ISOS rolling internet conference: in search of sustainability: climate change (AUG)

4 August 2003

Media Releases 2003

Jointly organised and managed by:

Australia 21 Limited

Nature and Society Forum

Sustainable Population Australia

ISOS Conference continues:
Deep Cuts Needed In Emissions To Avert Climate Change

Reductions of 70 percent or more in global greenhouse gas emissions are necessary in order to stabilise the atmosphere, according to Dr Graeme Pearman, Chief Scientist at CSIRO.

In the keynote paper on Climate for the progressive internet conference In Search Of Sustainability, Dr Pearman writes that merely slowing the rate of emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will not stop the increase of its concentration and thus climate change.

“Reductions of 70 per cent or more is an enormous challenge,” he says. “We have probably only a matter of decades, or at most this century, to get stabilisation under control.

“Yet there are an existing two billion people who currently do not have access to levels of energy that those of us in the developed world use to meet the standards of living we enjoy. And energy, at least currently, means carbon dioxide emissions.”

Dr Pearman added that by the middle of this century, human population is likely to rise by further two billion people, each aspiring to the amenity that the utilisation of energy provides.

In another paper on the Climate theme for the internet conference, Professor Tony McMichael, director of ANU’s National Centre on Epidemiology and Population Health, notes that data from Greenland and Antarctica ice cores reveal that climate change in past millennia has not been a gradual process, but rather a largely threshold phenomenon. When a critical point is passed the climate may flip to another state.

“We may be taken by surprise by global climate change – which is a much less smooth process than we previously thought,” writes McMichael. “The paleo-climatic record, recently much elaborated, reveals a story of often-hectic swings in Earth’s temperature on a decadal and centennial scale. This signifies that the climate system is rather complex and non-linear in behaviour, and therefore somewhat unpredictable.”

“In Australia we should expect that extreme weather events – droughts, bushfires, floods and perhaps cyclones – will become more severe as the total energy in the climate system increases.”

And in another paper, Dr Chris Mitchell, chief executive officer of the CRC for Greenhouse Accounting, writes that we need to further develop both scientific and institutional systems that are capable of tracking changes to the earth.

“However, none of this can be achieved in the absence of far-reaching institutional changes to the science system and the development of new economic instruments that enable returns from investments for sustainability,” Mitchell says. “We also need to recognize that the science required to navigate us to a sustainable future successfully does not yet exist.”

Journalists may access the papers free of charge by phoning Ron D’Souza 02 6288 0823 or by email:

Further information:

Graeme Pearman: 03 9239 4650

Tony McMichael: 02 6125 4578

Chris Mitchell: 02 6125 4020


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