Thursday, April 13, 2023

BOM: State of the Climate 2022

Warming has stopped. For how long? The warmest year so far was 2019. Note that they record temperatures in decades. Differences between individual years are so slight. And note the paucity of figures. That is because the differences are in tenths of one degree, sometimes only hundredths. And the total difference between now and 1910 is tiny

Australia has warmed, on average, by 1.47 ± 0.24 °C since national records began in 1910, with most warming occurring since 1950. Every decade since 1950 has been warmer than preceding decades. The warming in Australia is consistent with global trends, with the degree of warming similar to the overall average across the world’s land areas.

Australia’s warmest year on record was 2019. The eight years from 2013–20 all rank among the 10 warmest years on record. The long-term warming trend means that most years are now warmer than almost any observed during the 20th century.

Warming is observed across Australia in all months with both day and night-time temperatures increasing. This shift is accompanied by an increased number of extreme nationally averaged daily heat events across all months, including a greater frequency of very hot days in summer. For example, 2019 experienced 41 extremely warm days, about triple the highest number in any year prior to 2000. Also in 2019, there were 33 days when national daily average maximum temperatures exceeded 39 °C, a larger number than seen in the 59 years from 1960–2018 combined. Increasing trends in extreme heat are observed at locations across all of Australia. Extreme heat has caused more deaths in Australia than any other natural hazard and has major impacts on ecosystems and infrastructure.

There has also been an increase in the frequency of months that are much warmer than usual. Very high monthly maximum temperatures that occurred nearly 2 per cent of the time in 1960–89 now (2007–21) occur over 11 per cent of the time. This is about a sixfold increase over the period. Very high monthly night-time temperatures, which are also a major contributor to heat stress, occurred nearly 2 per cent of the time in 1960–89 but now occur around 10 per cent of the time.

The frequencies of extremely cold days and nights have declined across Australia. An exception is for extremely cold nights in parts of south-east and south-west Australia, which have seen significant cool season drying, and hence more clear winter nights. This results in colder nights due to increased heat loss from the ground. The frequency of frost in these parts has been relatively unchanged since the 1980s.


Push for more government support of vocational education

Australian National University chief Brian Schmidt has called on the federal government to extend HECS loans to vocational courses, and to open the way for new hybrid institutions spanning higher education and vocational education, to give students the sophisticated skills needed for the next wave of jobs.

In an unusual move for a university leader, Professor Schmidt outlined his vision for tertiary education in his own personal submission to the government’s universities review, which will publish its first report in June.

At the end of this year he will stand down as ANU vice-­chancellor after eight years in the job and he said his submission was a “distillation” of his experience. “I’ve thought a lot about higher education in the last seven and a bit years. We need to rethink the system from nose-to-tail,” he told The Australian.

Professor Schmidt said it was critical to bring together federally funded higher education system and the largely state-­­funded vocational education systems so that students could use HECS loans, which he would limit to non-profit education institutions, to do courses that spanned both.

He said university students also needed the sophisticated skills best taught in hands-on ­vocational education courses, and vocational graduates often wanted to upgrade their qualifications to degree level. “The current system doesn’t do hybrid well. If people can’t move between the two it’s problematic,” he said.

In his submission the Nobel prize winner also tells the universities review panel that Australia needs a clear and properly funded strategy for research that focuses on long-term national goals.

“We have in Australia no long-term vision for what research can do for the Australian people over time. We have a program here that lasts a year, a program there that lasts a year. We don’t have a national vision,” Professor Schmidt says.

He says the government should give universities clear ­research missions, such as “energy transformation” and then fund them to succeed both in basic research and in applied research that translates into technology.

He says it is vitally important for Australia to have a sovereign research capacity and it could not continue to use international student fees to pay for university research. “We outsource (the funding of) research to international students, including to strategic rivals. It’s not only not sustainable, it’s just not right,” Professor Schmidt says.

His thinking on faults of the tertiary education system is a far cry from his Nobel prize, awarded in 2011 for his joint discovery that the expansion of the universe was accelerating – evidence that space was imbued with a mysterious dark energy driving the galaxies apart. But in 2016 he made the surprise transition from astrophysicist to university administrator and wants to help create a tertiary education system that sets Australia up for the future.

He says an example of the new skills people need to learn – not just in post-school education but through their lives – is competency in working with artificial ­intelligence. “You’re either going to be ­replaced by ChatGPT-like things or you’re going to use them to be more productive,” he says.

In his submission Professor Schmidt warns that universities and vocational colleges need to be ready to compete with new low-cost, online-education companies that will offer courses at scale and threaten the future of public universities and TAFE colleges.

“These providers will deliver only a limited subset of activities, and use their cheaper costs structures to focus on those areas that are profitable, thereby reducing the financial viability of Australia’s TAFEs and universities, which have much broader societal expectations,” he says.

He says a hybrid education ­approach would “improve the agility of tertiary and higher education institutions to compete”.

Professor Schmidt’s submission also argues that HECS fees should be standardised for all courses, unlike the current system where annual fees range from about $4000 to more than $15,000 depending on the course.

He also tells the review panel that universities need to do more to give academic and research staff more career certainty. He blames the high level of casualisation of university staff partly on the “inappropriate (government) funding for teaching and research” but “some of it must be attributed to institutions putting other objectives ahead of the reasonable treatment of staff”.

He says the attraction of an academic career has diminished over the past two decades and that stipends for PhD students, who carry out much of the research work, must be improved.


Julian Leeser resigned because his position on the Indigenous voice to parliament was confused and untenable

Julian Leeser had no choice but to resign this week from the frontbench of the Liberal Party. Not just because shadow cabinet ministers will not get a conscience vote on the voice. Leeser had to leave because his position on the voice to parliament has been confused and untenable for too long.

Given what is at stake, the Liberal Party needs a more coherent constitutional conservative as opposition legal affairs spokesperson. Being a decent chap is not enough.

Resigning from shadow cabinet on Tuesday, Leeser said he was standing up for what he believed and resigning on a “point of principle”. Looking back over his involvement in the voice, it’s not easy to locate which principle Leeser is standing up for.

Very early on Leeser, along with Greg Craven, jumped aboard the voice train which, apparently unbeknown to them, was being driven by people who had in mind a completely different destination. The best face they can put on developments is that they jumped off before many thought it would crash. In truth, they still won’t disembark.

In 2017, Craven was on the record as supporting a voice to parliament. Leeser, along with Damien Freeman, founded Uphold and Recognise to promote two causes: to uphold the Constitution and to recognise Indigenous people. So far, not bad.

While there is much friction about what happened after, it’s common knowledge that Leeser, Freeman, Craven and Noel Pearson met in Craven’s office at the Australian Catholic University and agreed on a voice. According to Craven, “one thing was carved in fluor­escent stone. We would never accept any model that involved conferring power on the judges.”

If Craven and Leeser thought their tryst with Pearson would help secure political bipartisanship to ensure a successful referendum, their naivety morphed into madness once they appeared to abandon constitutional conservatism.

After the Garma Festival last year, constitutional conservatives couldn’t possibly stay aboard a voice train that, via a new chapter in the Constitution, created an untested, poorly explained, race-based body with privileged access to parliament and all arms of executive government, with a final destination of co-government.


Australia to struggle with inflation for longer in gloomy economy prediction

With government spending pushing total demand ahead of available goods and services, it is inevitable

Australians have been warned the inflation crisis is set to linger longer than expected as the Treasurer ramps up his rhetoric ahead of the upcoming budget.

Jim Chalmers, who will hand down his second budget on May 9, is in Washington for high level talks with his G20 counterparts which he says will be crucial to framing the economic statement.

While a global recession could not be ruled out, the Treasurer reiterated his hope Australia could dodge a downturn at home – despite persistently high inflation.

“We expect inflation in Australia to be higher than we’d like for longer than we’d like. This inflation problem in the global economy and in our own economy is a persistent one,” he told reporters in the US.

“We enter this new period of global economic certainty from a position of relative strength. We are confident but not complacent about how this will play out,” he said.

“We are optimistic about the future. but we are realistic about what a global downturn would mean for our economy.”

Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund forecast the Australian economy would grow by just 1.6 per cent this year, followed by 1.7 per cent through 2024.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s aggressive tightening of interest rates, from 0.1 per to 3.6 per cent over the past 11 months, was a major factor in the domestic slowdown.

Inflation peaked at 8.4 per cent in December, and fell to 6.8 per cent in the 12 months to February.

The RBA forecasts inflation to decline to 4.75 per cent over 2023 before easing to around 3 per cent by mid-2025.

Despite the Treasurer’s optimism, there are fears household incomes could collapse as higher interest rates take its toll on paypackets.

“This will only get worse through 2023 on the lagged effect of higher interest costs and as wages growth struggles to keep up with the pace of inflation,” Commonwealth Bank chief economist Stephen Halmarick told the Nine Newspapers.

In his gloomy forecast, he predicted the RBA could be forced to cut interest rates by the end of the year as the economy slowed.

Dr Chalmers said the government was responding to the “complex and challenging” environment.

“We do understand that people are under the pump, we‘ll help where we can but we’ll do that really responsibly because the best thing that we can do as a government when the global economy is as weak and as complex and challenging as it is right now is to provide that responsible economic management at home,” he told Nine.




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