Adapting to a rapidly changing climate


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II yesterday released its Fifth Assessment Report, which examines the vulnerability of natural systems to climate change, the impacts, and adaptation options.

Image credit: flickr User: Steve Kerrison
Image credit: flickr User: Steve Kerrison

According to a blog post by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the organization is involved with the IPCC in a range of capacities and five of their lead authors of the IPCC report are involved in devising adaptation strategies that can help manage some of the adverse impacts of climate change to the eco-system.

“The external environment in which we are operating has changed. The average temperatures and rainfalls have changed, and in some circumstances that warrants a change in our goals and also the way we achieve those goals,” said CSIRO scientist and IPCC report veteran Dr Mark Howden.

“It’s changing what we do to get what we want.”

Adaptation is the process of adjusting those goals and devising strategies to help reduce the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and communities.

“In most cases, there is still a range of options that people can pursue,” he says.

Dr Howden is an expert on climate change and agriculture, and works with rural industries to help them adapt to Australia’s changing climate. He is also a lead author on the food security chapter, a contributing author on the Australasian chapter and part of the IPCC Synthesis Report core writing team.

According to him, farmers need to adapt to the climate variability and introduce more flexible farming systems to prepare for such events.

“There’s evidence that the changes we’ve already seen in terms of climate change are having impacts on food production and food security, and that these changes are likely to increase very significantly over the next decade,” he said.

CSIRO also stressed the importance of proper water resource management, particularly due to the anticipated reduction of rainfall in the coming decade.

“One of the biggest things we need to respond to is the drying trend in Australia,” said Dr Francis Chiew, a CSIRO scientist and water expert and lead author on the Australasia chapter. “The drying trend that we’ve seen in the far south-west and south-eastern Australia is associated mainly with a drier winter, when most of the runoff in southern Australia occurs.”

According to him, freshwater resources in far south-eastern and south-west Australia were projected to decline by up to 40% and between 20% and 70% respectively, because of a decline in winter rainfall.

Preserving the ocean and ecosystems is another key objective identified by CSIRO scientists.  Dr Elvira Poloczanska, the lead author on the ocean chapter, says the ocean is very important for human welfare, through the provision and transportation of food and other resources, and providing cultural and economic benefits.

According to her, the ocean also provided vital services such as regulation of atmospheric gases and the distribution of heat across the planet. She said that more than 90% of the extra energy from the enhanced greenhouse effect and 30% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide had been absorbed by the ocean, resulting in warming and ocean acidification.

CSIRO has played a leading role in providing Australian climate change projections for 20 years, taking into account multiple variables including temperature, precipitation, humidity, radiation and sea level to deliver accurate predictions for the benefit of Australian farmers.