Extreme events are becoming more devastating and more frequent. Communities, economies and ecosystems have increasingly less time to bounce back between them. How do we build resilience for the future? This summer’s devastating bushfires and the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic have given Australians an alarming insight to the sustained uncertainty we will be facing under a rapidly changing climate. Mike Flattley (Royal Society of Victoria) and Anthony Boxshall (Science Into Action) invited a number of speakers to discuss how we can build resilience into our planning strategies for water, agriculture and biodiversity. Featuring David McKenzie and Claire Flanagan-Smith on the Goulburn Murray Resilience Strategy, Lauren Rickards on Climate Change and Systems Transformation, Brendan Wintle on Decision Making for Biodiversity, Briony Rogers on Preparing the Water Sector for Transition, Richard Eckard on the Transition of the Agricultural Sector, and Sarah Bekessy on Building Community Ownership and Agency in the process.
On Sunday, 23rd of August, the Possible Impossibles online forum was live-streamed by Parliament of Victoria, with ABC’s award-winning science journalist, Natasha Mitchell, hosting the event. She spoke with four scientific leaders in the fields of new technologies, medical science, environmental science and space exploration to discuss the role of science in shaping our lives in a post COVID-19 future. What follows is a summary of the key points made by each speaker, featuring: Professor Elizabeth Croft, Dean of Faculty of Engineering, Monash University; Dr Kudzai Kanhutu, Deputy Chief Medical Information Officer, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Infectious Diseases Physician; Associate Professor Julie Mondon, Director of Environmental Science, Deakin University, and; Dr Gail Iles, Senior Lecturer in Space Physics, RMIT University and Member of the Board of Directors, Space Industry Association of Australia.
The UNFCCC Paris Agreement to combat climate change requires commitment and action towards a sustainable, low carbon future. The target set was to limit global warming to 1.5°C – and we are only 0.4°C away. Global carbon emissions peaked in 2019 but have already dropped down this year due to limited air travel and other factors. While the circumstances that brought about these changes are less than ideal, it is a start and hopefully lays the foundation for sustained reductions.
The future climate is in our hands – our actions now will decide that future. Energy production remains the primary driver of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by agriculture, forestry and other land uses, then industry and transport. According to climate scientist Professor David Karoly, countries in the Southern Hemisphere are expected to experience the largest economic impacts of global warming, and it is therefore imperative that Australia takes leadership and responsibility for making change.
The IPCC aims to understand the influences driving the Earth’s climate variability and future climate scenarios. It does not conduct its own research or run models; instead, it provides a meta-analysis of the work of thousands of researchers across the globe to provide a scientific basis for governments to develop climate-related policies. The IPCC warns of risks to food production and security, water availability, species extinction, biodiversity reduction, coastal erosion, floods and droughts, negative impacts on human health, and population displacement. ‘The IPCC has been saying the same thing since the 1990s, but no one is listening,’ said Dr Chloe Mackallah, reading directly from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, which states that the effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions ‘are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.’
Current climate models cannot capture the persistence of drought and length of heatwaves, and they struggle to simulate future rainfall extremes, sometimes because they offer conflicting results, because climate prediction and greenhouse gas emission models are not just in the hands of climate scientists. They have to take the human population into account – demography, economics, technology, and our actions. The modelling of future carbon dioxide emissions provides multiple possible futures depending on these. Professor Andy Pitman asks “what do you want for your future? Which do you think we can achieve?”