Considering the effects of climate change on the weather

Paul Whitacre9 July 2019
  • The effects of climate change are becoming more established
  • There is research on emissions and climate change impacts on extreme weather
  • Current greenhouse gas levels have not been this high for between three and five million years.

Over time, conversations on the effects of climate change have changed―from whether it is a real, tangible threat to life on earth, to how mankind can now mitigate the potentially disastrous impacts of climate change and extreme weather events. In this insight, we take a look at the link between man-made carbon emissions and the extreme weather events that appear to have become more prevalent worldwide.

Around the world, the level of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions is forecast to increase again in 2019, fuelled largely by a combination of an expected return to El Nino-like conditions―a natural climate variation that can cause warm and dry conditions in the tropics―as well as man’s continued burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests.1

"Research suggests that record-breaking temperatures could continue over the next two decades, regardless of any mitigation measures..."

Climate science research

In the early 2000s, a field of climate science research began that specifically explored the human fingerprint on extreme weather. Since then, scientists have published more than 230 peer-reviewed studies that consider the effects of climate change on weather events around the world, revealing mounting evidence indicating that human activity has played a part in raising the risk of specific types of extreme weather―especially those linked to heat.2

Current greenhouse gas levels have not been this high for between three and five million years―even when the temperature was several degrees warmer and sea levels were higher.3 Research from Nature Climate Change has suggested that CO2 levels could cause an increase in extreme weather and climate events, regardless of average global temperatures.4 Researchers ran a series of model simulations to see the effects on extreme climate events using a range of CO2 concentrations consistent with 1.5°C of warming, and found that even though average global temperatures stayed the same, higher CO2 concentrations caused a significant increase in extreme heat and precipitation events in certain regions of the world.5

This is evident in the United States, a preferred investment market for New Energy Solar, where extreme weather events have impacted several regions across the country. Research published in Nature last year found that relative to pre-industrial conditions, climate change has enhanced the average and extreme rainfall of hurricanes such as Katrina, Irma and Maria.6 While this research was specific to these three storms, findings were consistent with existing hypotheses regarding the impact of climate change on tropical cyclones.7 Computer-generated simulations of each event were created and adjusted to test known atmospheric and ocean temperature conditions that influenced each. Researchers found that rainfall was higher, suggesting that climate change can influence tropical cyclones.8 They also ran simulations at increased predicted temperature scenarios as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and under each, the intensity of storms increased significantly―with the worst-case climate change scenario showing a 30% increase in rainfall and wind speeds that were 54 kilometres per hour faster than present-day peaks.9 According to one climate scientist, even if humans reduced emissions quickly, it could still take some time for the temperature effects to come into play, meaning we may simply need to adapt to more extreme weather events in the future.10

Australia’s state of play

Australia’s own weather and climate have continued to change in response to a warming global climate.11 Last summer was the hottest on record for Australia12―a country that is thought to be particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis.13 The bad news? Research suggests that these record-breaking temperatures could continue over the next two decades, regardless of any mitigation measures.14 According to the CSIRO, Australia’s climate and oceans have warmed by more than 1°C since 1910, leading to an increase in extreme heat events.15 Rising temperatures have had multiple flow-on effects across the country―from the Great Barrier Reef’s mass coral bleaching in 2016 that scientists say was made 175 times more likely by climate change, to an extended fire season that now runs for nine months of the year (due largely to the country’s hotter and drier conditions), as well as the impacts of changing climate conditions on Australian agriculture and livestock.16

In the meantime, however, the global transition to renewable energy continues. Last year, solar capacity surpassed 500 gigawatts (GW) globally, with an estimated 100 GW installed in 2018 alone―all of which is believed to have helped remove 298 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the earth’s atmosphere.17 As an Australian-based investor in solar, New Energy Solar (NEW) is conscious of weather events in both the United States and Australia and, in the event of adverse conditions, maintains a strategic weather mitigation plan to help solar power plants return to operations as quickly as possible. In addition, NEW’s Manildra Solar Plant (located in the Australian state of New South Wales) has harnessed the latest predictive technology to self-forecast weather conditions to better estimate the amount of electricity that can be generated and help make the most of weather conditions.18 Looking ahead, NEW will continue identifying opportunities that seek not only to further the global transition to renewable energy, but to improve operations and make the most of our abundant natural resource―the sun.

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James Turner
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Paul Whitacre
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