Australia Climate R&D Spending Cut Bad News for Asia Pacific Region

Climate change caused by burning fossil fuels developed over many years, and finding alternatives to fossil fuels and ways to stem the warming will take time, too. Governments strapped for cash are cutting research and may have to muddle through in dealing with more intense storms, floods, droughts as well as rising seas. Australia’s CEO of the Australian Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has slashed the budget for climate-change research, suggesting that the science is a done deal and research should focus on innovations and adaptations. “While human influence in changing the global climate is now well established, the details at the regional and local levels still need further study,” explains climate researcher A. Barrie Pittock for the Asian Spectator. Investment in research can result in improved modeling, predictions and planning as well as new technologies. Australia’s research has been essential for understanding the climate patterns of the southern hemisphere and effects for the Pacific, the world’s largest ocean. – YaleGlobal

Australia Climate R&D Spending Cut Bad News for Asia Pacific Region

Climate research leads to improved modeling, planning and technologies; Australia’s research focuses on the Pacific, and program cuts come at bad time
A. Barrie Pittock
Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Early in February, Larry Marshall, the CEO of the Australian Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), announced that major cuts would be made to CSIRO’s climate change research program. Doing so will have a strong negative impact not just to Australia but to the entire Asia-Pacific region’s ability to understand their local climate change impacts, and thus funding should not be cut. In fact there has been an international outpouring of protest from leading climate scientists around the world, and from the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the Australian Academy of Science.

Marshall, a political appointee by the federal government, acted without due consultation with CSIRO program leaders and scientists both from within and outside CSIRO. In cutting climate research funding, Marshall argued that the “science is established,” that climate is changing globally, and the need now is to shift to more innovation and adaptation.

While human influence in changing the global climate is now well established, the details at the regional and local levels still need further study. For example, CSIRO scientists, in collaboration with scientists from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology have focused on improving regional climate models particularly the Southern Hemisphere and Australia in particular. In the past, international scientists have relied on CSIRO research to improve their climate models as is well demonstrated in successive IPCC reports which often quote Australian results.

For example, one of the points that Dr. Mike MacCracken, former executive director of the Office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and currently the Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs of the Washington D.C. based Climate Institute raised in his letter to the committee that is reviewing Australia’s future in research and innovation is that “the primary Southern Hemisphere storm track that brings precipitation to the agricultural areas of southern Australia is shifting poleward as global warming leads to a general expansion of the subtropics. This is gradually pushing this storm track south of Australia and as a result, southern Australia is becoming more and more arid.” This is an example of a scientific research area that CSIRO is uniquely qualified to handle, and has important consequences for Australia, and if I may say, for the region in general.

It is not just Australia that benefits from CSIRO climate research, but the entire Asia-Pacific region. Critical research areas where Australian scientists at CSIRO have been working on concern the El Nino-Southern Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Dipole, both of which have a major influence on Australian climate and also that of its neighbors in South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands. Other research areas include a better understanding of the rates of sea-level rise (given uncertainties regarding Greenland and Antarctic ice melt rates), local variations in sea-level due to changes in ocean currents and other effects, potential changes in tropical cyclone (hurricane) frequency, intensity and location, and changes in extreme events especially flood rainfall amounts and location.

Understanding these areas of research have benefits for future climate planning not just for Australia, but for the region in general. In addition, countries in the Asia-Pacific region have special need for Australian expertise on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and CSIRO has had long experience in working with these countries on their issues. The regional proximity of Australia to these countries gives it an understanding of local conditions that research institutions in Britain and the U.S. for example, may not have in depth knowledge of.

Australia is viewed by its neighbors as a leader in climate research, and CSIRO research helps these neighbors with their climate impact plans and needs. Both for Australia, and for the region’s sake, funding for CSIRO climate research should not be cut, else a critical lynchpin for preparing for extreme weather in the entire region may be lost.

A. Barrie Pittock was head of the Climate Impact Group at CSIRO before his retirement in 1999. He holds an Australian Public Service Medal and shared in the Nobel Prize awarded to the IPCC in 2007.

The Asian Spectator - Reprinted with Permission