09:24pm Sunday 19 November 2017

Climate predictions put focus on health impacts

Photo: Copyright James Bowyers/istockphoto.com

Photo: Copyright James Bowyers/istockphoto.com

New research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Purdue University in the US has forecast climate change over the next three centuries – longer than many similar studies – and suggests that average temperatures could rise as much as 10 or 12 degrees in that time. The paper is published in the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Professor Tony McMichael and Dr Keith Dear from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU have published a commentary paper responding to the research in the same edition of PNAS.

“Much of the climate change debate has been about whether the world will succeed in keeping global warming to the relatively safe level of only two degrees Celcius by 2100,” Professor McMichael said. “But climate change will not stop in 2100, and under realistic scenarios out to 2300, we may be faced with temperature increases of 12 degrees or even more.
 
“If this happens, our current worries about sea level rise, occasional heatwaves and bushfires, biodiversity loss and agricultural difficulties will pale into insignificance beside a major threat – as much as half the currently inhabited globe may simply become too hot for people to live there.”

The ANU researchers said the UNSW-Purdue study is “important and necessary”, particularly as there is a real possibility that current climate modelling has underestimated the rate of global temperature rise.

Dr Dear said that scientific authorities on the issue, such as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have tended to strike a cautious tone in forecasting future temperature rise and associated impacts.

“In presenting its warnings about the future, the IPCC is very careful to be conservative, using mild language and low estimates of impacts,” Associate Professor Dear said. “This is appropriate for a scientific body, but world governments – including our own – should be honest with us about the full range of potential dangers posed by uncontrolled emissions and the extremes of climate change that would inevitably result.”

Professor McMichael and Dr Dear said that all the projected environmental impacts of climate change will ultimately impact on human health and wellbeing, posing a considerable threat to the survival of our species.

Contacts: Keith Dear 0406 375 845; Simon Couper 02 6125 4171, 0416 249 241

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