Now is the time for Australia to commit to a 2020 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target

Seize the day!


The pandemic has made it a much easier target to achieve and it will support the commitments of other countries. China has just committed to net zero by 2060, which raises the likelihood that the world will achieve net zero before then.

The pandemic has made it easier for Australia in two ways.

First, Australia’s per capita emissions have been falling and now our population growth rate is slowing significantly for a year or two. Before the pandemic Treasury forecast that Australia’s population would be almost 27 million by the end of 2022. Now Treasury projects a figure of less than 26 million by then. The population at the end of 2019 was 25.52 million, so this would be a very significant slowdown. It is mainly due to a very substantial reduction in net migration towards zero or possibly even a negative figure. The number of births may fall a little due to the recession and lower migration which is concentrated in age groups where fertility is high.

Second, absolute emissions will likely decline in 2020 due to a near shutdown in air travel and much less travel by motor vehicle as many employees have been working from home and interstate travel has been restricted.

The International Energy Agency expects global CO2 emissions to drop by 8% this year.

There is no better time than the present to make this commitment with confidence that it can be achieved in the wake of the current slowdown with current and emerging technology in energy production, beef production, and manufacturing.
Charlie Nelson


An unexpected opportunity to ameliorate climate change

Action to limit COVID-19 transmission has had the valuable side-effect of reducing greenhouse gasses and air pollution. There has been a significant reduction in air and car travel.  Travel contributes about 20% of all greenhouse gas emission (it varies between countries).  Also, there is less electricity consumed by businesses.

The shutdowns will eventually end but now we have a rare opportunity to lock in and magnify the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

As well as reducing current greenhouse gas emissions, we need to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which was emitted by human activity in the past.  Trees are currently the only technology for doing this and many trees were lost in the widespread bushfires of 2019-20.

“In addressing climate change, few actions are as critical, as urgent, or as simple, as planting trees.  It literally reverses the process that has led to climate change”.
The future we choose: surviving the climate crisis, by Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Trees provide food and habitat for animals.  They provide shade and cooling.  They also recycle rainwater – they pump water from the ground into the atmosphere.

The impact of trees on carbon dioxide sequestration is huge, as indicated by how much was released in Australia’s tragic bushfires in the summer of 2019-20.

“Australia’s bushfire crisis burnt about 7.4 million hectares of temperate forests and released 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, an amount almost double the nation’s annual emissions from energy, industry and transportation.

The extra emissions will not be counted towards Australia’s Kyoto and Paris agreement targets, however, because it is assumed the CO2 will be reabsorbed by trees as they regrow”. The Australian 21 April 2020.

We need to accelerate that reabsorbing, by planting many more trees, because the extra emissions do count towards global atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change.

We should plant as many trees as we can – either on our own properties or by paying for them to be planted elsewhere



There are many organisations which will plant trees on our behalf, via donations which are usually tax deductible.  Here are some:


Trees for life

Tree project

Greening Australia


Charlie Nelson



Belief in imminent climate change at near-record high


There has been an abrupt shift in consumer psychology which has implications for government policy, the Reserve Bank, and business decision makers.  Economic pessimism has increased and the level of belief in climate change has lifted.

These changes seem to be at odds with the federal government’s “sticking to our policy” mantra.  The heightened expectation of a rise in unemployment is inconsistent with the Reserve Bank’s hope for a decline in the unemployment rate to 4.5%.  Other shifts in consumer psychology are more positive and provide an opportunity to boost consumer spending growth.

The level of belief in imminent climate change in late 2019 is the second-highest recorded and is slightly higher than in 2007, when John Howard lost his seat in parliament and his government lost office.

The federal government and many businesses need to take more decisive action on climate change to satisfy voter (and customer) expectations.

For several years, prominent Australian economist Ross Garnaut has warned of “the great Australian complacency” which has significantly slowed Australia’s economic growth rate.  That description clearly also applies to the issue of climate change.

As the new decade dawns, more Australians are experiencing the costs of these policy complacencies.

Our tracking survey update was in field in November and early December 2019.

A summary report is available at

Charlie Nelson



Climate change has increased the severity of drought in Australia’s Murray Darling Basin



Parts of Australia’s Murray Darling Basin have had their driest 36 months on record, to 31 October 2019.  There has been some rain at the start of November 2019, so across the whole basin it may not be the driest three consecutive calendar years on record.

The record was set in the years 1965 to 1967.

There is, however, a factor which makes the current drought far worse than the 1965 to 1967 drought.  Summer temperatures are now far hotter in the Basin.  As shown in the chart below, mean summer temperatures during the 1965 to 1967 drought were less than one degree C hotter than the 1961 to 1990 average.  The last three summers have had mean summer temperatures more that 2 degrees C hotter and the 2018-19 summer was more than three degrees hotter!


The current drought is much more severe than the 1965 to 1967 drought due to climate change increasing evaporation.

The Murray Darling Basin is often referred to as Australia’s food bowl and accordingly food production is down which is costly to the economy and disastrous for the communities affected.  The federal government is pouring in billions of dollars in assistance, while still proclaiming at the United Nations that Australia is pulling our weight on actions to limit climate change.

Australia must do much more and must encourage other countries, especially the USA, to do likewise, because Australia is experiencing the costly effects of climate change.

In a future post I’ll write about what Australia should, and can, do to limit rising temperature and stimulate more rainfall.

Charlie Nelson




My analysis of Australian climate change beliefs in The Australian

The Australian newspaper has summarised my analysis of variations in belief in climate change in the Australian today (17 May 2019) on page 33. It was written up by Robert Gottliebsen, one of Australia’s most respected and experienced journalists.

There has been a wave of climate change denial by all the usual suspects in the lead-up to the federal election tomorrow. Their arguments are fallacious and misleading, but potentially influential.

I will be updating our survey after the federal election in order to evaluate the extent of any change in beliefs.

Charlie Nelson

The importance of generating renewable energy close to where it is demanded

Our electricity grid was designed for transmitting electricity from huge generators across the country.  Its design is not optimal for transmitting electricity from the distant extremes of the grid back to cities.  It will take some time to re-develop the grid to transmit electricity from remote solar and wind farms to where the greatest demand is.  The grid also needs to become more intelligent so that it can adapt to where the energy is coming from, which can be variable.

Furthermore, up to 10% of generated electricity can be lost in transmission.

For these reasons and others, I was very pleased with the Australian Labor Party’s election promise to spend $1 billion to equip thousands of public schools with solar panels.  Schools are at the centre of communities and so close to demand.

The schools should also be equipped with batteries to store energy and to deliver it at peak times – in the early evening, when schools are mostly empty and households are ramping up demand for heating or cooling, and lighting.  They could also deliver excess electricity during weekends.

Other properties which would also be important generators are suburban railway stations.  Many have large roof areas and the stations are distributed across suburbs and regional towns.

And what about solar panels between the tracks?  There are thousands of kilometres of track in Sydney and Melbourne, with the potential to generate huge amounts of electricity in the suburbs.

With all of this extra generation and storage capacity, we could progressively retire some ancient coal fired power stations.

Charlie Nelson



An inconvenient hot summer in Australia

With record high temperatures across much of the continent, smashing the previous record; with record rainfall in North Queensland and 500,000 cattle lost; with extreme drought in many locations, including the death of millions of fish in the Menindie Lakes; it has been a summer well beyond past experience.  Bushfires have caused loss of property in Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales.

With such an extreme summer being closely followed by a federal election, denial of climate change; claiming that Australia should do nothing as we are a small emitter of greenhouse gasses on a global scale; and token policies will not resonate well with the majority of the electorate.  As Australia is being damaged by climate change, and the damage will escalate, it is time to consider what action we can take which is of greater influence on global greenhouse gas emissions than our proportion of emissions.

Australia’s 2018-19 summer was very hot compared with all previous summers, dating back to 2010-11 (Chart 1).

Chart 1

The record mean temperature in 2018-19 was 0.86 degrees C hotter than the previous record set in 2013.  This margin is the greatest on record, exceeding the margin of 0.52 degrees C by which the summer of 1972-73 was hotter than the previous record in 1938-39 and 1925-26.

The only comparable extreme is the very low mean temperature in 1916-17.  That was during an extreme La Nina, but there was no extreme El Nino in 2018-19.

The temperatures shown in Chart 1 are relative to the average of the period 1961 to 1990 (27.5 degrees C).

The upwards trend is 1.3 degrees per century (Chart 2) and has accelerated to 2.2 degrees per century from 1970 (the last seven summers have been hotter than the 109 year trend).  These trends are highly statistically significant.

Chart 2

The trend mean temperature anomaly for 2019-20 is predicted to be 0.64 degrees, with a 95% confidence interval of 0.45 to 0.83.

The mean temperature anomaly relative to 1961 to 1990 across Australia in the summer of 2018-19 is shown in Chart 3.  Much of the continent was more than one degree hotter than the 1961 to 1990 average, many locations had a mean temperature more than 2 degrees hotter, and some places were more than 3 degrees hotter (the average was 2.1 degrees across the continent).

Chart 3

The record rainfall in much of north Queensland was in marked contrast to a dry summer in most of the rest of the continent (Chart 4).  This chart shows rainfall anomalies relative to the 1961 to 1990 average.

Chart 4

The longest continuous tracking of the general public’s level of belief in imminent global warming has been carried out by foreseechange (Chart 5).  The estimated likelihood of clear signs of global warming in the year ahead is a 63% chance, back to the level of 2007 when the electorate last voted the coalition out of office.  The last update of this tracking survey was in November 2018 – since then we have experienced the highly extreme summer of 2018-19, which would have further lifted the level of belief in imminent climate change.

Chart 5

Previous variations in the level of belief in imminent climate change have been caused, in part, by preceding temperatures and rainfall.

When the general public was asked to rate issues on the basis of the level of concern in the foreseeable future, climate change ranked fifth, ahead of traffic congestion, health, and crime (Chart 6).  The scale was from 0 (will not be at all concerned) to 10 (will be extremely concerned).  This survey was conducted in November 2018 and it is likely that the extreme summer of 2018-19 will have lifted the level of future concern about climate change.

Chart 6

In the lead-up to the imminent federal election, the electorate will be looking for a credible, urgent plan to mitigate climate change.

Australia must move on from the seemingly endless debate about whether human activity is causing climate change and whether we should do anything at all because our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is less than 2% of the global total.

Australia can have an impact beyond our share and it is in our interests to do so given the economic and environmental damage we are experiencing and the economic opportunities we can capitalise on.  That will be the subject of a future article.

Charlie Nelson



Melbourne’s abrupt loss of rainfall

Melbourne’s rainfall has abruptly fallen by an average of 107mm per year from 1997 (Chart 1).

Chart 1

There are still some quite wet years (2010 and 2011) and there have been very few dry years (1997 was the second driest on record.  The average has just suddenly dropped.

A seven year moving average reveals the existence of rainfall cycles over Melbourne (Chart 2).

Chart 2

To some degree, less rainfall is an expected consequence of climate change – the sub-tropical high pressure ridge is expected to move further south towards Melbourne (the deserts extend southwards).  But the change has been a  downwards step change rather than a trend.

There are natural cycles in rainfall in south eastern Australia and these have played a major part in the loss of rainfall from 1996.  The relative contributions of climate change and natural cycles are not clear as yet.  I was able to advise the Victorian Minister for water, in 2011 during the most recent wet period, that there would be another severe drought from 2017 to 2022.  That prediction, so long in advance, looks as though it was accurate.

I will provide an update in early 2020.

Charlie Nelson


The 2019 Australian federal election and climate change


Climate change policy, or the lack of it, has been influential in the demise of several federal political leaders since John Howard lost the 2007 election (and his seat in Parliament).  Malcolm Turnbull lost his leadership of the opposition in 2009 and his prime ministership in 2018 because he proposed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but enough of his Liberal colleagues did not support that.

Three separate prediction methods indicate that the Liberal National Coalition will lose government in the 2019 federal election.

The level of belief in imminent global warming amongst Australian adults is now back to the level of 2007, when Labor last won government from the coalition.  Importantly, the level of belief amongst people aged 65+, the core constituency of the coalition, has recently lifted to the same level as in 2007.

This is documented in my recent article, along with an assessment of the top issues in voters minds.

Of course, it is still up to Labor to propose a credible set of policies which are attractive to voters.

Charlie Nelson


Accurate prediction of Australia’s drought seven years ago

Climate scientists have been criticised for inaccurate decadal forecasts, which may have led to doubts about the accuracy of their longer-term forecasts.

Australia is currently handing out $5 billion in drought relief to farmers.  It would have been better to have planned for this drought, but could it have been predicted?

It was, over seven years ago, by me.  The letter below, from Victoria’s then Minister for Water acknowledges that I predicted another severe drought for Victoria over the period 2017 to 2022.  I made that prediction in July 2011, in the midst of a very wet two year period.  The Minister for Water replied in September 2011, noting that mainstream climate scientists knew of no mechanism for such a prediction.


My prediction was for Victoria and also the Murray Darling Basin.

I have since developed the outlines of that mechanism.  But just the fact that the current drought was predicted so long in advance shows that a mechanism exists!

I can, of course, predict when the next wet period will be.

In early 2010, I accurately predicted that the long millennial drought (1997 to 2009) was about to break – see my March 2010 letter to the Murray Darling Basin Authority predicting that 2010 and 2011 would be wet years.


It is well past time for climate scientists to open their minds to the two decadal cycles I have identified and to gain more credibility as a result of more accurate near term climate predictions.

The benefits for farmers, water supply authorities, emergency management agencies, and insurance companies would be immense.

Charlie Nelson