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May 2007 Issue
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Gloomy forecast from climate experts


More intense cyclones, rising sea levels and increased flooding will be the pattern for Australia's coastal communities by 2050, according to one of Australia's leading climate change experts, Professor Nick Harvey.

The University of Adelaide professor is one of five Australian lead authors on the Australia and New Zealand Chapter from the second Working Group of the IPCC, the global body assessing the scientific evidence for climate change.

IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released the group's report, called Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, in Brussels last month. It addresses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change and options for adapting to them. The first volume of the IPCC report was released in Paris in February.

The second report reveals that, in Australia, sea levels are likely to rise by more than half a metre by the end of this century.

"We will experience more intense tropical cyclones and storms will be more frequent," Professor Harvey said. "Places like Cairns and southeast Queensland will be most vulnerable."

The report discloses that unusually high sea surface temperatures have bleached up to 50% of reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park since 1979 and freshwater swamps in northern Australia have been infiltrated by saltwater since the 1950s.

Further south, about one fifth of Tasmania's coastline is at risk of serious erosion in the next 50-100 years as a result of rising sea levels.

"On a global scale, sea levels have risen at an average of 1.8mm a year between 1961 and 2003," Professor Harvey said.

"Many millions of people will be vulnerable to flooding by the end of the century due to rising sea levels, especially in densely-populated and low-lying settlements. The greatest populations at risk are in Asia and the Pacific."

Professor Harvey, from the University of Adelaide's School of Social Sciences, has had a long involvement with scientific global change research.

He was Vice-Chair of the international peak body examining the effect of global change on the world's coastlines, LOICZ (Land Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone) from 1997-2002. Professor Harvey is currently Chair of the international START-Oceania committee, based in Fiji, dealing with global change research and training. He has also authored more than 100 scientific papers and books.

He is also a member of the University of Adelaide's Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability and the only IPCC lead author from South Australia.

On the issue of causes of climate change, Professor Harvey said: "Cycles of climate change are evident from the geological record, but human impact is now adding to the natural cycle. In fact a few years ago the prestigious scientific journal Nature published an article referring to a new geological era called the 'Anthropocene' reflecting the significance of human influence on global change."

IPCC was established by two United Nations organisations - the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

The report, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, is the second volume of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment on global warming involving 2500 of the world's most respected scientists, including 25 from Australia.

Story by Candy Gibson

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A local attempts to reclaim land on sheltered sides of the lagoon at Tarawa Atoll, Kirabati
Photo by Nick Harvey

A local attempts to reclaim land on sheltered sides of the lagoon at Tarawa Atoll, Kirabati
Photo by Nick Harvey

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