Climate change and the Queensland floods

A version of this feature appeared first as part of Crikey‘s daily email.

IN QUEENSLAND, many – but not all – are well into the dirty job of sifting through the acrid mud and rubble for belongings, insurance certificates and hope.

If they’re not doing it already, in the coming months many will also be hoping to find some answers to that short but ever-so-complex question, why?

Premier Anna Bligh has started the process already, calling a Royal Commission with a wide-ranging terms of reference.

Among those terms, is a request the commission make recommendations to improve the “preparation and planning for future flood threats and risks” particularly when it comes to saving lives.

Unarguably the source for the flooding experienced in Queensland and now in parts of Victoria was persistent, record-breaking, heavy rain.

In 2010 Queensland had its wettest year on record, but the spring period leading up to the flooding in the Rockhampton and Bundaberg areas and then in Brisbane, was exceptional. The state got 248 mm of rainfall – almost triple the state-wide long term average.

But Premier Bligh’s Royal Commission and media coverage appears to have given little, if any, explicit consideration of the role of climate change.

This is a strange omission, given that only three months ago the State published its latest assessment of the potential impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is also likely to affect extreme rainfall in south-east Queensland,” the report said, adding that “a projected decrease in rainfall across most of Queensland, the projected increase in rainfall intensity could result in more flooding events”.

A separate Queensland Government report into rainfall intensity, commissioned to provide advice to policy makers on inland flooding risks, also agreed that “the available scientific literature indicates this increased rainfall intensity to be in the range of 3–10 per cent per degree of global warming.”

But if these are the risks for Queensland in the future it doesn’t necessarily implicate climate change in the line-up of suspects likely to be paraded before the public in coming months.

Yet a number of climate scientists are already discussing the role of increased atmospheric greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and how it impacts extreme weather events.

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