El Nino announcement comes with grim climate warning

Months after other nations’ weather bureaus announced this was an El Nino year, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has declared an El Nino event is under way.

The news comes as the Climate Council warns the world’s ability to limit global heating to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels has “narrowed”.

El Nino has been declared, the BoM said on Tuesday, as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is under way (which occurs when the Indian Ocean is warmer in its west than its east).

“When a positive IOD and El Niño occur together, their drying effect is typically stronger and more widespread across Australia,” BoM said.

Parts of Australia has sweltered through unusually warm conditions in the middle of September, giving a taste of what an El Nino summer might have in store.

“The declaration of these events, and their concurrence over spring, reinforces the bureau’s long-range rainfall and temperature forecasts, which continue to predict warmer and drier conditions for much of Australia over the next three months,” BoM said.

“The confirmation of an established El Niño increases the likelihood that the event will be sustained through the summer period.”

‘In very dangerous territory’

Limiting global heating to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels is becoming more difficult, according to a new report by the Climate Council, because weak emissions targets and new fossil fuel developments are pushing the Earth perilously close to the tipping point.

Mission Zero: How Today’s Climate Choices Will Reshape Australia details the country’s failure to achieve meaningful progress towards cutting emissions, despite improvements under the Albanese government.

Dr Simon Bradshaw, a climate scientist and the report’s lead author, said the report is a comprehensive look at the latest climate science and observations, and the way climate change is affecting Australian communities.

“We’re very clear in this report that given the extreme and escalating impact of climate change, given the scale of action that’s now demanded of us, we need to be planning to reach net-zero emissions by 2035,” he said.

“We’re really standing on the edge of a climate abyss. We are in very dangerous territory and we are living with the consequences of our past inaction.”

The world has warmed 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and Bradshaw said Australia is discovering there is no healthy amount of global heating.

“This is impacting the health and security of Australian communities. It’s causing enormous damage to the critical ecosystems that we depend upon for our survival,” he said.

“What the report does show is there’s still so much we can and must fight to save, and every tonne of carbon that we leave in the ground is an investment in a better and safer future.”

Queensland climate targets

The report states Australia has the technology and the ability to reach net-zero emissions by 2035. Photo: Getty


Key findings from the report include:

  • Australia must ignore the use of carbon offsets and credits when calculating emissions
  • Aiming to limit warming as far as possible and with the highest probability of success, meaning creating a budget that provides a 67 per cent chance to limit warming to 1.5 degrees
  • Recognising the existential threat posed by passing the tipping points in the climate system, and doing everything possible to stop catastrophic scenarios
  • Adopting a fair share of global emissions reduction, factoring in Australia’s responsibility for climate change, economic capability and natural renewable energy advantages.

Zero net emissions by 2035 needed

Bradshaw said Australia must aim for higher emissions targets if disaster is to be averted.

“Unfortunately, we’re not even on track to meet our current and patently inadequate emissions reduction targets,” he said.

“We’re seeing emissions from transport and industry continue to rise. We’re also seeing the continuous reckless expansion of coal and gas projects.”

He said the positive aspect is that these goals are achievable if Australia’s political leaders make the right decisions for future generations.

“We have the technology, but at the moment the one thing we urgently need to do is fix our national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act,” Bradshaw said.

“It must take proper account of climate change and put a stop to the approval of new fossil fuel projects.”

Fossil fuel projects

Australia has more than 100 coal and gas projects in the pipeline, and the fossil fuel industry received $11.1 billion in subsidies from the federal government in the 2022 financial year.

agl mike cannon brookes

According to the report, Australia must stop approving new coal and gas projects to avoid climate disaster. Photo: AAP

Bradshaw said the science is unequivocal, and to stop catastrophic climate disaster we must leave coal, oil and gas in the ground.

Global carbon emissions increased by 0.9 per cent in 2022, and the Australian transport sector has seen rises in real emissions.

Bradshaw said the latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it clear that the world has everything it needs to halve emissions in this decade, giving the planet ‘a shot’ at avoiding the worst-case scenario.

Minister for Environment Tanya Plibersek was contacted for comment, given her role in approving fossil fuel projects but declined to comment.

Her office pointed inquiries towards Minister for Climate Change Chris Bowen, and his spokesperson said the Albanese government is delivering strong and urgent action on climate change and the massive economic reforms to get there.

“That’s why we’ve legislated our emissions targets of 43 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050, an increase of nearly 20 percentage points, to drive the investment in cheaper, firmed renewable energy to drive down emissions,” the spokesperson said.

“That’s why we’ve legislated reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism, which put Australia’s largest coal, gas and other heavy-emitting facilities on trajectories towards net zero by 2050, to drive down industrial emissions by over 200 million tonnes to 2030, the equivalent of taking two-thirds of our cars off the road.”

The spokesperson did not respond to questions regarding the use of carbon offsets to obfuscate emissions, why current targets do not meet scientific consensus, or what is being done to ensure the environment does not pass the ‘‘tipping point’’.

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