Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 07:06 | SYDNEY
Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 07:06 | SYDNEY

South Pacific: A change is gonna come


Graeme Dobell

28 November 2011 14:11

For some detailed tasks in the South Pacific, Australia has to do the job. Working out what climate change will mean for individual island states falls into the category of tasks Australia is best placed to perform.

So anyone doing work in or with East Timor and the Islands — economic, defence, aid, security, transport — is going to have to delve into 'the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date of climate change in the Pacific region'. The Australian Government's Pacific Climate Change Science Program has released Climate Change in the Pacific: Scientific Assessment and New Research, to be presented to the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban.

Not least in its achievements is the second volume which offers some specific answers about what climate change will do to individual countries, with separate chapters on the implications for Cook Islands, East Timor, Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Linked to this is a new interactive online tool called Pacific Climate Futures so that people in the 15 countries can start to model what their future might look like. Users can explore changes in temperature, rainfall, wind, sunshine and humidity for 20-year averages around 2030, 2055 and 2090, under three greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, from low to high.

The caveats and the calls for much more research are what you'd expect from a study that builds on the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to identify a set of 18 climate change models which can be applied to the Islands and East Timor. One firm prediction from this work —  in the memorable words of Sam Cooke — A Change is Gonna Come.

Not all changes may be bad. The Islands could have fewer droughts and fewer tropical cyclones. But when the cyclones do hit, they will be extreme — and the Pacific already knows how terrible those can be.

Some of the thoughts and findings on offer:

  • All North and South Pacific Islands are very likely to warm during this century. The warming is likely to be somewhat smaller than the global annual mean warming in all seasons (70% as large as the global average warming).
  • Sea levels are likely to continue to rise, on average, during the 21st century. Large deviations among models make regional estimates across the Pacific Ocean uncertain.
  • The past decade has been the warmest on record and ocean acidity levels are continuing to increase because of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
  • Annual rainfall is likely to increase in the equatorial Pacific, while most models project decreases just east of French Polynesia in December-February. Many islands will experience extreme rainfall.
  • A large increase in hot days and warm nights.
  • The El Nino effect will play all sorts of different tricks from year to year, especially on cyclones.
  • Projected changes in humidity and solar radiation are also relatively small (less than 5% by 2090).