From ABC, December 15, 2006
IT'S MORE THAN A DROUGHT, SAY SCIENTISTS
By Annie Guest for AM
The world's top meteorologists have released their annual weather assessment and it paints a dismal picture.
The globe's sixth warmest year on record has produced widespread drought interspersed with what they call radical variability - the October snowfall in southern Australia for example.
But despite the world getting hotter and drier, there is concern Australians are taking refuge in the notion of a short-term drought.
And critics say governments are failing in their efforts to address water problems.
Polar ice is melting and ozone depletion continues.
But drought is the key theme of the World Meteorological Organisation's 2006 statement on the status of the globe's climate.
Australia is a member country of the UN's meteorological agency, based in Switzerland, and it was there that the weather bureau's Dr Michael Coughlan delivered the news.
"The current estimates put this year at being about the sixth warmest year on record, Europe had its warmest summer on record, Australia had its warmest spring on record," he said.
While there were extreme events like Australia's October snowfall, global mean temperatures are climbing, rainfall is declining and this country has had its hottest decade.
"It's a combination of short El Niño drought on top of reductions in rainfall that go much longer," Dr Coughlan said.
But there is concern Australia is in denial.
Dr John Williams from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists says people must face hotter, more variable weather.
"I think when we use the word drought it's a little too comfortable. Drought has about it that we condition us to thinking, return to normal," he said.
The former CSIRO water chief and current New South Wales Natural Resources Commissioner describes Australia as at a crossroads.
"In that it can choose between the more expensive capital and environmentally more difficult options of more storages and desalination, or it can minimise these by better water use strategies and increase water productivity," Dr Williams said.
Dr Williams wants more water recycling, advocating desalination only as a short-term solution.
And he is worried efforts to improve water accountability, monitoring and trading are at risk.
"All those sorts of reforms are essentially in the National Water Initiative but we're having hiccups in making it work and the jurisdictional difficulties between Commonwealth and state to make it work," he said.