Australia — Australia has sweltered through its hottest decade on record and its second warmest year since records began, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Weeks before the first anniversary of the country’s worst wildfires, which killed 173 people, the bureau said that 2009 would be remembered for extreme bushfires, duststorms, lingering rainfall deficiencies, areas of flooding and record-breaking heatwaves.
With an annual mean temperature almost 1C (1.8F) above average, 2009 was second only to 2005, when temperatures rose 1.5C above the 1961-90 average, the bureau added. It said the increasing heat was linked to global warming.
Canberra immediately seized on the statement as proof that global warming was on the rise.
Extreme heatwaves across southern Australia during late January to early February last year set a new Melbourne maximum temperature record of 46.4C, and contributed to the Black Saturday bushfires of February 7.
Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales also recorded their warmest July-December periods on record with temperatures exceeding 40C in November and contributing to a series of uncontrollable bushfires.
Dean Collins, a senior climatologist with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said that over the past 60 years each decade had been warmer than the preceding one.
“To get six, seven decades in a row that are warmer than the previous one it doesn’t happen by chance. It’s reflecting what’s happening at the global level,” he added.
Mr Collins said that although the higher temperatures were caused partly by an El Niño event in the Pacific, they had been “superimposed” on human-induced global warming.
“Global warming increases the chance of getting heatwaves like that but we can’t categorically say it wouldn’t have happened without global warming,” Mr Collins said.
“All we can really say is that global warming has increased the chance of getting those kinds of events.”
Kevin Rudd’s Government said that the findings disproved claims made last month by Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition Liberal Party, that “the world’s warming has stopped”.
Peter Garrett, the Environment Minister, said that Mr Abbott’s statement had ben exposed as false.
This false and misleading claim is today shown to be completely at odds with the rigorous scientific findings of the independent experts at the Bureau of Meteorology, Mr Garrett said.
He added that the records underlined the need for a carbon pollution reduction scheme to slow global warming.
The Government will reintroduce legislation to introduce an emissions trading scheme in the first sitting of parliament in February, but it is almost certainly doomed to fail because Mr Abbott has abandoned bipartisan support for the reform, arguing it is a giant tax which will do nothing to reduce global warming.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2009 was the fifth warmest year for the planet on record.