That was the weather that was

| February 13, 2024

The Bureau of Meteorology has released their Annual Climate Statement for 2023, which analyses Australia’s temperature, rainfall, water, oceans, sea ice, significant weather and influences last year.

The report includes that 2023 was Australia’s equal eighth-warmest year on record, the annual maximum and minimum temperatures across all states and the NT were both above average, we had the driest three month period on record since 1900, and last winter was Australia’s warmest on record.

Dr Brett Summerell is the Director, Science and Conservation at Botanic Gardens of Sydney and notes that “Across Australia we have witnessed the impacts of climate change with extreme weather, extended dry periods and the warmest winter on record in the last year.

We’ve seen the direct effects of these events on flora, from an unseasonably early spring causing the early bloom of plants to increasing amounts of native species being classified as threatened.

Floods, bushfires and drought cause widespread plant death and decline, which not only decreases biodiversity but affects the reliability of our food sources.

Unfortunately plants get neglected in our concerns relating to the environment, but if we are going to combat the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss, we must inevitably start with saving plants.

Plants also offer solutions to many of the impacts we are experiencing today. As Australians sweltered through of the hottest Decembers recorded, we know we can use plants more effectively to combat these effects.

By planting resilient natives in urban and city areas prone to extreme heat, temperatures can be significantly reduced in these heat-prone areas.

We can still act to protect our species by increasing our conservation efforts across the country.”

Worrying Trends

Associate Professor James Hopeward is a Professorial Lead in STEM from the University of South Australia. His research involves the study of big-picture sustainability problems such as the limits to the planet’s energy supplies, climate change and economic growth.

He says “The BoM’s annual climate statement presents a number of worrying trends, none of which are particularly surprising. Greenhouse gas concentrations continue to climb, and average temperatures are trending upwards. With the rising temperatures, weather patterns appear to be changing and 2023 saw a large number of extreme events and increasing uncertainty over the future.

One thing, however, is certain: we’re on an unsustainable path. When the atmospheric composition and average surface temperature of an entire planet is rising, we’re not in a stable state. Add to this any number of worrying planetary-scale trends (declining biodiversity, overfishing, pollution of rivers and oceans, and depletion of non-renewable resources just to name a few) and it would take a special kind of denial to think we can continue growing the scale of our human project.

But we continue to see policies aimed at doing exactly that, whether it is growing the size of our human population, or growing the amount each of us consumes (which we measure as economic activity, or GDP), or – as is typically the case in Australian policy – pursuing both of these at the same time.

It is time to use trends like those in the latest climate report to precipitate a much-needed conversation around the urgent transition from ‘growing’ to ‘grown up’. Let’s discuss what that could look like.”

Public Communication

Professor Jennifer McKay, a Professor of Business Law at the University of South Australia, praised the report for getting a complex message across to the public in user-friendly terms.

“The BOM report is a great example of public communication of science facts to the public and to law makers. This report clearly shows warming overall but also points our variable impacts in terms of rainfall. This type of information is valuable for law makers to consider when making laws which require discretion of Minister and /or public servants. The climate has become more variable so to adopt a precautionary approach will result in different decisions being made form the past.

Whilst ecologically sustainable development and the precautionary approach is adopted in all Australian law, clearly we need a human rights based approach with the adoption of the principle of making decisions on land use to preserve a human right to a clean healthy environment as in the ACT Human Rights Charter.”