New Aussie state of the climate snapshot: NZ needs one too

Australia’s CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology have released a State of the Climate report [PDF], a succinct six page effort designed to provide the Aussie public with an overview of how their climate has been changing, and how it is expected to change in the future. Headlines (from the media release):

  • Highly variable rainfall across the country, with substantial increases in rainfall in northern and central parts of Australia, as well as significant decreases across much of southern and eastern Australia.
  • Rapidly rising sea levels from 1993 to 2009, with levels around Australia rising, between 1.5cm and 3cm per decade in Australia’s south and east and between 7cm and 9cm in the country’s north
  • About half of the observed reduction in winter rainfall in south-west Western Australia can be explained by higher greenhouse gas levels.

The news about temperature isn’t good either. All of the continent has warmed over the last 50 years, but some regions have warmed at up to 0.4ºC per decade during that time (see the dark red blobs on the map above) and have seen warming of 1.5 — 2ºC. By 2030 the average temperature is expected to have increased by a further 0.6 — 1.5ºC, and decreases in rainfall will continue in the south, south-east and southwest. The graphics are particularly good — and very telling.

I’m not aware of any similar recent overview for New Zealand, and with the usual suspects doing their level best to promote uncertainty and inaction at the moment, it would be helpful if the local climate science community could cooperate on producing such a clear statement of current evidence and future change. NIWA’s last set of projections for NZ were released in 2008, and are summarised on this informative but rather dense web page. I had a go at bringing the details to a wider public, via articles in NZ Geographic (not my knees, by the way) and Good magazine, but apart from press coverage when the projections were launched, there’s not been much since. I doubt many people will seek out Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment: A Guidance Manual for Local Government in New Zealand, 2nd Edition (Ministry for the Environment 2008) for an easy introduction to the subject…

28 thoughts on “New Aussie state of the climate snapshot: NZ needs one too”

    1. As it was only released this week, it seems unlikely.

      But the wider question is interesting. How much climate change do you need to motivate the body politic to take action? Especially when there is a very vocal campaign against action…

  1. A New Zealand version would be great. But keep in mind temperature change does not prove man-made temperature change, it only implies it, but I would still be interested to a New Zealand version.

    Do you know how they picked the start date of 1960 for the graphic?

    1. Human causation is relatively simple physics: more CO2 = more warming. How much human influence in any single climate parameter is harder to work out. No idea why they chose 50 years. Nice round number, probably.

      1. OK. I guess you are not interested in start date bias when it favours increased warming. You are often critical of ‘deniers’ ignoring start date bias when they claim, “no warming since 1998”. You should not ignore it when you claim, “some regions have warmed at up to 0.4ºC per decade during that time”.

        Your first sentence also does not flow logically,
        “Human causation is relatively simple physics: more CO2 = more warming”

        What is this supposed to mean? I never denied CO2 is a greenhouse gas. But the relationship with temperature change is not as simple as you are suggesting. And human causation will not be as simple as 0% or 100%. In fact that is the real question, how much of what we observe is due to anthropogenic emissions.

        If CO2 was the only driver of climate then warming would be happening with spatial predictability and smoothly over time. However there is plenty of noise in the system indicating that other factors influence temperature. Until we can explain these other factors we cannot pinpoint that percentage.

        Please do not get defensive and assume I am ‘denying’ any of the warming is caused by greenhouse gases. My original post only stated that observing a predicted change does not prove a hypothesised causation. I feel it is disingenuous for anyone to pick a start date that gives an example of temperature change and then hold that up as proof of manmade temperature change. Its no better than someone saying ‘no warming since 1998 shows the climate scare was bogus’.

  2. Yes we need something like this too!
    The Canadians did something like this a few years back when they wanted to involve all members of the community to think about education. Basically they created a coffee table sized, well illustrated, and easily read but soundly researched book and distributed it to EVERY home in Ontario. Coffee table sized so you couldn’t put it away someplace and not look at it. Well illustrated so that you were compelled to read it. It was followed up with community based discussion groups as to ways and means to meet the challenges discussed in the book. I don’t know how much such a book would cost to produce world wide to the western world. But when you think about it, the cost would be small in comparison to the eventual costs we are blindly heading towards now.
    Perhaps a start date of 1860 might satisfy C3! 😉
    Then again it might not.
    Actually thinking about it I don’t think any start date would please him – I don’t think he really want this sort of thing being available to the public.

  3. c3Po, and similar ‘impartial’ reasoners,

    My maternal grandfather died of lung cancer at 49. He smoked all his (short) adult life.

    I could, of course, never hope to prove he died specifically from the cigarettes – after all he grew up in an age when a range of pollutants were very badly managed indeed – therefore I technically can’t suggest to my neighbours that smoking is a bad idea on the basis of his experience. Particularly if I outrageously fail to mention his exposure to possibly noxious dust in North Africa during WWII…

    Given the overwhelming statistical support for the proven – just as AGW is proven – position that smoking harms your health, I do, however tell my neighbours smoking is a bad idea. And I find my grandfather a rather useful anecdotal counterpoint to the ‘so and so smoked all his life and he died at 90’ brigade!

    1960 occurred 38 years before 1998, therefore if one is identifying trends it’s a little more convincing as a starting date, don’t you think?

    If CO2 was the only driver of climate then warming would be happening with spatial predictability and smoothly over time.

    This is either a trivial observation, or you just don’t get it! ‘More CO2’ does mean ‘more warming’. Just as ‘more methane’ means ‘more warming’ and ‘more aerosols’ (largely) means ‘more cooling’. Funnily enough, such a complex range of forcings interacting with/in a ‘chaotic’ system is not likely to result in a satisfactorily smooth curve!

    If we have to wait for one to appear before we act we’re all going to bake!

    1. I didn’t say anything about acting to reduce emissions. I also didn’t say anything about proof of the wider AGW concept. I also thought it was a great graphic.

      All I said was, “keep in mind temperature change does not prove man-made temperature change”

      ie, don’t stoop to low levels of debate

      1. I’ll keep it simple: we’ve increased the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (undeniable). Well established physics (150 yrs old) tells us that this will cause warming. We observe warming. No surprise. The amount and distribution of warming varies around the globe because the climate system is complex. But the energy accumulation is down to us.

        1. Sorry I have created such a stir. I thought my initial comment was simple and fair.

          Do you think that 100% of the warming since 1960 in Australia has been caused by increases in greenhouse gases?

          1. Probably not 100%, because as I said above the climate system is complex. But in a more general sense the climate changes experienced in Australia have certainly been triggered by our tampering with the atmosphere.

          2. “Do you think that 100% of the warming since 1960 in Australia has been caused by increases in greenhouse gases?”

            I think 100% of climate change in Australia can be explained by the known forcings. The temperature in a particular year will depend somewhat upon the vagaries of the heat distributions system within the atmosphere and ocean though.

          3. Just to throw in another totally uninformed guess about why they picked 1960 as a start – maybe it related to the start of some of the other datasets they showed in the report.

  4. In terms of government guidance to local bodies, in addition to the 2008 statement Gareth has linked to (of which there is an abbreviated print version available) the Ministry for the Environment also last year issued a booklet entitled “Preparing for Coastal Change”. I discussed it here last year. It used the IPPCC range for sea level rise, but also allowed for the possibility of up to 80 centimetres or more. Anyway, it’s all too much for the Waikato District Council which has criticised the Regional Council’s policy framework as “alarmist” in some of the parts related to climate change. They are reported as speaking of the need for ‘balance’ (where have I heard that word before?) in current issues statements. It evidently didn’t like a section which speaks of climate change creating “significant increased risks for communities.” There are likely to be many hurdles ahead even when central government gives a cautious lead.

    (I’d have liked to have been able to quote more directly from their submission rather than depend on a newspaper report, but neither council was able to direct me to the submission without calling me back at some unspecified time when the right person turned up.)

  5. c3po – did you read the document?

    Do you know how they picked the start date of 1960 for the graphic?

    Let’s see,

    Since 1960 the mean temperature in Australia has increased by about 0.7 °C . The long term trend in temperature is clear, but there is still substantial year to year variability of about plus/minus 0.5 °C. Some areas have experienced a warming of 1.5 to 2 ºC over the last 50 years.

    50 strike you as a nice round number? It’s notable that they finish the piece as follows –

    Climate change is real

    Our observations clearly demonstrate that climate change is real. CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology will continue to provide observations and research so that Australia’s responses are underpinned by science of the highest quality.

    Now, either my taxes are paying for a bunch of hyper-qualified frauds to conspire against me for some barely-explicable purpose, or I’m an idiot if I don’t agree with them that it is ‘very likely’ (which means, in science- speak, a 90% plus likelihood, while I’d say that socially ‘very likely’ would be more likely to be see as any probability above 70-75%, and 90% would qualify as ‘very bloody likely indeed!’) that we’re in real trouble and act accordingly.

    You’ll excuse me if I don’t view this as quite so much of an ‘interesting’ abstraction, as my home state is covered with some very dark red bits on the graph displayed above (and the agricultural bit where everybody actually lives fares equally poorly in the rainfall stakes), and in the depths of my non-Solomonic subjectivity I have found watching plants and wildlife dying of thirst in some of my favourite national parks deeply disturbing.

    Yes, there have always been droughts in Australia, and I can’t ‘prove’ AGW caused this one, but now we know they’re ‘very likely’ to become ‘the climate’ and there’s something we could be doing about that! If we aren’t wasting time splitting hairs about attribution.

    1. Bill, more power to your pen. C3PO is an idiot (or disingenuous), just like all the other trollers who rant against established science here. I do have to say that on Australia’s “Weatherzone” there appears to reside the biggest collection of I-see-nothing ostriches (emus?) imaginable – that forum is home to a large collection of anti-GW/anti-AGW cranks – truly tragi-comic in a country that is already suffering from the consequences. I can’t fathom those people.

      1. How about I repost my original comment.

        “A New Zealand version would be great. But keep in mind temperature change does not prove man-made temperature change, it only implies it, but I would still be interested to a New Zealand version.

        Do you know how they picked the start date of 1960 for the graphic?”

        I am sorry I have upset so many people. My observations are only that:
        – Temperature change in Australia does not prove man made warming (temperatures have always changed, and this is regional)
        – The start date of 1960 is convenient

        The fact that no one on this website can accept these simple facts speaks volumes. If you read through my posts you will see that I have never said that AGW is categorically incorrect. I am simply asking for a little bit of balance and honesty from those aiming to ‘educate’ the public about AGW.

        Please stop the hostility. The fact that you treat people who question the truths you hold in this way shows you are engaged in a belief system and not a science.

  6. Of course temperature change in Australia doesnt prove man-made warming.
    a/ you can have proof in maths but not in science
    b/ the observation is only CONSISTENT with the predictions of AGW.

    However, you then claimed “Until we can explain these other factors we cannot pinpoint that percentage”. I contend that while there may be other factors, there is no EVIDENCE for them and that the climate can be accounted for by known factors. I certainly dont want to imply hostility but clearly one of us is ill-informed. What is your evidence for these “other factors”? (apart from solar,GHG,albedo, and aerosol for which was can make pretty good estimates for the percentage).

    1. Thanks Phil. I didn’t mean to accuse you of being hostile, your responses are always well considered and well mannered.

      I didn’t really want to get into a discussion on other factors and the causes of climate change. My main point was that I would like to see a New Zealand version but I would not like to see any warming in that New Zealand versions framed as caused by AGW and AGW alone.

      In terms of other factors. I am not afraid to say I do not know what they all are and I cannot quantify them. I’ll give you an analogy:

      Q: Does economic growth increase welfare and happiness?
      A: It’s likely it does but there are other factors. What these are I cannot quantify but simple observations will show most people they exist.

  7. “In terms of other factors. I am not afraid to say I do not know what they all are and I cannot quantify them.”

    We lack a physical model for welfare and happiness and I dont think one is possible. The same cannot be said for climate. The analogy to me is flawed whatever most people think. When you have a model that accounts for climate and the model says you are in trouble, then at very least you need to do a risk analysis. There maybe unknown factors that invalidate the model, but that is not the way to bet and the stakes are too high.

    I think it would be irresponsible to produce a “state of climate” (30-50 year) anywhere that did not state, that to the best of knowledge, the cause of warming is anthropogenic (all factors). The evidence for this is not the local warming but the full global model/validation. We lack any other explanation that make physical sense and fits the data. The purpose of such a “state of climate” is surely to inform?

    That said, I notice that the current models (which are weaker in regional predictions) dont expect huge warming in NZ even in extreme 6 degree scenarios.

    1. That’s only true for transient warming. Once/if we reach equilibrium (which could be a long, long time given the size of the southern ocean), then NZ will catch up with the rest of the planet (or other formerly temperate island habitats). On policy-relevant timescales, however, NIWA’s projections suggested we will warm at about half to two thirds the global average rate — assuming that warming proceeds relatively smoothly, which of course it may not.

  8. c3po – I agree that 1960 is a ‘convenient’ starting date – here folks is what’s happened in the last half century – but not in the sinister sense you are implying.

    As Gareth observes the graph you wanted posted shows warming every decade since the 1940s. So any starting date after that time would be ‘sinisterly’ convenient? You’d like them to have started at a date that would give a lower rate of decadal variability? That would certainly be ‘convenient’ for you, I’m not entirely sure of the benefit to anyone else. You acknowledge that one has to start somewhere? And that the last half century would appear to be quite a bit more justifiable than picking, say, 1998?

    Temperature change in Australia does not prove man made warming (temperatures have always changed, and this is regional)

    Again, this is either monumentally trivial, or you just don’t get it! No, Australia’s experience does not ‘prove’ AGW. And no one can prove that any current drought, or rainfall deficit, is specifically caused by ‘man made’ warming! And?

    CSIRO and the BOM still want us to know ‘Climate Change is real’, not because they’re not as sophisticated as you and just can’t help themselves in rushing to overstate a case, but because they live in the real world. We could spend an eternity filtering out ‘just AGW forcings’ to your ‘perfection of proof’ standard, and they’d probably still remain ‘very likely’ (in the 90% sense) to be responsible.

    Or perhaps the odds would have risen to over 95%, by which time the debate could well be moot – the methane clathrates would most likely ensure there’s nothing we could do anyway. But don’t despair, you could always huddle inside next to your air-conditioner and point out that it really wasn’t fair to attribute all of the methane release to AGW!…

    This goes to George Monbiot’s question – can we really convince people of something they just don’t want to believe by rational argument? If you don’t believe now there’s never going to be enough evidence to convince you – in the real world it’s always going to be a balance of probabilities (already overwhelming) issue, and there’ll always be a few mavericks and plenty of corporate ideologues ready to give them all the exposure they don’t deserve!

    Incidentally I’m glad to hear NZ fares well in the medium term predictions! It’s generally accepted by baking Aussies that NZ and Tasmania are the two most appealing potential places to retreat to – if that notable friend of ‘Lord’ Monckton’s, Tony ‘Climate Change is Crap’ Abbott gets elected later this year, don’t be surprised if you get an influx of would-be Aussie immigrants…

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