by Andy Pitman, Ian Macadam and Christian Jakob, May 18, 2021.

  • The ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX) strongly endorses this strategy.
  • Detailed models of the global climate run on the most advanced computers available will help Australia to target investment in resilience to droughts, floods, fire and cyclones to where risks are real
  • Australia’s national climate modelling strategy, supported by a national facility, must partner internationally to drive technological innovation via high-performance computing and high-performance data systems.
  • All business sectors, including banking, insurance, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture stand to benefit from dramatically enhanced information for decision making and risk management
  • Through the national facility, Australia’s role as a development and aid leader in the Pacific will be enhanced via the provision of information of direct value to Pacific Island States and other developing countries in our region.

Global climate models were developed as a tool for scientists to understand the climate system. They are now emerging as critical tools for decision-making around water, energy, carbon, resilience to natural disasters, and targeting mitigation and adaptation investment. Current models lack the spatial detail to connect global climate change to local-scale impact; they lack the spatial detail to assess climate risk and evaluate the benefits of mitigating emissions and local climate change adaptation. Global simulations of the detail needed for this require computers more powerful than those currently available. Harnessing the value of these emerging simulations also requires a means of managing, analysing, and making available the massive datasets that they produce.

More reliable projections of future climate extremes, such as cyclones, hail, extreme winds, storm surge, and flood require climate models to be detailed enough to “see”, or resolve, “weather scales” (1km – 10km). At present, in Australia, it is possible to run a limited number of global coupled climate simulations at ~10km in “experiment mode” as a proof of concept, but many such simulations would be needed to properly address the key uncertainties that would underpin a rigorous risk assessment. Greater detail can be achieved by focussing available computing power on a specific region of interest. In Australia, the state-of-the-art for this approach has recently been demonstrated by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, in partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology and the UK Met Office, utilising the National Computational Infrastructure in Canberra through a proof-of-concept “Grand Challenge” simulation over the entire Australian continent at 400m resolution. While encouraging, this kind of simulation is currently too computationally intensive and too short to inform decision-makers. It does, however, show the enormous potential for unprecedented information for decision-makers resulting from next-generation climate models.

Picture: Cloud over Australia simulated by the ARC CLEX 400m Grand Challenge simulation.

There are two important strategies for Australian society to reap the benefits of the climate modelling revolution under way. First, Australia needs to support and co-invest in a new global facility dedicated to the scientific innovation and technical infrastructure required to enable global climate model simulations at 1 km resolution and to manage and analyse the data that they generate specifically to serve decision makers in government, business, industry and other areas. Importantly, the engagement with such a facility can only succeed from a strong base of local expertise and experience in next-generation climate modelling, supported by adequate high-performance computing and Big Data analysis capabilities. This requires a national climate modelling strategy that aligns with international efforts and enhances them through local climate information systems for past, current and future climate conditions in Australia.

Developing next-generation climate models is beyond the capabilities of most nations. The Royal Society has therefore proposed an international climate modelling facility. The idea is not new, but has been revitalised as part of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to be held in November. Governments now understand the requirements for net-zero emissions, to adapt vulnerable systems to climate change, and to build resilience to natural disasters. Establishing a major international effort to build the next generation global climate model simulations that are sufficiently detailed to properly support risk assessments and cost-benefit considerations for decision-making around climate change mitigation and adaptation is vital.

Major governments are familiar with international science consortia (e.g. CERN , LIGO , the Giant Magellan Telescope ), each costing in excess of $1 billion, that achieve what no individual nation has the resources to do. The proposal here is no different; to pool international resources to transform an area of scientific endeavour for the benefit of all participants, and indeed, the world, whose citizens will be better protected from climate change through a strong evidence-base for climate related decisions.

Australia has a history of benefitting from, and contributing to, international collaborations in climate modelling, most recently via the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS). ACCESS arose from ongoing partnerships with the UK and US and the Australian government has recently committed to supporting the model in the near-term through significant investment from the National Research Infrastructure initiative and the National Environmental Science Program. ACCESS provides an ideal foundation on which to build Australia’s interaction with the proposed global facility. Continued investment in the ACCESS system in strong alignment with the scientific and technological challenges addressed by the global facility will provide a step change in the information available to the Australian government and private sector decision makers.

To progress this vision requires a government-to-government negotiation on roles and responsibilities. Australia has established itself internationally as a country willing to invest, willing to collaborate and willing to lead in science. A long-term strategy that harnesses the research capacity of our universities, and the operational capacity of our weather and climate services is required, to enable Australia to join a world-leading initiative to develop the next generation of global climate models. The proposed facility provides a unique opportunity for Australia to be a key part of a world-leading effort that propels climate and weather prediction to new levels, helps protect its citizens, businesses and ecosystems from climate change and ensures an optimum return on evidence-based investment in disaster mitigation and resilience.