The United Nations' chief science body is meeting in Tasmania as climate scientists urge Australia to prepare for rising sea levels that could put about $300 billion worth of commercial property, infrastructure and homes at risk. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summit in Hobart is the latest round of talks before the release of its fifth major paper in September.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
insists its methods are both vigorous and reliable. The United Nations' main climate agency says the global warming trend is "unmistakable" and it is defending the science behind its assertion.
More than 250 scientists who will contribute to the September report, have promised to deliver "scientifically defensible" conclusions when the study is released.
Global warming trend
The IPCC meets as Australia confronts a record-breaking heat wave that has sparked widespread wild fires across the country’s southeast.
IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri has no doubt that the extreme heat is part of a global warming trend.
Pachauri hopes that the international community will rally behind the issue of climate change as it did with previous global efforts designed to stop the depletion of the ozone layer.
“Yes, I am concerned no doubt, but I also have a high opinion of human wisdom that I think, at some stage, we will bring about change," Pachauri said. "I mean, the world did act on the Montreal Protocol, the whole problem of depletion of the ozone layer and it happened very fast.
Now, I expect that perhaps this, as is the case, is going to take a little longer, but hopefully we will get action across the board.”
Rising sea levels
Australia’s government-appointed climate commission is also warning that global warming is increasing the risk of scorching heat waves becoming more frequent.
There are concerns too that rising sea levels could threaten the country’s famous beachfront lifestyle.
More than 75 percent of Australians live near the ocean.
But Alan Stokes, the head of the National Sea Change Task force, which represents many coastal councils and communities, says severe flooding in the state of Queensland two years ago has shown how vulnerable low-lying areas can be.
“People all around Australia want to live near the coast," explained Stokes. "They’d like to live as close to it as they can but there is a risk involved, and we don’t want to find ourselves in the position in the next 20, 30 or 90 years of facing frequent extreme flooding events such as those we that saw in Queensland, which could destroy those properties and place people in harm’s way.”
Climate scientists are concerned that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet could pose serious problems to vulnerable areas elsewhere, including low-lying island nations in the South Pacific that rise barely a few meters above sea level.
The leaders of Kiribati have warned that its entire population of 100,000 people could be forced to migrate if their homes are swamped by the ocean.
Climate change is an issue that divides Australia, a nation that relies on cheap supplies of coal. Although many people think that society’s reliance on fossil fuels is causing temperatures to rise, others believe that a shifting climate is simply part of a natural cycle and is not caused by man’s excesses.