GREENHOUSE 2011: the science of climate change

Event:GREENHOUSE 2011: the science of climate change
Delegates:474 delegates from 27 countries
Destination:Cairns, Australia
Duration:4-8 April 2011

Intense national public debate on climate change, fuelled by a spate of recent natural disasters and the politics of a carbon tax, set a very lively scene for Australia’s most significant climate change science meeting this year, GREENHOUSE 2011.


More than 470 delegates, including nationally and internationally renowned climate scientists, convened in Cairns in April 2011 for this sixth conference in the GREENHOUSE series.  The series commenced in 1987 with the aim of sharing knowledge in the field.


Mr Paul Holper, CSIRO’s manager of the Australian Climate Change Science Program and Conference Convenor, said the event provided a forum to showcase the latest climate change science and ensure well informed debate. 


“We attracted participants from a broad spectrum of scientific backgrounds, bringing a range of extremely knowledgeable views on everything from atmospheric carbon, feedback cycles, ocean temperatures, sea levels, carbon sinks, and mitigation and adaptation,” Mr Holper said. 


“With around 150 presentations – including those from the Federal Government’s chief climate adviser Professor Ross Garnaut, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, and leading scientists from Australia and around the world – we had some very constructive debate.  Given the rapidly changing nature of climate change science, showcasing research in this way and providing clarity where there are so many uncertainties, is a critical outcome of the conference – for the community, industry, government and policy makers,” he said.   


Mr Holper said that while there was a clear view among all participants that there will undeniably be a warmer future for the planet, a key challenge examined by the conference was the difficulty of reaching similar consensus in the broader community.


“Clear scientific evidence was presented that the earth is warming and the risks are high of serious disruption to our way of life.  We discussed everything from global modelling of future cyclone activity, which shows a warmer world will experience fewer, but more destructive, tropical cyclones; to other models which showed sea levels are on track to rise by between 60cm and 80cm by 2100; and the effect of the steady warming and rising acidity of Australia's tropical oceans, which may disrupt entire marine ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef.


“The evidence is compelling. Yet CSIRO research launched at the conference also shows there is far less acceptance of this within the community.  This meant that a heavy focus at the conference, for the first time, was on the challenges associated with clearly communicating the climate change science,” Mr Holper said.    


The CSIRO research – the most comprehensive study yet of Australian’s attitudes to climate change – was launched by CSIRO chief executive Ms Megan Clark. 


She said the research showed that more than 60% of Australians understood the climate was changing and most accepted climate change would affect the country and the world, but a significant number did not believe it would impact on them personally.   It also showed that many Australians found the topic irritating, which was hampering efforts to communicate the science and implement effective policy.  Despite this, it showed there are still many people who want to support effective climate change action.


In an attempt to address these issues, Ms Clark also launched a CSIRO e-book, Climate Change: Science and Solutions for Australia – designed to provide the public with clear information on the latest research.


Mr Holper said Cairns provided an ideal location for the conference.


“Not only did the facilities in Cairns, and the size of the city, work perfectly for us, but its location also provided a fabulous base for us to experience first-hand the tropical science.  We took the opportunity to take participants on technical tours out on the Great Barrier Reef and into the Daintree Rainforest, and were privileged to have local experts presenting the latest science during the tours,” he said. “This was a great experience, particularly for the international delegates.”


“The Cairns Convention Centre’s suitability was rated as excellent by delegates, and I appreciate the effort of the staff to ensure both the technical and social programs were successful.  In fact, the overall feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, with the vast majority indicating they would attend a future GREENHOUSE conference.  I’m pleased that we were also able to contribute to the local Cairns economy,” he said.


Extensive media coverage was generated by the event, with more than 60 articles appearing in the print and electronic media during the week, while conference twitter followers quadrupled during the event.