Australia records hottest year on record

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Summer - Fremantle Harbour, Western Australia

Australia has officially recorded its warmest year on record. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, (BOM) 2005 was the hottest year since reliable, widespread temperature observations became available in 1910. Data collected by the Bureau show Australia's annual mean temperature for 2005 was 1.09°C above the standard 1961-90 average.

The Bureau of Meteorology says the result is more evidence of climate change.

The Bureau's Blair Trewin said: "We've seen things like the general retreat of the winter snow line. We've seen a marked decrease in the frequency of frost, especially in inland Queensland," Dr Trewin said. "We've seen an increase in the number of extreme hot days."

And the warming trend is likely to continue. "All the projections we have from climate models we would expect to see continued warming through the 21st century," he said. "Numbers like this ... are another piece of evidence that climate change is real and it's a real issue."

Despite unseasonably cool weather in the South West of Western Australia, 2005 was a hot year over most of the nation, with the Northern Territory (NT) bearing the brunt. The NT area-average maximum temperature was 1.45°C above the long-term mean, the largest anomaly of any state or territory.

The previous record of +0.84°C was set in 1998. The Bureau says that while these temperature departures may seem relatively small, a 1°C increase in mean temperatures is equivalent to many southern Australian towns shifting northward by about 100km.

All States and Territories, apart from Victoria and Tasmania, recorded 2005 mean temperatures amongst their top two warmest years on record. The only region recording a cooler than normal year was a coastal strip of Western Australia extending from Cape Leeuwin to Carnarvon.

Australia's previous warmest years on record were influenced by significant El Niño events, say the Bureau. However, no such event occurred in 2005, making the record warmth even more unusual. Since 1979, all but four years have been warmer than average in Australia.

Australian temperatures have increased by approximately 0.9ºC since 1910 - consistent with global warming trends. Scientific studies have linked global and Australian temperature increases to the enhanced greenhouse effect.

The early months of 2005 were also very dry over much of Australia with the January-May period being the 2nd driest on record. Australia's area-averaged rainfall is calculated from a network of around 5000 rainfall stations. Observations from this network reveal that, when compared to historical records, Tasmania was the wettest State in 2005, while Queensland and Western Australia were the driest.

Over the New Year bushfires have caused havoc in many parts of Australia, with houses, farm stock devastated. Thousands of hectares of bushland and farmland have been burnt out.

Canberra Fires 2003

Environmentalists say the weather is a precursor of things to come: "2005 gave us a little taste of what life will be like if we fail to tackle climate change," Greenpeace's Catherine Fitzpatrick said. "The extreme heat and bushfires of New Year's Day 2006 showed that it isn't going to be fun. If action isn't taken soon to avoid catastrophic climate change, Australians will have John Howard to blame for failing to act when he had the chance."

Ms Fitzpatrick said the Federal Government was as beholden to the coal and aluminium industries as the Japanese government was to whaling companies, and with far more devastating impacts. "Today's figures should spur our Environment Minister ... to real action – ratify Kyoto, quit coal and move towards clean, renewable energy," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

The Howard government claims it is taking appropriate action. Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said he recognised climate change was the biggest modern-day environmental challenge. "I think that climate change is alarming," he said on ABC radio. "I regard climate change as the number one environmental challenge ... It is a huge and serious challenge. These figures add to the weight of evidence that climate change is real and it's a problem that the world needs to work together to seek to solve."

Australia and the United States are the only developed nations to have refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on countries to cut greenhouse emissions by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The Government argues Kyoto will not work because it does not commit developing nations to reducing emissions. "Kyoto excludes most of the emissions in the world. It only covers just over a third of the countries of the world and ... we need something that includes all countries of the world," said Senator Campbell.

Many regions across the globe also reported an exceptionally warm year. According to a preliminary estimate released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the global mean temperature for 2005 was about 0.48°C above normal, putting 2005 amongst the four warmest years globally since records commenced in 1861.