The average temperature in Australia over the past 10 years was 0.48 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average, said the Bureau of Meteorology said in its annual climate statement.
And 2010 is forecast to be even hotter, with temperatures likely to be between 0.5 and 1 degrees above average.
“We’re getting these increasingly warm temperatures, not just for Australia but globally. Climate change, global warming is clearly continuing,” said bureau climatologist David Jones.
“We’re in the latter stages of an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean and what that means for Australian and global temperatures is that 2010 is likely to be another very warm year – perhaps even the warmest on record.”
Environment Minister Peter Garrett used the report to attack opposition politicians for blocking the government’s key climate policy, a carbon emissions trading scheme (ETS) aimed at reducing greenhouses gases causing global warming.
“Australia is one of the hottest and driest inhabited places on earth and our environment and economy will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change,” said Garrett.
“Today’s statement finds that the patterns of the last year and the decade are consistent with global warming. It (passing the ETS) is in the national interest and it is in the interest of the world,” he said in a statement.
The government has promised to reintroduce its ETS legislation to parliament in February, a move which may trigger an early election in 2010 if the legislation is again defeated.
An election is due in late 2010.
EXTREME BUSHFIRES, HEATWAVES
The year 2009 will be remembered for “extreme bushfires, dust-storms, lingering rainfall deficiencies, areas of flooding and record-breaking heatwaves,” said the bureau.
In fact, 2009 was Australia’s second warmest year on record, with the annual mean temperature 0.90 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average, driven by three record-breaking heatwaves that caused Australia’s most deadly bushfires, killing 173 people.
“To get one of them in a year would have been unusual. To get three is just really quite remarkable,” said Jones.
Outback Australia was warming more quickly than other parts of the country, with some inland areas warming at twice the rate of coastal regions, said the bureau.
But as Australia warmed, with large tracts of the country battling a decade-long drought, the northern part of the country was becoming wetter, said the bureau.
Floods now cover large parts of northern New South Wales state and the tropical state of Queensland.
“Australia as a whole has been getting warmer for about 50-60 years and it’s actually been tending to get wetter,” said Jones. “You see this paradox – the country, particularly in the north, it’s getting wetter but is also warming up.”