The Intergenerational Report underestimates climate threat: an open letter to the government

Australia’s waterside cities and towns are under threat from rising sea levels unless more is done to stop CO2 emissions. Michael Dawes/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The following is an open letter initiated by Dr Andrew Glikson, signed by Australian environmental and climate scientists.

We the undersigned are concerned that the 2015 Intergenerational Report underestimates the serious threat of global warming to future generations.

Based on the basic laws of physics, direct measurements and empirical observations in nature, the current rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases by about 40% since the 19th century is inducing a shift in the state of the atmosphere-ocean-land-ice sheets system, seriously endangering future generations, and indeed nature’s life-support systems.

Our concern is based on the peer-reviewed scientific literature, as summarised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and on observations by the world’s national science academies and geophysical research societies of leading nations, including Australia.*

The current and projected trend in CO2 from the 19th century concentration of 280 parts per million (ppm) to the present 400 ppm, currently rising at more than 2 ppm per year, threatens to transform the planetary climate, creating conditions in which large parts of the continents become subject to droughts, fires and other extreme weather events. If this trend is allowed to continue, low coastal and river valleys, where much of the world’s population lives and where its food supply is produced, would be inundated by rising sea levels.

At the current rates of CO2 emissions, by 2055 (the projected date in the Intergenerational Report) CO2 concentrations would rise to about 480 ppm, threatening the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and approaching conditions that existed on the planet more than 2.6 million years ago, before the appearance of the genus Homo.

Australia has many excellent renewable and low-carbon energy resources and access to commercially available technologies that would enable Australia to transition to zero-carbon electricity within two to three decades, given the political will. This zero-carbon electricity system would be reliable, affordable and job-creating.

We call on the Australian government, and indeed the governments of all nations, to reconsider the consequences of ongoing emission of greenhouse gases and, as a matter of urgency, promote much more rapid transition to non-polluting energy-generating methods.

*Including NASA, NOAA, NSIDC, Hadley-Met, Tyndall, Potsdam, the world’s academies of science and in Australia the CSIRO and BOM.

Signatories

Professor Michael Archer, Evolution of Earth and Life Systems Research Group, University of NSW

Dr Leanne Armand, Senior Researcher/Lecturer, Climate Futures at Macquarie - Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

Dr Linda Beaumont, climate ecologist, Macquarie University

Dr Tom Beer, Past President of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics

Professor Jason Beringer, School of Earth and Environment, University of Western Australia

Professor Helen Berry, Dean, Research of Epidemiology, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra

Professor Andrew Blakers, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, Australian National University

Jette Bollerup, lecturer in human sciences, Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University

Dr Caryl Bosman, senior lecturer in urban and environmental planning, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University

Professor Corey Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, The Environment Institute and School of Biological Sciences, The University of Adelaide

Associate Professor Tim Brodribb, plant science, University of Tasmania

Professor Richard Broinowski, President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, NSW

Associate Professor Jason Byrne, Environmental Planning, Griffith University

Professor Carla Catterall, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University

Professor Chu Cordia, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University

Professor Andrew Cockburn, Evolutionary Ecology, Director of the College of Medicine Biology and Environment, Australian National University

Emeritus Professor Jann Conroy, Tree Nutrition and Physiology and Global Change Biology, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney

Professor Alan Cooper, Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide

Emeritus Professor Michael Crisp, Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, Australian National University

Ian Davies, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

Dr Kirsten Davies, lecturer and researcher, Department of Environmental Sciences and Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

Associate Professor Mark Diesendorf, Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW

Professor Bob Douglas AO, Director of Australia 21; Former Director of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University

Dr Ben Elliston, Power and Energy Systems Engineering, University of NSW

Professor David Ellsworth, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney

Associate Professor Jason Evans, Climate Change Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of NSW

Professor Jim Falk, Professorial Fellow Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

Professor Tim Flannery, Division of Environmental and Life Sciences, Macquarie University

Dr Sara Fuller, lecturer in Justice and Democracy in the environment, Macquarie University

Dr Andrew Glikson, Earth and Paleoclimate science, Australian National University; Honorary Associate Professor, University of Queensland

Associate Professor Victor Gostin, Earth Science, University of Adelaide

Dr Susan Gould, Adjunct Research Fellow, Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University

Professor Tom Griffiths, School of History, Australian National University

Professor Colin Groves, Bio-anthropology and Primatology, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University

Dr Willow Hallgreen, Research Fellow at the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University

Dr Elizabeth Hanna, Director, Heat- health risks and adaption, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Research School of Population Health Project, Australian National University

David Harley, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Research School of Population Health & The Medical School, Australian National University

Dr Christine Hosking, Research Officer at the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland

Associate Professor Mark Hovenden, School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania

Distinguished Professor Lesley Hughes, Department of Biological Sciences, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research Integrity and Development, Macquarie University

Professor Michael Hutchison, Spatial and Temporal Analysis, Fenner School of Environment and Society, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, Australian National University

Emiratus Professor Phillip Jennings, Physics and Energy, Murdoch University

Professor Darryl Jones, Deputy Director of the Environmental Futures Research Institute and the Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University

Associate Professor Jochen Kaempf, Oceanography, School of Environment, Flinders University

Associate Professor Naomi Langmore, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, Australian National University

Professor Michelle Leishman, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

Professor Darryl Low Choy, Head of Discipline (planning)), Environmental and Landscape Planning Research Program, School of Environment, Griffith Unviersity

Professor Andrew Lowe, Chair of Plant Conservation Biology and Director of the Centre for Conservation Science and Technology, University of Adelaide

Dr Joshua Madin, ARC Future Fellow, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney

Associate Professor Andrew McGregor, Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University

Professor Andrew Millington, senior academic, School of Environment, Flinders University

Dr Fiona Miller, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University

Dr Ben Moore, senior lecturer of ecology, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney

Professor Barbara Norman, Foundation Chair of Urban and Regional Planning, Director of Canberra Urban and Regional Futures, University of Canberra

Dr Bradley Opdyke, Research School of Earth Sciences, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Australian National University

Dr Sebastian Pfautsch, Terrestrial Ecosystem Function and Integration. Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney

Dr Linda Prior, forest ecology, tree growth and savanna ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania

Associate Professor Markus Riegler, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney

Dr Oz Sahin, Research Fellow at the Griffith School of Engineering, Griffith Systems Modelling Group, Griffith University

Dr Tapan Sarker, Department of International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith Business School, Griffith University

Professor Brajesh Singh, Functional microbial ecology, climate change and environmental biotechnology, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney

Dr Ben Spies-Butcher, Senior Lecturer in Economy and Society, Sociology Department, Macquarie University

David Teather, Emeritus Professor and former Dean of Education and Health, University of New England, Armidale NSW

Emeritus Professor Matthias Tomczak, Oceanography, School of the Environment, Flinders University of South Australia

Emiratus Professor Patrick Troy, Visiting Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

Professor Martin Van Kranendonk, earth science, Archean tectonics, early life, global geodynamics, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of NSW

Dr Hayden Washington, Visiting Fellow, Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW

Professor Adrian Werner, Hydrogeology, Chief Investigator, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training

Professor Patricia Werner, plant population dynamics, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

Dr Jonathan Whale, Senior Lecturer in Energy Studies and Renewable Energy Engineering, Murdoch University

Emeritus Professor Ian White, Vice-Chair (Asia-Pacific) UNESCO IHP Water Resources; Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University

Dr Phillip Wild, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland

Associate Professor Jane Williamson, Marine Ecology, Macquarie University