Climate change is here to stay, and nations should act now to lessen the devastation that could occur if the worst-case scenarios predicted by the global scientific community eventuate.
That was the key message in the 2008 Wallace Wurth Memorial Lecture delivered last Thursday by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Braving Sydney's unseasonable cold weather, 600 people filled the John Niland Scientia Building to hear Dr Pachauri reveal how the release of carbon emissions from the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels is causing global warming, melting glaciers, and causing sea level rises that could overwhelm planet Earth.
"A business as usual approach" of relying upon fossil fuels for energy, light, heating and transport is no longer viable, said Pachauri, who accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC with prominent environmental campaigner and former US Vice-President, Al Gore Jr.
"We seem to have lost sight of the fact that we are part of a very fragile ecosystem, in which our footprint and our actions are causing much more damage than we can conceptualise or imagine," he said.
Dr Pachauri revealed that climate change impacts in Australia would include increasing frequency of drought, fires, coastal storm surges, flooding, and significant loss of biodiversity. He predicted significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically rich sites, including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland's Wet Tropics.
Prior to the lecture, Dr Pachauri and the Hon Carmel Tebbutt, NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, officially opened the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, located in new premises in the Matthews Building. Headed by Professors Andy Pitman and Matthew England, the CCRC is assisting the NSW Government formulate regional climate change policies and action plans.
The University also honoured Dr Pachauri with its highest distinction by awarding him an Honorary Doctor of Science degree for his outstanding activities as a communicator, advocate and leader on the need to address climate change.
The Wallace Wurth Memorial lecture series is named after Wallace Charles Wurth, the University's first Chancellor. Previous speakers have included Sir Robert Menzies, the Dalai Lama, Noam Chomsky, Gerry Adams, Jose Ramos-Horta, Gareth Evans and James Wolfensohn.
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Watch the video of the lecture