Extremes report 2013: NZ drought and record Aussie heat made worse by warming

The latest climate extremes report finds that 9 out of 16 extreme weather events from last year were influenced by climate change. In particular, the conditions that led to New Zealand’s severe North Island drought — the worst for 41 years, estimated to have cost the economy NZ$1.3 billion — were made more likely by the effects of continued warming. Australia’s hottest ever year and run of record-breaking heatwaves also had humanity’s fingerprints all over it. The new research — Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective [pdf] — published as a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is the latest in a series of reports designed to look at weather extremes soon after they happen, and look for signs of the influence of climate change.

The NZ paper, The role of anthropogenic climate change in the 2013 drought over North Island, New Zealand by Luke Harrington, Suzanne Rosier, Sam M. Dean, Stephen Stuart, and Alice Scahill (page s45 in the pdf), finds that a long term trend towards increasing summer high pressure systems over the North Island — seen in climate models as the system warms — has increased the risk of drought substantially.

No fewer than 5 studies in the new report found clear links between Australia’s record-breaking 2013 heat and the influence of human-induced warming, as explained by The Conversation here.

Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of heatwaves occurring in Australia and the temperatures we experience during these heatwaves. Extremely hot months, seasons and years are already more likely in Australia.

This human handprint will likely increase the future risk of extremely warm days, months, season and years in Australia. We will likely also see an increase in the risk of heatwaves and dry conditions acting in combination with heat to produce drought.

A summary of the report’s contents is available from NOAA, Climate Central has a very nice timeline, and The Guardian does it with pictures. Strangely, given the subject matter, only TV3 picked up on the NZ drought link (basing their story on a press release from the Green Party), while the NZ Herald chose to run an AFP story that led with the Aussie heatwaves and only mentioned the NZ drought in passing. Neither NIWA nor VUW chose to issue press releases about the study, despite its obvious newsworthiness and relevance to the NZ agricultural community.

[Update 2/10: Stuff.co.nz finally covers the story, with quotes from NIWA’s Sam Dean.]

7 thoughts on “Extremes report 2013: NZ drought and record Aussie heat made worse by warming”

  1. Australia has a fragile climate and much of the productive farmland West of the Blue mountains is at the limit of viability due to its low rainfall. It will not take much to drastically reduce its output. The price of beef it apparently going up due to drought in Australia and the USA and so far the temperature has only risen 0.8C. How they will get on when it goes up the predicted 2C I really don’t know. The next thirty years are going to be increasingly tough. Its pity the Government and the media are ignoring the problem.
    You might be interested in my latest blog. http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/blog

  2. How long will it be before this conversation thread is taken over by AndyS, whose only interest, it seems, is to sabotage any evolving discussions, perpetuate the myth that there is legitimate disagreement on the fundamentals of AGW, trivialise the issue at every turn, and waste everybody’s time reading and rebutting. With AndyS there we can be sure the discussion stays in square one, which I think is his intent. The power of denial to obfuscate, mislead and divert is clearly on display for all to see, but is it worth it?
    I submit that this is not a personal attack, or an argumentum ad hominem, but an accurate assessment of this bogger’s strategy, and its effects.
    In this case, the link between man-made global warming and extreme weather events is at issue, and scientists have moved on from their reluctance to ascribe particular extreme weather events to global warming to an understanding that most extreme weather events now have a background of global warming. This shift of position needs the clearest of emphasis if the media’s mishandling of it is to be remedied.

  3. The article on Stuff reports:

    Climate Change Issues Minister Tim Groser declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that New Zealand was in a good position to adapt to its changing climate. “The Government has advice out there for businesses, particularly farmers, to help them with that.

    I am all for rational optimism. MPI has a 5 step programme for farmers: http://bit.ly/1x5q2kB. I am no farmer, but parts of it seem pretty useful. However, I found it lacked any statement about the seriousness and urgency of the current situation and that made some of the proposed steps sadly hilarious reading. For example:

    Task 4.3: Compile a full list of possible ways you could adapt to the climate change risks you identified in Step 3. Try working with others in your area or industry to identify as many options as possible.

    Task 4.4: Classify your list of options as no regrets, low regrets, win-win, or delay etc. Some options may not fall into these categories.

    Task 4.5: Compare the costs of acting with the impacts you avoid (or the income you might realise) to estimate the benefits of acting. Think about the level of adaptation you want, as well as the potential for under or over-adapting. Note down ways to minimise costs.

    Task 4.6: Use your responses from the task pad to develop your climate change adaptation response.

    Clive Hamilton has a good summary of the problems with this Pollyannaish approach:

    It has been shown that humans can benefit from what psychologist Shelley Taylor calls “benign fictions”, unrealistic stories about ourselves and the world that lead us to predict what we would prefer to see, rather than what is objectively most likely to happen. Yet these healthy illusions that can spur us on against the odds can become dangerous delusions when they continue to be held despite evidence from the outside world telling us we must change course.

  4. Task 4.6: Use your responses from the task pad to develop your climate change adaptation response.
    How the hell can a farmer survive a 4C temperature increase with less rainfall. Jotting it on a notepad is not much use. If the government believed or faced up to the reality of its own NIWA scientists and worked with the people to come up with a plan it would be a start. In reality it has been left too late to much except prepare for the worst and there is not much time even for that.

  5. By contrast, here is MPI on foot and mouth (http://bit.ly/YWffNv):

    The FMD (foot-and-mouth disease) Preparedness Programme was started in October 2013 and sets out to develop a comprehensive response capability, covering trade, disease management, animal industry and community recovery components. It is due to be largely completed by the end of 2014. The aim is to minimise the impacts of an FMD incursion on the economy, people and communities of New Zealand.
    Primary sector industry partners have been actively involved in both the creation and implementation of the programme.
    A joint MPI-Industry working group analysed gaps in current levels of preparedness and prioritized actions required. As a result 12 key projects are underway through to December 2014. These are:
    1. Modular FMD response plan
    2. Economic impact assessment
    3. Whole of Government approach and agreeing a NZ Inc approach to FMD
    4. Resource map for an FMD response and inventory of personnel
    5. Pre-agreed notification process
    6. Urgent movement controls and other urgent measures
    7. Carcass disposal
    8. Disinfection
    9. Destruction
    10. Vaccination
    11. Biosecurity plans for FMD
    12. Communications

    This is all necessary because:

    New Zealand is free from FMD and has never had an outbreak. …. If, however, an outbreak occurred here, it would have significant consequences – both economically and socially. A suspension in trade in our animal products would occur and continue until New Zealand was able to restore disease freedom. It would also cause major disruption to primary industry support businesses (e.g. animal product processing, transport, rural contracting) and would significantly impact on rural communities.

    An interesting contrast. Imagine if the approach to climate change was applied to foot and mouth ie “the government doesnt intend to take any steps to plan ahead or minimise the risk of foot and mouth. Classify your foot and mouth risk management options as no regrets, low regrets, win-win, or delay. Assess how much foot and mouth would be good for your farm.”

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