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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1055

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (18:51): I wish to take note of the committee's second interim and final reports on recent trends in and preparedness for extreme weather events. This was an issue that Senator Milne referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee. I think this is a very important issue. Since that committee reported, we have had further information produced by CSIRO highlighting the need for preparedness to address extreme weather events, in particular those being influenced by the impact of climate change. The report came out at the end of November and highlights the world-leading work our CSIRO scientists produce.

There was a paper in Nature Geoscience about the Indian Ocean Dipole, or IOD. This paper points out the influence of climate change on the Indian Ocean Dipole and how important the dipole is for weather events and rainfall in Australia. It also warns of the impact of a warming climate, which is predicted to have significant impact on droughts and elevated conditions for bushfires. These events are likely to become more frequent across South-Eastern Australia because of the impact of climate change. The paper warns that warming along the tropics is already creating changes in dominant climate systems, including the so-called Indian Ocean Dipole, which influence rainfall during the key winter and spring periods. It says that in positive-IOD years, sea-surface temperatures are cooler than normal in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean, to Australia's north-west, and abnormally warm off Africa, to our west. As a result, easterly winds tend to strengthen, pulling tropical rainfall westwards away from Australia and Indonesia.

The report goes on to say that the frequency of these positive years is increasing. Apparently in 13 of the past 31 years there has been a period of three-year sequences, unfortunately coinciding with some of our droughts. This is in contrast with the early part of the 20th century when only three such events occurred in a 30-year period. The report says there is an alignment between some of the major bushfire events in South-East Australia, such as Ash Wednesday and Black Friday, that have been associated with an Indian Ocean Dipole event in the previous spring and winter. This is evidence that there is an association between these events and more extreme weather due to climate change which potentially has catastrophic consequences.

We need to start planning for these events. We need to be prepared for these events and stop ignoring that fact that climate change will not only have an impact in the future but influence our weather now. Climate change is leading to more extreme weather events and there has been a decrease in rainfall in many parts of Australia. I digress as to my home state of Western Australia, where there has been a significant decline in rainfall since the early 1970s. To give credit where credit is due, in the mid-1990s the Water Authority, as it was known, finally acknowledged that Western Australia's rainfall was decreasing, particularly in the south. When the authority was planning for the provision of water to Perth in 1995, it started taking the declining rainfall into account.

The Department of Water in Perth is now undertaking a water reform process. I was at an information session for that last Wednesday night and a key thing the department acknowledges is that climate change will affect decisions, so the department is planning for this impact. I do not for a minute say that the planning process is perfect, as I have some concerns, but the department acknowledges a drying climate and is planning for climate change.

When will this government get it into its head that climate change is happening? Climate change is real and it is happening. We need to plan for it not only in the way we manage our water resources, our agriculture and invest in renewable energy but also in the way we plan for extreme climate events and how those changes play out in droughts and bushfires. Unless we start taking climate change into account, unfortunately we will see catastrophic weather events we are not prepared for.

It is nonsense to pretend that our climate is not warming and that climate change is not happening and having an effect already. In Western Australia we have had significant ocean warming events that affect ecosystems, as I said in this chamber on Wednesday. Climate change is also affecting the migration of ocean species. There are now tropical species in oceans off Perth that have never been there before, along with invasive species. We do not know how climate change impacts on shark populations. Unfortunately these events will keep happening. We cannot bury our head in the sand. We need to plan and prepare for these events. While we do not acknowledge the impacts of climate change, we leave our communities open to worse impacts. As the Nature Geoscience article points out, the Indian Ocean Dipole is happening more frequently. The dipole is clearly connected to lower rainfall and drought conditions in Australia, and drier conditions lead to greater potential for bushfires.

The Greens referred this issue to the Environment and Communications References Committee to look into. We do not always plan for what is likely or what we know is coming. We know that these situations are going to get worse. We do not know about the events but we know they are going to get worse and we need to be planning to make sure we are able to be responsive. I sat in on the Perth hearing of this inquiry and it was quite obvious we are not getting ready for the impact of these events. For example, the impacts of climate change on human health have been raised by Doctors for the Environment, who presented evidence to the committee and clearly pointed out some of those impacts. We have seen the increased number of heat stroke and heat related deaths. We have had heatwaves in this country and we have seen them in Europe as well.

Senator Boyce: And floods.

Senator SIEWERT: Those sorts of events are not being adequately planned for—for example, in our health responses. As Senator Boyce just pointed out, we have seen the impact floods and those sorts of catastrophic events have on human life and the disruption to community. All those issues need to be taken into account. We are not adequately planning. While we continue to have a government that is confused at the very least about whether it is in denial or not—half of them are—we will not be adequately prepared and will continue to see the impacts of these catastrophic events and these extreme weather events.

We need to be acknowledging this and we need to be planning properly.