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‘Exceptional heat’: Urgent climate action needed to avoid extremes

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on Monday the first 11 months of 2019 were the country’s hottest for maximums and second-warmest for mean temperatures.

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“Heatwaves and floods which used to be ‘once in a century’ events are becoming more regular occurrences,” Mr Taalas said. “Countries ranging from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique suffered the effect of devastating tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia.”

The WMO’s statement comes as delegates from almost 200 nations gather in Madrid, Spain for talks aimed at bolstering the Paris Agreement that aims to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees.

Last week, the WMO reported greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere – the main driver for climate change – reached the highest levels in at least 3 million years in 2018.

Carbon dioxide, which makes up about 80 per cent of the heat-trapping potential of these gases, is now almost 50 per cent more abundant in the atmosphere than in 1750.

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Among the impacts were increasing ice sheet melt leading to sea-level rise, a 26 per cent increase in the acidity of the world’s oceans as they absorb CO2, and more intense floods and droughts, the WMO said.

Sverker Sorlin, a member of Sweden’s Climate Policy Council – an independent scientific body set up to advise that country’s government on reducing carbon emissions – said climate change could be expected to unfold “in nasty ways” in coming decades.

Professor Sorlin, who is due to give a speech at the Australian National University on Wednesday, said Sweden decided in June 2017 to set long-term goals of having net-zero emissions by 2045 that were accepted by all but the far-right party.

Since then, some nine industrial sectors had set their own pathways to zero, and “were competing between themselves to be the most loyal to the program – that’s astonishing compared with their approach five years ago”, he said.

Australia’s plan to use so-called surplus credits during the current Kyoto Protocol to count towards its Paris targets was something Sweden and other nations decided against doing.

Such a move “shows a lack of commitment” by the Morrison government, but would also “lift off the innovation pressure”, Professor Sorlin said. “You end up in the old sweet spot that we know won’t last.”

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