Politics Analysis

Angus Taylor shocked to discover climate change

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Climate change? What climate change? Former Energy Minister Angus Taylor can't understand why NSW is flooding (Image by Dan Jensen)

After former Energy Minister Angus Taylor expressed shock at the current flood devastation, Greenpeace CEO David Ritter explains why it wasn't hard to see coming.

HEY, ANGUS TAYLOR, you look surprised by the catastrophic flooding events. Can this be because you have been ignoring the warnings about climate change impacts? Here's a dozen or so expert warnings about increases in storms and floods that you may have ignored.

The truth is that we have long known, for decades, that for each degree that our atmosphere warms, it can hold 7 per cent more water. This causes heavier rainfall and in turn, increased flood risk.

Fourteen years ago, in 2007, the Rudd Government commissioned the Garnaut Climate Change Review, which clearly identified that climate change would lead to ‘longer dry spells broken by heavier rainfall events’ and floods.

So, in other words, when the Coalition came back into government under Tony Abbott in 2013, the memo was waiting for you: climate change is going to bring worse flooding.

Jumping to October 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s seminal fifth assessment report highlighted Australia is one of the developed world’s most climate-vulnerable nations and that vulnerability included increasing catastrophic flooding impacts as climate change worsened.

In January 2015, scientists warned that La Niña events, a weather phenomenon linked to increased rainfall, would occur almost twice as often this century as the previous due to climate change. So more flooding is likely.

In 2016, the Department of Energy and the Environment’s State of the Environment report highlighted that variable rainfall levels and more intense storms, combined with sea-level rise, would make coastal storms and floods even more damaging and frequent.

In 2018, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO’s State of the Climate report highlighted that because of climate change, Australia would experience increased intense heavy rainfall throughout the country — so more flooding.

Specifically, the report noted:

‘As the climate warms, heavy rainfall is expected to become more intense, with short-duration extreme rainfall events (most closely associated with flash flooding) showing a larger than 7 per cent increase.’

This also found the NSW coast is particularly subject to compound events – extreme rainfall, storm surges and low-pressure systems occurring together causing extreme coastal inundation – with climate change making compound events more frequent and intense.

In 2018, Queensland’s Chief Scientist noted:

‘The future is likely to see an increase in flood risk due to climate change.’

The government in which you were serving as Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction was told in the 2020 State of the Climate report that climate change is leading to more intense, rapid heavy rainfall — resulting in more intense and damaging flooding.

Last year, experts warned publicly that catastrophic flooding events were now more likely due to the impacts of climate change.

A report released by the Australian Academy of Science in the same month highlighted that without urgently reducing emissions, at scale, storms and flooding would violently reshape Australia’s coastlines and communities.

In November 2021, then-Senator Rex Patrick revealed that the National Cabinet had received a briefing about Australia’s 2021-22 high-risk weather season that was kept confidential. The higher chances of dangerous flooding was a focus of the briefing.

Apart from the expert warnings, there have also been, actual real-time floods for three years in a row. The warnings have literally been manifest before your very eyes, but you seem to have ignored this, too.

Lest we forget...

In early 2020, just as the catastrophic bushfires began to ease, Australia’s east coast experienced record flooding events, with Sydney facing the heaviest rainfall in 30 years.

In March 2021, NSW faced another catastrophic flooding event, with 10 million Australians under weather warnings, huge areas declared disaster zones and 18,000 people evacuated.

As then Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian said:

“I don’t know any time in state history where we have had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession.”

A study of the March 2021 Sydney floods found the probability of similar weather conditions that caused the catastrophic flooding, known as “atmospheric rivers” were increasing based on our current emissions pathway.

After these devastating floods, scientist Dr Joelle Gergis, a contributing IPCC author, noted:

‘So while Australia has always experienced floods, disasters like the one unfolding in NSW are likely to become more frequent and intense as climate change continues.’

Then there was March this year, when parts of Queensland and New South Wales were again smashed by intense flooding. You were still in government then, so I assume you got the briefings on cause and effect.

So mate, as you stand under your umbrella looking out at the destruction, why don't you have a long think about how you might dedicate your time in Opposition to shifting your party's slavish support for the coal, oil and gas vested interests that are driving climate chaos.

David Ritter is the chief executive officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. You can follow David on Twitter @David_Ritter.

This excerpt from David Ritter's Twitter account has been republished with permission.

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