We're facing a climate crisis but there is good news

Photograph: Nick Moir Firefighters tackle blazes
12 February 2020

The ferocity, reach and duration of fires that have devastated Australian communities, bush and rural landscapes have caught many of us off guard. If this kind of disruption is happening at 1 degree Celsius of warming, it’s hard to imagine what we’re in store for at 3 to 5 degrees Celsius, which is what some research is projecting by the end of the century unless we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

There’s been much commentary about the fact that we’re in the midst of a climate emergency. But the situation is actually much more serious, more akin to a crisis than an emergency.

An emergency is an unexpected situation requiring immediate, short-term action. But the situation we find ourselves in has been predicted by scientists for decades. Scientific analysis that rising greenhouse gas emissions will result in global warming dates back to the 1890s and there’s been scientific consensus since the 1990s. Unfortunately, even with rapid and comprehensive emission reduction, the ongoing impacts of this warming and the need for informed and just adaptation responses will last for centuries, hardly a short-term situation.

By contrast, a crisis is a time of intense difficulty or danger when important decisions need to be made. It is increasingly clear to most Australians that we have well and truly reached this point. We now have a narrow and shrinking window in which to act to avoid the worst- case scenarios. Many of the solutions we need are at our fingertips. They are available, affordable and scalable, but they generally need a supportive policy environment to incentivise their adoption. But we don’t have all the solutions we need yet, requiring investment in research and development. The sooner we start, the cheaper and easier the transition to a low-emission and climate-adapted Australia will be.

Read the full op-ed in The Sydney Morning Herald, by Prof Mark Howden and Assoc Prof Carloyn Hendriks