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Commonwealth Minister for Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
10 December 2003
The most up-to-date and comprehensive guide to the science of climate change in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere has been launched at a key international climate change conference currently underway in Milan.
Releasing Climate Change: An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said the Australian Government had commissioned this important new publication to help inform the global response to climate change.
"Australia is focusing on promoting effective practical national and international action to deal with climate change, and building the information base is critical to this effort. Australia has identified research into climate change, and technological responses, in its top national research priorities," Dr Kemp said.
"Australian scientists are world leaders in climate change research in our region, research that is providing a vital southern hemisphere perspective to the global climate change scientific effort and becoming increasingly important in the global arena."
Dr Kemp said that the dynamics of the Southern Ocean were unique and were recognised internationally as a key driver in the global climate system, yet they were not well enough understood.
"We are helping to fill this critical information gap," he said.
"For example, Australian scientists are leading research into the Southern Ocean overturning circulation, a process which is a key global climate driver and which underpins the spread of nutrients and thus the productivity of many of the world's major oceans (Pacific, Indian and Atlantic).
"A risk with climate change is that this circulation may slow down, with large ecological and economic consequences.
"We are also gaining a greater understanding of the Antarctic Vortex, a 30-kilometre high jetstream circling Antarctica that is spinning faster and tighter, dragging rainfall away from the southern regions of Australia."
Dr Kemp said Australian scientists were also world leaders in research into the many factors that impact on the health of coral reefs, particularly the impact of raised sea-surface temperatures.
"Higher sea surface temperatures cause corals to bleach and since the 1970s there has been a global increasing in the number and scale of bleaching events," he said.
"The Australian research on coral bleaching is focused primarily on the Great Barrier Reef because of its ecological and economic important to Australia - contributing nearly $5 billion worth of economic activity to our economy and responsible for tens of thousands of jobs. However much of this science is applicable internationally."
Australian scientists have also had leadership and catalytic roles in research on how climate change may affect El Nino events, which cause floods, droughts and bushfires in Australia, as well as extreme weather events in the Asia-Pacific region. Both of these issues are of emerging global priority for climate change science.
Dr Kemp said that the question was no longer 'Will the Climate Change?', but rather 'How will it change?' followed by 'What can we collectively do to reduce the threat?'
"The more we know about the key influences on the Australian climate, the better we can deal with the impact of climate change. Australia is well positioned to further its research efforts in the Southern Hemisphere," he said.
"Climate change is a complex issue that promotes healthy debate. This publication will make a significant contribution to that debate and the information on which critical policy decisions are made."
Dr Kemp is the Head of the Australian delegation to the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) currently being held in Milan, Italy.
The UNFCCC is an international treaty, the ultimate objective of which is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system. The treaty commits parties, of which Australia is one, to take action to reduce the threat of climate change.
For more information go to www.greenhouse.gov.au/science
Australia is vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. Australia's vulnerability to climate change is intensified by already being a generally dry continent and experiencing high natural climate variability from year to year.
This guide presents research to advance the understanding of global and regional climate change and its impacts on natural and managed systems and provides the foundation for international and domestic policy development and for adaptation strategies. It has a strong focus on Australia and the Southern Hemisphere and is a comprehensive compilation of the most recent global and regional climate science including the most up to date Australian climate research.
Some of the key scientific elements contained in this guide include:
For more information: www.greenhouse.gov.au/science