure 6.1). For Australia, 21st century sea-level
Sustained warming would lead to the 1.2
The largest contributions are rise is likely tobe close to the global
near-complete loss of the Greenland High greenhouse gas emission pathway
projected to be ocean thermal average rise245, 273.
ice sheet over a thousand years Low greenhouse gas emission pathway

Sea level change (m) relative to 19862005

expansion249, 250 and the loss of In addition to climate-driven sea- or more, contributing up to about 1.0

Sea level change (m) relative to pre-industrial

ice from glaciers61, 251253, with the level change, local factors can also 7 metres56 to global average sea-
Greenland ice sheet contributing be important and may dominate level rise. This would occur above 0.6
from surface melt254 and ice at somelocations. These include a warming threshold estimated 0.8
discharge255 into the ocean. For tectonic land movements274 and to be between about 1C280 and
Antarctica, increased snowfall256, 257 subsidence275, 276 resulting from 4C245, 254, 281283, of global average 0.4
the extraction of ground water or 0.6
may partially offset an increase warming relative to pre-industrial
in discharge of ice into the hydrocarbons, sediment loading and temperatures. It is possible that a
compaction. Changes in sediment 0.2
ocean258, 259. Observations indicate larger sea-level rise could result from 0.4
that an increased discharge supply275, 276 can affect local erosion/ a collapse of sectors of the Antarctic
from Antarctica is occurring260, accretion of the coastline. ice sheet resting on land below 0.0
particularly from sectors of the sea level. Current understanding is 0.2
Antarctic ice sheet resting on land Rising sea levels result in a insufficient to assess the timing or
below sea level. Recent models greater coastal flood and magnitude of such a multi-century
successfully simulate increased flow erosionrisk contribution from Antarctica, 0.0
in individual Antarctic glaciers261, 262 Rising average sea levels mean that although there is increasing
and support the rates of ice sheet extreme sea levels of a particular evidence that it may already have
loss that were used to estimate -0.2
height are exceeded more often commenced260262.
global sea level riseof up to 98 cm 1700 1800 1900 2000 2100
during storm surges277. For the east
by 2100245. However, the relevant and west coasts of Australia, this Year
ice-sheet processes are poorly happened three times more often Figure 6.1: Global average sea level has increased from estimated pre-industrial levels
understood263265 and an additional in the second half compared to the and is projected to rise at a faster rate during the 21st century245. The blue235, orange234
rise of several tens of centimetres first half of the 20th century278. This and green237 curves up to 2010 are different estimates of global average sea-level change,
by 2100 cannot be excluded245. effect will continue with more than a relative to thepre-industrial level, based on historical tide-gauge observations. The
light blue curve is the satellite altimeter observations from 1993 to 2012. Projections,
ten-fold increase in the frequency of
shown from 2006 to2100, are relative to the average over 19862005245 for high and low
extreme sea levels by 2100277 at many greenhouse gas emission pathways. Adapted from IPCC (2013)79, Fifth Assessment Report,
locations and a much increased risk Working Group1, Figure 13.27.
of coastal flooding279 and erosion,
even for a low emissions pathway.

The science of climate change | 23


What are the impacts

of climate change?

Climate changes have always Impacts from human-induced Some regional changes in Australian
affected societies and climate change are already rainfall have been linked to human-
ecosystems occurring induced climate change. Southwest
Climate change, whatever the The clearest present-day impacts Western Australia has experienced a
cause, has profoundly affected of climate change in Australia and reduction in rainfall since the 1970s
human societies and the natural elsewhere are seen in the natural that has been attributed, at least
environment in the past. Throughout environment, and are associated with in part, to enhanced greenhouse
history there are examples of warming temperatures and increases warming (Question 3)78, 80, 152, 153.
societal collapse associated with in the number, duration and severity Societal adaptation to the resulting
regional changes in climate, ranging of heatwaves78, 286. These impacts shortfalls in water supply is possible
from the decline of the Maya in include changes in the growth and and already occurring (Box 7.1).
Mexico (linked to drought)284 to distribution of plants, animals and Box 7.1: Impacts of a drier climate: the case of southwest
insects77, 287289; poleward shifts in the WesternAustralia
the disappearance of the Viking
community from Greenland in distribution of marine species; and Declining rainfall and surface reservoir recharge since the mid-1970s in
above left: The Southern Seawater
the fifteenth century (linked to increases in coral bleaching on the Desalination Plant at Binningup, WA, southwest Western Australia have been linked to changes in atmospheric
decreasing temperatures)285. Some Great Barrier Reef290 and Western supplies drinking water to Perth. Photo: circulation that are consistent with what would be expected in an
of these regional climate changes Australian reefs291, 292. Some of these Darryl Peroni Photography, courtesy of atmosphere influenced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations152.
changes can directly affect human Water Corporation. TheWater Corporation of Western Australia is addressing the diminishing
occurred rapidly, on timescales
activities; for example, through the above right: Developed by the CSIRO surface water resource by setting out to deliver a climate-independent
similar to current rates of global
effects of changing distributions Information and Communications
climate change. supply of water for domestic consumption through two desalination
Technology Centre at its Queensland
of fish and other marine organisms laboratory, Starbug is an autonomous, plants. These now have the capacity to provide around half the piped
on commercial and recreational miniature submarine for underwater water supply for the wider Perth region at a cost several times greater
fisheries293, and the impacts of coral monitoring and surveying of ecosystems than that of surface water370.
bleaching on tourism294. such as the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: QCAT

24 | The science of climate change

current climate +1C +3.5C +5C Bushfires: The number of extreme fuel loads in warm arid environments
fire risk days has grown over the such as parts of southern Australia155.
past four decades, particularly in A study of southeast Australia has
southeast Australia and away from projected that the number of fire
the coast (Figure 7.2). Future hotter danger days rated at very high and
and drier conditions, especially above could double by 2050, under
in southern Australia, are likely high emission climate scenarios306.
to cause further increases in the Whether or not this leads to more,
number of high fire-risk days and or worse, fires, and hence to changes
in the length of the fire season. CO2 in ecosystems,agriculture and
species richness
fertilisation may lead to increased human settlements, will depend on
Wet Tropics bioregion
foliage cover and hence increased how this risk is managed.
1115 Annual (July to June) cumulative FFDI for Melbourne Airport
1620 5000

Cumulative Forest Fire


Danger Index (FFDI)

2630 4000
3640 3000
4650 2000

1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
Current changes are expected groundwater that are affected by Figure 7.1: As temperatures become
to continue and intensify in changed rainfall patterns300, 301; and warmer, native animals that depend
thefuture (5) tropical savannahs affected on cooler mountain habitats may be
by changes in the frequency and particularly vulnerable, as shown for this
The impacts of future climate
example from northern Queensland. The
change and related sea-level rise will severity of bushfires302. Figure 7.2: In most parts of
maps indicate the number of considered
be experienced in many areas, from Climate warming causes land and Australia, the number of extreme
species now present in the Wet Tropics
fire weather days has increased over
the natural environment to food ocean life to migrate away from bioregion under the current climate and
the last few decades. The map, left,
security and from human health to areas that have become too warm, those expected with temperature rises of
shows the trends in average fire
1C, 3.5C and 5C shown according tothe
infrastructure. and towards areas that previously weather days (annual cumulative
colour code at the left. The impactsof
were too cool303. In many places, values of the McArthur Forest Fire
Ecosystems: Among Australias changes in rainfall are not included in this
climate change is likely to lead Danger Index (FFDI)) at 38 climate
terrestrial ecosystems, some of example. Adapted from Williams et al.
reference sites. Trends are given in
to invasion by new species and (2003)296.
the most vulnerable to climate FFDI points per decade and larger
change are (1) alpine systems as extinctions of some existing species Increase
(pts/decade) circles represent larger trends
habitats shift to higher elevations that will have nowhere to migrate, < 100 according to the size code shown
100 below. Filled circles represent trends
and shrink in area295; (2) tropical for example because they are located growth in some trees and plants, 200
that are statistically significant. The
and subtropical rainforests on mountain tops (Figure 7.1). an effect sometimes called 400
time series, top, shows the trend
due to warming temperatures Seemingly small changes, such as the CO2 fertilisation. Absorption 600
in the annual cumulative FFDI at
(moderated or intensified by rainfall loss of a key pollinating species, may of CO2 into the oceans causes Melbourne Airport. Adapted from
changes)296298; (3) coastal wetlands potentially have large impacts304. ocean acidification, impeding Clarke et al (2013)307.
Please note: This caption differs slightly
affected by sea-level rise and saline Carbon dioxide affects ecosystems shell formation by organisms
to the first print run of the booklet.
intrusion299; (4) inland ecosystems directly, both positively and such as corals and causing coral
dependent on freshwater and negatively. On land it enhances deterioration or death305.

The science of climate change | 25

Food security: In a non-drought year, Warmer temperatures may lead
around three-quarters of Australian to an increase in diseases spread
crop and livestock production is via water and food such as
exported308. The range of adaptation gastroenteritis317. Over the next
strategies for primary producers few decades, Australia is expected
to meet the challenge of climate to remain malaria-free318. However,
change is large, including breed and other vector-borne diseases such
seed selection, water conservation as dengue fever, Barmah Forest
and changes in the timing of farm Virus and Ross River Virus may
operations309. Over the next few expand their range, depending on
decades, some Australian agriculture socioeconomic and lifestyle factors
may benefit from warmer conditions related to hygiene, travel frequency
and from the fertilisation effect of and destinations, in addition to
increased CO2 in the atmosphere. climate scenarios319322.
Looking further into the future,
Extreme events also have
much depends on the effects of
psychological impacts. Drought
climate change on rainfall regimes
is known to cause depression
in Australias farming regions. If
and stress amongst farmers and
rainfall increases, climate change
pastoralists, and this impact may
may continue to be beneficial for
increase over southern Australia as
some agriculture. However, for drier,
aresult of climate change323.
hotter, higher-variability climate
change scenarios, there are limits to
adaptation with anticipated declines
in crop yield309311 and livestock 250 50
production312. 45.1 45
Health: Heatwaves are among the 43.4 44.9
200 40
highest-impact climate events in

Maximum temperature (C)

terms of human health in Australia. 36.4
In very hot conditions, people can 150
suffer from heat stress, especially 30.5

vulnerable individuals such as the sick 25.5 25
and elderly313. During the heatwave 100 20
of early 2009 in Victoria, there were
374 more deaths than average for the
time of year314 (Figure 7.3). Warmer 50 2004-08 average deaths 10
temperatures in future will lead to 2009 deaths
increased occurrences of heatwaves *Deaths data from BDM and reports to SCO 2009 max temp (C)
(Figure 5.2 left, see page 21). Without 0 0
26/01 27/01 28/01 29/01 30/01 31/01 1/02
further adaptation, extremely hot
episodes are expected to have the Date

greatest impact on mortality in the

hotter north315, 316, while in cooler
southern Australia there is likely to Figure 7.3: The number of deaths in Victoria during the heatwave of 26 January to
be an offsetting reduction in the 1February 2009 was much higher than the average for the comparable period in 2004-08.
number ofcold-season deaths. Source: Victorian Department of Health report on the January 2009 heatwave314, Figure 10.

26 | The science of climate change

left: Climate change can have impacts
on infrastructure such as electricity
and transport networks. V/Line railway,
Victoria. Photo: Dermis50
facing page: Cattle being mustered on
CSIROs Belmont Research Station in
central Queensland. Photo: CSIRO

impacts. However, developing In this interconnected world, many

nations, especially the least risks to Australia from climate
developed, face risks from projected change, and potentially many
impacts that may exceed capacities opportunities, arise from impacts
to adapt successfully328. As climate outside our national borders. For
change intensifies, especially under example: (1) sea-level rise and
high-emission pathways (Question 4), extreme events will threaten coastal
adaptive capacities may be exceeded zones, Pacific small island states,
even indevelopedcountries. and large urban centres in Asian
megadeltas337339; (2) global food
The effects of climate production and trading patterns will
changeelsewhere will change as present-day exporters
impactAustralia see production fall, and as new
Infrastructure: Climate change Around 30,000 km of roads across are already subject to urban exporters emerge311, 340, 341; (3)
Human society is now globally
can have impacts on infrastructure Australia are at risk from a 1.1 metre encroachment, fragmentation, climate change may exacerbate
interconnected, dependent on
such as electricity and transport sea-level rise, with housing and deforestation, invasive species, intricate supply chains and a emerging humanitarian and security
networks324. Electricity demand rises infrastructure at risk valued at more introduced pathogens and pressure finite resource base331. The global issues elsewhere in the world,
sharply during heatwaves because than $226 billion326. on water resources. Some societies population now exceeds 7 billion leading to increased demands on
of increased air conditioning. To In engineering terms, adapting suffer warfare and civil unrest, people and is expected to increase Australia for aid, disaster relief and
avoid extensive blackouts there to some of these risks is overpopulation, poverty and sinking to 9.6 billion by 2050332; half of all resettlement342348.
has been investment in generation straightforward. Perth recently land in high population river deltas. fresh water333 and almost a quarter The further global climate is
and network capacity that is only experienced a heatwave more Multiple stresses do not simply add of global plant productivity334 pushedbeyond the envelope
used for a short time. In New South intense than the Melbourne event, to each other in complex systems like is appropriated for human use; of relative stability that has
Wales, capacity needed for fewer but no trains were cancelled on the these; rather, they cascade together forecast yield gaps for major characterised the last several
than 40 hours a year (less than 1% citys more modern rail network. in unexpected ways309, 329. Therefore, crops are increasing, especially in thousand years, the greater
of time) accounts for around 25% of However, the costs of adapting climate change impacts, interacting developing countries335, and some becomesthe risk of major impacts
retail electricity bills325. In the 2009 infrastructure can be high327. with other stresses, have the yields may be reaching biophysical that will exceed the adaptive
heatwave in Melbourne, many rail potential to shift some ecosystems limits336; 145 million people live capacity of some countries or
services were cancelled because rails Climate change will and societies into new states with within one metre elevation of regions. Australia is a wealthy,
buckled and air conditioning failed. interactwith the effects significant consequences for human sealevel, with around 72% of healthy and educated society well
Coastal inundation and erosion due ofother stresses wellbeing330. For moderate levels of thesein Asia337. placed to adapt to climate change
to sea-level rise, particularly when The impacts of climate change often climate change, developed countries and with the capacity to help
accompanied by extreme weather act to amplify other stresses328. For such as Australia are well placed to address the impacts of changing
events, pose risks to infrastructure. example, many natural ecosystems manage and adapt to such cascading climates elsewhere in the world.

The science of climate change | 27


What are the uncertainties

and their implications?
A number of factors prevent It is very difficult to tell in detail how and is extremely unlikely to be
moreaccurate predictions of climate change will affect individual altered by further discoveries.
climate change, and many of locations, particularly with respect
these will persist to rainfall. Even if a global change Uncertainty works in both
While advances continue to be were broadly known, its regional directions: future climate
made in our understanding of expression would depend on change could begreater or
climate physics and the response detailed changes in wind patterns, less than present-day best
of the climate system to increases ocean currents, plants, and soils. projections
in greenhouse gases, many The climate system can throw up Any action involves risk if its
uncertainties are likely to persist. surprises: abrupt climate transitions outcomes cannot be foreseen and
The rate of future global warming have occurred in Earths history, the possibility of significant harm
depends on future emissions, the timing and likelihood of which cannot be ruled out. Uncertainty
feedback processes that dampen or cannot generally be foreseen with about the climate system does
reinforce disturbances to the climate confidence. not decrease risk associated with
system, and unpredictable natural greenhouse gas emissions, because
influences on climate like volcanic Despite these uncertainties, it works in both directions: climate
eruptions. Uncertain processes that thereis near-unanimous change could prove to be less severe
will affect how fast the world warms agreement among climate than current estimates, but could
for a given emissions pathway are scientists that human-caused also prove to be worse353.
dominated by cloud formation349, global warming is real350352 Even if future changes from
but also include water vapour and It is known that human activities greenhouse gas emissions are at
ice feedbacks, ocean circulation since the industrial revolution have the low end of the expected range,
changes, and natural cycles of sharply increased greenhouse gas a high-emissions pathway would
greenhouse gases. Although concentrations; these gases have a still be enough to take the planet
information from past climate warming effect; warming has been to temperatures it has not seen for
changes largely corroborates model observed; the calculated warming many millions of years, well before
calculations, this is also uncertain is comparable to the observed humans evolved. In this situation,
due to inaccuracies in the data warming; and continued reliance there can be no assurance that
and potentially important factors on fossil fuels would lead to greater significant harm would not occur.
about which we have incomplete impacts in the future than if this
information. were curtailed. This understanding
represents the work of thousands above: Cooling towers at Loy Yang, a brown coal power station near Traralgon in Victoria.
of experts over more than a century, It is one of Australias biggest power stations by capacity. Photo: istockphoto/gumboot

28 | The science of climate change

Science has an important decision making. In particular, the
rolein identifying and international Intergovernmental
resolving uncertainties, and Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has
informing public policy on prepared thorough, policy-neutral
climate change but policy-relevant assessments
All societies routinely make of the state of knowledge and
decisions to balance or minimise uncertainties of the science
risk with only partial knowledge since 1990, with the most recent
of how these risks will play out354. assessment completed in 2014.
This is true in defence, finance, the Australian scientists have made a
economy and many other areas. major contribution to the quality
Societies have faced and made and integrity of these international
choices about asbestos, lead, CFCs, IPCC assessments.
and tobacco355358. Although each
above: Helping to test NASAs earth
case has unique aspects, all carried surface imaging satellite Earth
scientifically demonstrated but Observing-1 (EO-1), at Lake Frome, South
hard-to-quantify risks, and were Australia. EO-1 collects much more
contentious359, in common with detailed information about the earths
climate change. surface than previous satellite missions.
Photo: CSIRO Atmospheric Research
Mechanisms have been put in left: Volcanic eruptions can exert
place nationally and internationally unpredictable natural influences on
to facilitate scientific input into climate. Photo:

The science of climate change | 29


What does science say about

options to address climate change?
Societies face choices about
future climate change
Managing the risks from future
human-induced climate change
will necessarily be based on
some combination of four broad
>> Emissions reduction: reducing
climate change by reducing
greenhouse gas emissions.
>> Sequestration: removing
carbon dioxide (CO2) from the
atmosphere into permanent
geological, biological or oceanic
>> Adaptation: responding to and
coping with climate change as
it occurs, in either a planned or
unplanned way.
>> Solar geoengineering: large-scale
engineered modifications to limit
the amount of sunlight reaching
the earth, in an attempt to offset
the effects of ongoing greenhouse
gas emissions360362.
Each embodies a large suite of
specific options, with associated
risks, costs and benefits. The four
strategies can affect each other: for
example, doing nothing to reduce
emissions would require increased
expenditure to adapt to climate
change, and increased chances of
future resort to geoengineering.

30 | The science of climate change

Options for emissions reduction warming rate7, 365, 366. However, their Other options are available additional consequences on a global Decisions are informed
centre on carbon dioxide combined contributions to warming but have significant collateral scale. Our current understanding by climate science, but
CO2 is the dominant contributor over the longer term would be effects of the climate system does not fundamentally involve ethics
to human-induced climate change much less than that of CO2, so these In principle there are two enable us to fully understand the and value judgements
(Question 3). If the world adopts reductions alone could not meet a interventions that could relax implications of such actions362. As our society makes choices
a target of keeping warming to goal such as a 2oC warming limit. constraints on future emissions, but about managing the risks and
less than 2oC above preindustrial There are many ways to reduce with significant uncertainties, risks, Some climate change is opportunities associated with
temperatures, then future emissions of CO2 and other warming costs, and/or limitations. One would inevitable and adaptation climate change, there is an
cumulative CO2 emissions would agents, including shifting energy be to remove CO2 from combustion willbe needed important role for objective
need to be capped at around supply away from dependence on exhaust streams or from the air, and Under any realistic future scientific information on the
30 years worth of current emissions fossil fuels; energy efficiency in sequester it underground, in the emissions scenario (Question 4), consequences of alternative
(Question 4). Estimates of the the domestic, industrial, service deep ocean, or in trees or the soil. some additional global warming pathways. Choices also hinge on
amount of carbon in accessible fossil and transport sectors; reductions The places used to store this carbon is inevitable and will require ethical frameworks and value
fuel reserves vary, but all agree that in overall demand through better need to hold it for many centuries. adaptation measures. Indeed, judgements about the wellbeing
these reserves are at least several system design; and efficient Such carbon sequestration adaptation is needed now in of people, economies and the
times larger than the carbon cap for reductions in emissions of methane, strategies face logistical, economic response to climate change that environment. The role of climate
a 2oC warming limit363, 364. Therefore, nitrous oxide, halocarbon gases and and technical challenges361, 363. has occurred already. The more science is to inform decisions
such a carbon cap, or even a black-carbon aerosols. Uptake of The other possible intervention CO2 that is emitted in the next by providing the best possible
significantly more lenient one, can all of these options is happening would be to reduce Earths net few decades, the stronger the knowledge of climate outcomes and
only be met if a large fraction of now, and multiple studies have absorption of sunlight, for example adaptation measures that will be the consequences of alternative
available fossil fuel reserves remains shown that they can be expanded by generating a stratospheric needed in future. There are limits courses of action.
unburned or if the CO2 released effectively308, 363, 367. aerosol layer or placing shields to the adaptive capacities of both
is captured and permanently in space. While this could offset ecosystems and human societies,
sequestered (see below). the surface warming caused by particularly in less developed
facing page: Adjusting the Solar Thermal
increasing greenhouse gases, it regions368, 369. Thus, the decisions we
Methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbon Dish at the Lucas Heights Facility,
would do nothing to stop ocean make today on emissions will affect
gases and black-carbon aerosols also NSW, which is investigating renewable
acidification, would need to be not only the future requirements for noncarbon energy options.
have warming effects (Question 3),
maintained in perpetuity, and would and costs of adaptation measures, Photo: North Sullivan Photography
and reductions in their emissions above:Capital Windfarm at Lake George,
carry multiple risks of adverse but also their feasibility.
would reduce the near-term NSW. Photo: Claudio Goodman

The science of climate change | 31

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The science of climate change | 43

2015 Australian Academy Front coverWollongong Harbour by
Robert Montgomery, CC BY, https://flic.
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isacknowledged. Page 6Untitled by Kyle D. Gahlau
on Marion Doss, CC BY-NC-SA,
Working Group: Lisa Alexander,
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Carnemolla | Page 10(top right) Icecore
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FTSE, Matthew England FAA,;
(top left) Pine tree cross section by
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