Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Questions without Notice
Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. What effect is climate change having on the Antarctic and how does this highlight the need for action to address dangerous climate change?
I thank the member for Longman for his question. He, like many listening, will know that the Antarctic is a really important place because it serves as a laboratory for climate scientists. It is also important because the Southern Ocean, which runs around the Antarctic, is an important driver of the global climate. The recently released Southern Ocean Sentinel report by the Australian Antarctic Division, World Wide Fund and the Australian Climate and Ecosystems CRC stated:
Due to a warming climate, marine ecosystems both near to Antarctica and in the sub-Antarctic are already showing evident effects of impact. They include rising temperatures in the ocean and atmosphere, changes in atmospheric circulation including increasing winds and modified frequency and intensity of storms, increasing levels of ocean acidity and overall reduction in sea ice extent during the last century.
Our scientists looking closely at this issue in the Southern Ocean Sentinel workshop identified a number of ecosystem components that may be vulnerable to ongoing climate change impacts through ocean acidification. They include harvested species like ice fish and krill and also species recovering from overexploitation including whales.
But critically, over the last two years, a number of studies of ice accumulation and loss in both Greenland and Antarctica confirmed that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing ice mass and contributing to sea level rise at a rate higher than previously estimated. This is important. The evidence for climate change and associated sea level rise is unequivocal. Increased ice melt in Antarctica will further increase the rate of sea level rise. A recent US study by researchers from the University of Texas that use satellite data to estimate Antarctic ice sheet masses confirmed the melting trend but also found that since 2006 ice sheets in coastal regions of east Antarctica may have lost mass too.
This is consistent with the studies by our own Australian Antarctic Division suggesting major glaciers in east Antarctica are shrinking. Some people will have seen the recently released Copenhagen diagnosis concluding that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end or beyond previous expectations. Taking into account Greenland and Antarctic ice shrinkage, the best estimate of the contribution to sea level rise over the last five years is that it has been about three times that previously agreed by the IPCC. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts recently identified that for many locations in Australia where many people live on or near the coast the projected 0.5 metre sea level rise would mean extreme sea level events which previously would have been a one-in-100-year frequency could potentially occur more than once a year by 2100.
This is absolutely vital information for us as we make decisions about dealing with dangerous climate change. One-in-100-year emergencies potentially occurring once a year within the lifetime of our young kids or grandkids, the risks to human health, to houses near the coast, to coastal infrastructure and all the costs that come with that are issues that Australia can and must face up to. There are costs in delay, which is why the government has brought forward the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and the amendments that have been agreed between the government and the opposition must now pass through this parliament as soon as possible. We can see what is happening with our own eyes in Antarctica. We understand how important that is for ourselves and our future and we understand how important the passage of this legislation and finding common cause for the Australian people really is.