Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s widely panned refusal to commit to a national net zero emissions target by 2050 last month came in response to growing international concern over the ‘code red’ climate change situation.
The prime minister’s comments came after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their 6th assessment report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.
The panel is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, is made up of hundreds of international scientists and experts and is the world’s most authoritative body on the subject of climate science.
The comprehensive report listed evidence and provided timelines for reaching a number of critical climate change milestones, leading United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres to describe it as,”a code red for humanity”.
1.5 degree Celsius increase by 2030
The IPCC report shows new evidence that the earth could be on track to see an average temperature increase of 1.5°C within just 10 years.
In 2015, at the Paris Agreement, world governments set a 1.5°C increase as a milestone and agreed to try to stop all global warming by this point.
“Scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system,” the IPCC claimed in an August press release.
“Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion—such as continued sea level rise—are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.”
The report shows evidence of an average global temperature increase of 1.1°C since 1850-1900 caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
Averaged over the next two decades, global temperatures are predicted to reach or exceed the 1.5°C warming milestone.
“This report is a reality check,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte.
“We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare.”
Australia will bear a brunt of the impacts of continued climate change, according to evidence and timelines outlined in the report.
Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, with more frequent and severe coastal flooding expected to impact low-lying regions resulting in worsening coastal erosion.
“Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century,” the report warned.
Bush fires are predicted to worsen and become more frequent, with fire seasons lasting longer, as seen in the horrific 2019 season.
More frequent and intense flooding is expected in certain regions. The report explains, “Climate change is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions.”
“Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns. In high latitudes, precipitation is likely to increase, while it is projected to decrease over large parts of the subtropics. Changes to monsoon precipitation are expected, which will vary by region.”
Increased frequency and severity of drought are predicted to impact the east coast and southern parts of the country, particularly if total warming is to reach 2°C.
Time for change
While the impact of the report is worrying, there is hope that it can be a catalyst for change nationally and internationally.
At a grassroots level, there is more promising news, with the most recent Clean Energy Council Clean Energy Australia 2021 report highlighting significant growth in the renewable energy sector around Australia.
Almost 30% of the country’s electricity generated in 2020 came from renewable sources, and we’re well on our way to hit a target of 50% renewable energy in coming years if a similar trajectory is maintained.
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