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Australian scientists explain what the latest predictions about climate change mean for the future

David Mills, August 11, 2019 6:45PM News Corp Australia Network

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Firefighters work to contain a large bushfire in Zuccoli, NT on July 23. Scientists advise that we could have a year-round bushfire season. Picture: Keri Megelus media_cameraFirefighters work to contain a large bushfire in Zuccoli, NT on July 23. Scientists advise that we could have a year-round bushfire season. Picture: Keri Megelus

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More dust storms, more farming in Tasmania and a year-round bushfire season are just some of the many predictions Australian scientists are making after the release of the latest international report on climate change.

And though the report does not suggest everyone stop eating meat, it does suggest that eating more plant-based foods could be a positive move for both the planet’s health and people’s health.

The Intergovernmental* Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report, written by 100 scientists from around the world and commissioned by the United Nations*, was released on Thursday.

It appeared to dash* hopes that global warming could be contained to the 1.5C agreed to in the 2016 Paris climate deal.

Although global average temperatures have risen 0.87C above pre-industrial* levels, temperatures over land had already risen 1.5C, the IPCC found.

Prof Mark Howden, IPCC vice chair* and the director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, said Australia was already feeling the impacts of climate change, especially in summer, with recent repeated heatwaves.

“Climate change is already impacting our land systems, our agriculture, forests and biodiversity,” he said. “Those impacts will increase significantly in the future.”

He said the report showed climate change was also already affecting the world’s food supply.

“Both globally and in Australia, climate change is already negatively impacting our food production, and that is likely to increase,” he said.

media_cameraNew South Wales farmer Ian Cargill inspects a flock of sheep on Billaglen farm near Braidwood, NSW on August 9, 2018, as the NSW government declared that 100 per cent of the state was impacted by drought. Picture: AAP

But along with the threats came opportunities, he said.

“Temperate* zones seem to be getting some beneficial* impacts of climate change. Not everywhere is being impacted in the same way or to the same degree.”

In Australia, some areas that had previously been unsuitable for crops because rainfall was too high were now found to be suitable as rainfall levels had fallen, he said.

Associate Professor Stephen Cattle from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture said the report suggested some agricultural enterprises “might have to be a bit more flexible and move around the country”.

“Previously cooler areas might become slightly warmer, and be more productive in terms of our food requirements,” he said.

Tasmania, for example, “might become more suitable for more agricultural enterprises.”

Vineyards and Climate Change media_cameraWinemaker David Bruer of South Australia’s Temple Bruer wines is changing varieties to ones that can cope with hotter temperatures and buying new vineyards in different locations to spread risk of heat and drought damage.

Dust storms, such as those seen last week in northern New South Wales and South Australia, would likely increase as an effect of climate change, Assoc Prof Cattle said.

“With increasing temperatures, desertification* increases and the arid* zone creeps closer,” he said. “We have a great risk of sand storms creeping further east if climate change does continue to exert its influence.”

media_cameraA dust storm approaches Broken Hill, NSW on January 18. Scientists suggest that climate change could mean dust storms further east in Australia in future. Picture: Andrew Gosling

Bushfire season would also become a year-round problem in Australia, Prof Howdon said.

Australia “had already seen a change in the seasonality* and intensity” of bushfires. With significant fires happening in winter, the idea of a bushfire season across just a few months of the year had already started to diminish*, he said.

The report’s authors stopped short of telling people to stop eating meat and switch to vegetarian or vegan diets.

They did, however, suggest encouraging people to eat a more balanced diet, which could reduce pressure on the land and improve people’s health.

Dietary changes would involve eating more plant-based foods, including coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as animal products produced in sustainable and low greenhouse gas-producing systems.

“Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” IPCC Working Group II co-chair Debra Roberts said.

Grilled ribeye beef steak, herbs and spices media_cameraEating more plant-based food rather than meat could have environmental as well as individual health benefits. Picture: iStock
media_cameraDietary changes would involve eating more plant-based foods, including coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as animal products produced in sustainable and low greenhouse gas-producing systems.

By 2050, changing dietary habits could free up several million square kilometres of land and potentially reduce emissions by up to eight billion tonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide a year.

The report also called for more attention to the issue of food waste, the breakdown of which contributes to at least 8 per cent of human-made greenhouse gases.

Food scraps waste program media_cameraDarebin Council in Victoria is organising a new food scraps program so people stop throwing out food waste. Katrina Forster is a keen composter and has 20 people giving her food scraps. Picture: George Salpigtidis

“Reducing food waste is a good start,” Prof Howdon said. “If we manage our pantry better, that reduces land pressures on land.

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GLOSSARY

  • intergovernmental: relating to work between several governments
  • United Nations: organisation of representatives from all the countries working together to keep the peace and get important things done
  • pre-industrial: from the time before the industrial revolution in the 1800s
  • dash: destroy
  • vice chair: second in charge
  • temperate: place with mild temperatures
  • beneficial: resulting in good
  • desertification: turning into a desert
  • arid: dry
  • seasonality: having a distinct season, rather than happening all the time
  • diminish: make smaller

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Who wrote this report and who asked for it to be written?
  2. Explain why Tasmania is mentioned in this story.
  3. How could bushfire risk and the idea of a bushfire season change in Australia in the future?
  4. What diet changes could have a positive impact on climate change?
  5. What does managing your pantry have to do with climate change?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Expert evidence
This news article contains quotes and findings from organisations and experts on climate change. Read through the article and write down the names of those organisations and experts. Include the experts’ credentials as well.

Then spend around 15 minutes performing some research of your own. Can you add the names of more organisations and experts who support the science of climate change caused by humans? Are you able to find out the names of any organisations or people who deny climate change is occurring? Also jot down any other interesting information you come across while you are completing this task.

Finally, write a paragraph summarising what you were able to find out and how this influences your opinion on climate change.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
The article suggests minimising our consumption of animal products as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Is this something you think you and your family would be prepared to do? Write an answer giving clear reasons for your position on the idea.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
Fact Find
There is some important information in this article about the effects that climate change would have in Australia. Can you go through the article and find 3 interesting facts and rate them in order of importance. Then share your facts with a partner and discuss with them why you rated them in that order.

Did they have the same facts as you?

Where they in the same order?

HAVE YOUR SAY: What can you, your family or your school do better when it comes to reducing global warming?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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