Peter Whish-Wilson: What we’re seeing around the world is alarming. The weather is changing. My committee, the environment committee, has recently been up to Tropical North Queensland. It has visited Cairns and Townsville. I also visited Port Douglas and went diving on the reef last week with some scientists. It’s easy to talk about the future for us and our children under climate change, to look at extreme weather events—like unprecedented, back-to-back and totally unpredicted warming of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef—and say, ‘This is the future under climate change; these are the kinds of events that we’re going to expect in the future under climate change,’ but the truth is they’re happening right now.
The questions I asked Senator Birmingham were about the two hurricanes—in fact, I would say an unprecedented three hurricanes now—that we’re seeing in the Atlantic, across the Bermuda islands, heading to the US coast. Last week Hurricane Harvey in the US created absolute devastation and is now officially the biggest natural disaster in US history. It’s really interesting to ask why, because Harvey was actually being downgraded before it made landfall, but it hit warm waters off the US coast and actually redeveloped, re-strengthened and dumped 1.25 metres of rain on Louisiana, the highest rainfall ever recorded in the US. The warming waters in the ocean were a key contributing factor for Harvey and caused the devastation.
Superstorm Irma in the Atlantic is now also being attributed to warmer-than-expected waters. In fact, meteorologists are saying they had never expected or predicted a storm like Irma. It is now officially by a number of metrics the strongest hurricane ever recorded since satellite imagery began in 1966. Two other storms are now developing in the Atlantic. The islands that it has hit, it has totally devastated. We’ve even heard in Barbados the storm has been detected on seismic equipment used to detect earthquakes and movements in the Earth’s crust. Who knows where it’s going to go? But if it does make landfall, a week after what we saw last week with Hurricane Harvey, it will make US history: that two Category 4 cyclones would hit the US coast in one year, let alone back-to-back weeks—and there are three hurricanes out there at the moment. Something is going on with our oceans. Our oceans are warming. They’re warming because of global carbon emissions. We know, beyond a doubt, that rising carbon emissions are highly correlated with warming oceans.
Getting back to Hurricane Irma, scientists said last night—and I am surprised that Senator Birmingham hasn’t been following what key climate and meteorological scientists are saying—that the hurricane exceeded their models for the maximum wind speed, their theoretical maximum wind speed. Their models didn’t even have the parameters to predict the ferocity of this hurricane. They are now having to put an extra category in place: category 6. We are literally in unchartered waters here. What will it take for us to wake up and accept that the climate is changing here and now?
Returning to the issue of the back-to-back bleaching of the coral reefs, the committee heard last week that events such as that were predicted not to happen for at least another 30 or 40 years, but they are already here. No matter what we do to cut emissions now, at the Paris agreement or elsewhere, we have still locked in another 15 years of warming oceans. Half the Barrier Reef is now dead—probably more than three-quarters if you include Cyclone Debbie’s damage. That is an international outrage. It is an international emergency. We need to act on climate now.
Chamber Senate on 7/09/2017 Item QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS – Climate Change Speaker :Whish-Wilson, Sen Peter Parliment Transcript used for reporting News