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The basic science and effects of climate change across Victoria

What is climate change?

Climate change is a long-term change in the pattern of weather, which can cause changes in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets. Climate change can be due to natural processes or man-made impacts.

Greenhouse gas is a natural part of the atmosphere. It absorbs solar radiation and keeps the earth warm enough to support life.  Human activity, including burning fossil fuels for energy, land clearing and agriculture, has overloaded the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that it is extremely likely that more than half the observed global surface temperature increase from 1951 to 2010 is due to human activity and the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, land use change and agriculture.

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are now more than 40% higher that they were before industrialisation.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology eight of Australia's ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2002.

What are the effects of climate change?

Over the past 100 years, global surface temperatures have risen by almost 1 degree Celsius and both the atmosphere and oceans have warmed.

There is scientific consensus that continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

What it means for Victoria

Victoria faces a warmer and drier future, resulting in:

  • harsher fire weather and longer fire seasons
  • fewer frosts
  • more frequent and more intense downpours
  • more hot days and warm spells
  • less rainfall in Winter and Spring south of the Great Dividing Range; less rainfall in Autumn, Winter and Spring north of the Great Dividing Range
  • sea storm surges and coastal erosion that are expected to increase with sea level rise

Climate change is already being experienced in Victoria, with a rise in temperature and fall in rainfall across the state since 1950.

The sea level around the Victorian coast is approximately 225mm higher than in 1880. 

This year we are experiencing challenging water conditions: we are in a declared El Niño event, meaning lower rainfall is expected, and water storages are down by an average of 23 per cent.

A changing climate presents us with risks and opportunities. The risks include things such as hotter days and sea level rise, the opportunities include the creation of new jobs and a skilled workforce, boosting new economic sectors and reducing our emissions while growing our economy.

What does it mean for my community?

We have developed information sheets (see the Being Climate Ready tab) for each region across Victoria, which explain in detail what the likely effects of climate change will be, what communities need to do to ensure they adapt to a changing climate and what opportunities a new climate may bring.

Managing risks and adapting to climate change is a responsibility everyone shares, including all levels of government, businesses, communities and individuals.

More information

The following agencies provide the science and modelling that are the basis for government policy on climate change in Victoria:

CSIRO-BoM Climate Change in Australia
Explore Australia's projected climate and access model data.

CSIRO
CSIRO is Australia's largest research organisation. It develops regional climate change science, and uses research to support adaptation to local climate change.

Australian Bureau of Meteorology
BoM provides information on Australia's climate, and related events, over time.

Australian Department of the Environment
The Federal Government's Department of the Environment leads the development and co-ordination of Australia's domestic and international climate change policies.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The IPCC is an international research agency set up to explore climate change, its potential impacts and our potential responses.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty that aims to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent human-made interference with the climate system.

We can now model what Victoria's future climate will be some certainty, and this foresight provides us with the opportunity us to prepare and thrive under a changing climate.

In order to help communities understand and prepare for climate change impacts, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has developed regional-specific information sheets.

The Climate-Ready information sheets explain in detail what the likely effects of climate change will be, what communities need to do to ensure they adapt to a changing climate and what opportunities a new climate may bring.

While the Climate-Ready publications focus on adapting to climate change, reducing carbon emissions by reducing energy use and switching to renewable energy sources is also important.

The information sheets are divided by State Government regions:

Climate-Ready regions 

While the Climate-Ready publications focus on adapting to climate change, reducing carbon emissions by reducing energy use and switching to renewable energy sources is also important.

The Climate-Ready publications (and related data) are available for download below.

For a list of further Climate-Ready links and resources, click here

There is international consensus that greenhouse gasses are the key cause of climate change. We know that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

The Victorian Government is currently examining options for future Victorian emissions reduction and the range of policies and programs that will support a target, create employment opportunities, strengthen Victoria's economy and ensure that the most vulnerable parts of our community are not left behind.

The emissions reduction target consultation process will be taking place in 2016.

Victoria's greenhouse gas inventory can be found here

In December 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) participating countries reached a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

 Australia has endorsed the agreement, which will come into effect in 2020.

Victoria has signed the L'Appel de Paris (Paris Pledge for Action), which recognises the leadership shown by sub-national governments, cities and businesses and renews their commitment to limit temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Adaptation 

The process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. Adaptation can be autonomous or planned.
Incremental adaptation - adaptation actions where the central aim is to maintain the essence and integrity of a system or process at a given scale.
Transformational adaptation - adaptation that changes the fundamental attributes of a system in response to climate and its effects. 

Atmosphere 

The gaseous envelope surrounding the Earth. The dry atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen and oxygen, together with a number of trace gases (e.g. argon, helium) and greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide). The atmosphere also contains aerosols and clouds. 

Carbon dioxide 

A naturally occurring gas, also a by-product of burning fossil fuels from fossil carbon deposits, such as oil, gas and coal, of burning biomass, of land use changes and of industrial processes (e.g. cement production). It is the principle anthropogenic greenhouse gas that affects the Earth's radiative balance. 

Climate 

The average weather experienced at a site or region over a period of many years, ranging from months to many thousands of years. The relevant measured quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, rainfall and wind.

Climate change 

A change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. by statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period of time, typically decades or longer. 

Climate projection 

A climate projection is the simulated response of the climate system to a scenario of future emission or concentration of greenhouse gases and aerosols, generally derived using climate models. Climate projections are distinguished from climate predictions by their dependence on the emission/concentration/radiative forcing scenario used, which in turn is based on assumptions concerning, for example, future socioeconomic and technological developments that may or may not be realised. 

Climate scenario 

A plausible and often simplified representation of the future climate, based on an internally consistent set of climatological relationships that has been constructed for explicit use in investigating the potential consequences of anthropogenic climate change, often serving as input to impact models. 

Climate variability

Climate variability refers to short term (daily, seasonal, annual, inter-annual, several years) variations in climate, including the fluctuations associated with El Nino (dry) or La Nina (wet) events.

Emissions scenario 

A plausible representation of the future development of emissions of substances that are potentially radiatively active (e.g. greenhouse gases, aerosols) based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about driving forces (such as demographic and socioeconomic development, technological change) and their key relationships. 

Extreme weather

An extreme weather event is an event that is rare at a particular place and time of year. Definitions of rare vary, but an extreme weather event would normally be as rare as or rarer than the 10th or 90th percentile of a probability density function estimated from observations.

Fire weather 

Weather conditions conducive to triggering and sustaining wild fires, usually based on a set of indicators and combinations of indicators including temperature, soil moisture, humidity, and wind. Fire weather does not include the presence or absence of fuel load.

Greenhouse gas 

Greenhouse gases are those gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of terrestrial radiation emitted by the Earth's surface, the atmosphere itself, and by clouds. Water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3) are the primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere.

Mitigation

Managing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation).

Resilience

Refers to the capacity of communities - and the systems and structures that support them - to survive, adapt and grow in the face of challenges.

Risk

The potential for consequences where something of value is at stake and where the outcome is uncertain. Risk is often represented as a probability of occurrence of hazardous events or trends multiplied by the consequences if these events occur.

Risk assessment 

The qualitative and/or quantitative scientific estimation of risks. 

Risk management

The plans, actions, or policies implemented to reduce the likelihood and/or consequences of risks or to respond to consequences.

Uncertainty 

A state of incomplete knowledge that can result from a lack of information or from disagreement about what is known or even knowable. It may have many types of sources, from imprecision in the data to ambiguously defined concepts or terminology, or uncertain projections of human behaviour. Uncertainty can therefore be represented by quantitative measures (e.g. a probability density function) or by qualitative statements (e.g. reflecting the judgment of a team of experts).

Source: CSIRO-BoM Climate Change in Australia
http://www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au/en/climate-campus/glossary/