Leadership on climate needed: CSIRO report

There needed to be a coordinated, system-wide approach to dealing with climate change in Australia, according to the CSIRO. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
There needed to be a coordinated, system-wide approach to dealing with climate change in Australia, according to the CSIRO. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Australia's national science agency has called for leadership on climate change, amid concerns the public -and the public service - do not fully understand the risks it posed.

In a technical report about the 2019-20 bushfires commissioned by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the CSIRO warned climate and disaster risks were growing across Australia.

The report, tendered to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements on Monday, described many of the risks as systemic which required "coordinated, system-wide responses beyond emergency and disaster management to address".

"There is growing demand - from society and the financial services and disaster management sectors in particular - for coordinated action across all economic sectors, government portfolios and levels of decision making to mitigate climate and disaster risks, build resilience and adapt to change," CSIRO said.

"There are opportunities for a more harmonised, coordinated and collective approach which are hampered by under-developed, fragmented or uncoordinated awareness, understanding, and approaches to 'systemic risk' assessment and management in Australia."

However the high levels of "contestation and disinformation" about climate change meant there were "low levels of public understanding" of the causes and effects of climate and disaster risks.

There was also no common view among government departments regarding the common drivers of disasters.

"Government agencies tend to go through their own processes of defining problems and suggesting solutions," CSIRO said.

There was also no mandate or incentives to look at the broader, systemic risks associated with climate change within government.

"The existing remits of most organisations are limited to issues manifesting within their sector, portfolio or jurisdiction," the report said.

"For example, drought and climate-related disaster are manifestations of the same set of climate-related drivers yet are dealt with separately by different agencies and sectors."

CSIRO called for leadership across all levels of government and society to make climate change and disaster risk reduction "mainstream" and help Australians understand the relevance of responding to the changing climate.

The agency also urged government to embed climate and disaster resilience as a national priority, making it the responsibility of all agencies and portfolios and making it central in any economic development and investment decision.

Critically, CSIRO called on government to invest in research to help bridge some of the knowledge gaps around climate change and natural disasters.

While multiple studies had concluded human-induced climate change had increased the risk of serious bushfires, there needed to be more research into how it impacted, droughts, damaging hail and tropical cyclones.

"This is primarily due to limitations in data, high natural variability and the challenges of simulating such events in models," the CSIRO said.

For example, while it is possible climate change is increasing the risk of large hail, scientists were not certain of this because of the limited period of observation and the inability of models to fully simulate future hail events.

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The report comes after a Senate inquiry into the fires last week heard Australia was no longer a leader in climate change research.

"Research on climate change has plummeted over the last decade," Australian National University Climate Change Institute director Mark Howden said.

"This is not a minor reduction. This is a major reduction. And it's taken us in many ways from being a global leader in terms of the various dimensions of climate change work ... and put us way behind the the leaders of in that area."

This story CSIRO calls for leadership on climate change amid 'low levels of public understanding' first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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