NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association have officially pronounced 2014 as the hottest global year on record. This follows the same finding last week from the Japan Meteorological Association.

This is significant news. The joint NASA/NOAA statement has been anticipated for weeks. As the primary repositories of US and global climate data, the statement is generally seen as the conclusive report card of the year just past.

This means nine of the ten hottest years have taken place in the 21st century. You’ll have to go back to the Carter administration to find a year cooler than the long term average.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology found 2014 was our continent’s third hottest year, after 2013 took the title of hottest. The BoM also concluded our last ten years have been the warmest in recorded history. Seven of our hottest decades have taken place since 2002.

At the same time as 2014 caused temperature records to tumble, Australia has once again been in the grip of severe bushfires and heatwaves. Of course, the Australian summer has always been beset by extreme heat and fire danger. However, there is growing evidence climate change is making matters worse.

In mid-November, Australia's main bushfire research body issued a stark warning, updating its southern Australia summer forecast after a particularly warm and dry spring.

None of this comes as a surprise. The Climate Commission, which the Australian Federal Government abolished as one of its first political acts, warned back in 2012 that climate change was creating the conditions for worse bushfire seasons. Climate change is bringing warmer and drier springs in the south, followed by summers with more extreme and long lasting heatwaves.

Contrary to what some would have you believe, the pattern is clear. Global warming is here, and Australia is already feeling its impact.

Fortunately, there is still time – as the World Meteorological Organization said in December – to prevent dangerous climate change and preserve the planet for future generations. This is why 2015 is such a critical year.

In November, the UN Conference in Paris will see world leaders attempt to sign onto a global deal to tackle climate change. Paris is a big step on the long road to making sure we have a safe climate. World leaders will need to choose: are they on our side, or are they on the side of the big polluting companies?

Australians, in particular, are going to have to hold their government to account. In the past twelve months, our government has abolished a carbon price which was working to cut pollution, and replaced it with a $2.5 billion subsidy scheme for polluters. The government has not been able to point to any independent modeling which shows its so-called “Direct Action” policy can reach our 5 per cent target, which the Climate Change Authority thinks is inadequate.

At the same time, our government has played a blocking role at recent UN climate conferences in Lima and Warsaw. We only reluctantly offered a contribution to the Green Climate Fund. And now, in 2015, when the UN is asking all countries to place our new targets on the table by March, we have come up with our own deadline and will announce ours three months late.

We know what is causing climate change, and we know how to solve it. Paris is about making sure every country in the world is on board, and playing its role, in the solution.

Getting every nation in the world to commit to making pollution cuts will be a big step in the right direction. It will show the world is serious about tackling climate change. But Paris alone won’t solve the problem. When world leaders return from Paris – whatever the outcome – we will need to keep demanding the strong action we need to transition from dirty to clean energy.


Guy Ragen