University of Reading Research Blog

Empowering judges to speak outside the courts

Lawrence McNamara is an ESRC Global Uncertainties research fellow at the University of Reading where he runs the Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know project which includes interviews with several judges.

This piece first appeared in The Guardian.

What should judges be able say outside the courts? One of the most senior judges, Lord Neuberger, has proposed some principles for “extra-judicial” statements. The speech, published this month, is an important one as these principles are likely to shape judicial contributions to public debate for some time to come, but do they go far enough?

The starting point is familiar: it is “quite inappropriate” for politicians to criticise judges or their decisions. There must be “mutual respect” between ministers and the judiciary. If they “slang each other off in public” it undermines the constitution, democracy and the rule of law. While the frankness is welcome, the content is not overly surprising.

But then Neuberger turns to what that means for the judiciary – and here it gets interesting.

Mutual respect means ministers and judges “must respect the other’s turf and not tread on it”. It means judges should not “answer back”. It is “unseemly and more undermining” to do so. However, it does not mean that judges should not speak at all. On the contrary, Neuberger says extra-judicial comments have “more benefits than drawbacks”. While he dictates caution and warns judges not to “seek publicity for its own sake” or to seek it for causes, his seven principles empower judges to speak.

Neuberger is fundamentally right. The individual and collective experience of the judiciary, and their established constitutional role, means they should contribute to public debate about substance and processes of justice. The challenge is how they should do so without compromising the constitutional roles of any branch of the state.

One path is obviously through judgments. This does not mean judicial activism but – this is different – judicial engagement. Judges have made pointed observations about any number of matters such as laws about police interviews, procedures in terrorism trials, or dealing with children who have committed serious crimes. For the public, the problem is many judgments are accessible. There are some excellent open databases of appeal judgments but the vast majority of trial judgments and sentencing remarks are unreported and unavailable to the public. It is time this was changed, especially if one takes the view that extra-judicial statements should be minimal.

An alternative path is through speeches or written pieces. In the week the international criminal court delivered its first verdict, ‘Reflections of a Trial Judge’ by Sir Adrian Fulford, leading judge in the Lubanga case and a high court judge, is an important contribution. Judges can articulate and explain from the horse’s mouth how the judicial role works and what they see as key contemporary issues. The lord chief justice and Neuberger himself are exemplary speakers in this regard. The supreme court’s mission includes promoting “knowledge of the ways in which justice should be rightly administered.” It is right that judges engage outside their judgments.

Of course, judges across the land will not be reading Neuberger’s principles and thinking, “Excellent! At last I have some clear guidance about when I should speak and what I can say.”  In spite of a judicial appearance on Masterchef, judges will inevitably be cautious of any public engagement with audiences outside the legal profession. Most judges will remain cautious and silent, and probably rightly so. At the senior end of the spectrum, though, while they will choose their battles carefully, Neuberger may have laid the ground for some interesting and well-chosen comments in the next couple of years.

Is there a point where judges would go too far? Or what might we be missing if they stop short? The justice and security green paper is a crucial contemporary case in point.

The conventional position is that judges “cannot comment on public policy” but can comment on “the practical consequences of certain policy choices”. We recently heard justice secretary Ken Clarke tell this to the joint committee on human rights in evidence to its inquiry into the green paper proposals for closed proceedings in civil cases.

For Neuberger, however, judges do not seem quite so restricted. Where policy “goes to the heart of the functioning of the judicial branch” then comment is not merely permissible, but there is arguably a judicial duty to comment. It might well be thought that closed proceedings, access to evidence and evaluation of evidence fall into that category. A judicial contribution to the justice and security debate would inform and enhance the process and policy choices that are made.

In England and Wales there could be more use of representative bodies to convey judicial views, especially on contentious issues. This would  avoid it falling to individual judges to give evidence to committees, which rightly concerns Neuberger. By contrast, this week the Judicial Conference of Australia has made a submission on mandatory sentencing that was requested by a parliamentary inquiry into proposed legislative amendments. It may be an approach worth considering more widely that would enhance the judicial contributions and avoid damage to the constitutional framework.

Roman fragments and digital modelling shed light on urban spectacle

Dr Matthew Nicholls from the Department of Classics at the University of Reading is interested in the political and social history of the Romans and the way that the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities.

Matthew has an interest in computer modelling as a way of exploring ancient structures and bringing them to life and has developed an ambitious recreation of the city of Rome in the age of Constantine.

The first Roman emperor Augustus (ruled 31BC – AD14) began the imperial tradition of offering the people of Rome the ‘bread and circuses’ – cheap food and entertainment on a lavish scale – that came to characterise life in the city.

Augustus, as one ancient commentator tells us, “surpassed all his predecessors in the number, variety and splendour of his games”, often using new or restored buildings within the city as a setting and boasting (not without justification) that he had “found Rome a city of brick, and left it a city of marble”, a tangible element of his vision for cultural, political and moral renewal of the Roman state.

Theatre of Marcellus digital model

After more than a decade in power Augustus used this renewed city as the setting for a particularly splendid set of games, which combined high literary culture and deliberately archaising religious ceremonial with popular gestures, including the provision of plays and chariot races. These games were intended to celebrate a renewed epoch of Roman prosperity and divine favour, a saeculum, and are therefore known in English (despite their religious function) as the Secular Games of 17BC.

We know about these games from a variety of sources – ancient authors mention them, the special hymn that the poet Horace wrote at the emperor’s behest survives, and several of the buildings or areas used for the events are known to archaeologists. We also have an inscription, found in fragments,  that had been reset into a medieval wall, which lays out the daily programme for the games as devised by the priestly board in charge with details of the venue, date, and time for each event.

Combining the text of this inscription with what we know about Augustus’ building programme in Rome lets us see how he used his regenerated city as a backdrop for these games, reinforcing the message of renewal and prosperity with a splendid vista of new and restored buildings. In particular, the daily programme of supplementary entertainments, put on as crowd-pleasers for a week after the main religious sacrifices had been concluded, led crowds of spectators in their tens of thousands from open ground on the edge of town past a series of buildings – temples, porticoes, theatres, squares, and parkland – that had received special attention in the previous decade, showing off a thoroughly regenerated quarter of the city.

The modern Olympic Games, with their simultaneous functions as national showcases, catalysts for urban regeneration, and cultural spectaculars, offer a good comparison.

Moreover, the detailed timetable set out in the inscription allows us to investigate how the Games’ planners took particular advantage of the summer sun. The Games were held in early June, with events starting (as was common in the ancient world) shortly after sunrise. By the time that spectators arrived at the morning’s final venue, Augustus’ own new Theatre of Marcellus, it would have been around a quarter past eight in the morning on a modern clock. The Theatre of Marcellus is, uniquely for theatre buildings in Rome, orientated so the stage points north east; the other venues for the Games point west. With help from a UROP undergraduate research assistant, Ed Howkins, I used the digital model of ancient Rome that I have been building as a research and teaching tool to investigate the lighting conditions in the Theatre of Marcellus at the relevant date and time.

It turns out that the stage would have been perfectly illuminated for exactly the period in which the plays were held there, with the sun shining on the actors rather than into the faces of the spectators. It seems that Augustus’ theatre architects had created a venue intended especially for morning performances, and that his games planners responded to this by ensuring that each day’s entertainment culminated in the splendid new theatre at just the point when it was most perfectly illuminated – a subtle reminder that the reign of Augustus and the continued prosperity of Rome were, as the prayers for the Games implied, cosmically ordained and favoured by heaven.

http://www.reading.ac.uk/classics/

The Ballerina and the Bull toward Transition

Dr Richard Nunes is a lecturer in the School of Real Estate and Planning at Henley Business School. His interest lies in innovation systems, industry restructuring and its implications for local and regional economic development. His current work includes community efforts to replicate sustainability transition initiatives, and policy efforts to scale-up ‘grassroots innovations’ into more systemic approaches to sustainable development.

In ‘My Hometown’, from his 1985 Born in the USA album, Bruce Springsteen takes a nostalgic look at his hometown of Freehold Borough, New Jersey, at the economic tensions of a working class community. Nearly three decades later, in ‘Death to My Hometown’, off his Wrecking Ball album out next week, Springsteen’s ‘angry patriotism’ over the financial crisis, a corrupt Wall Street and growing income inequality is combined with a sense of defiance and hope – “Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got….Bring on your wrecking ball”.

This verse from the ‘Wrecking Ball’ track recounts the recent demolition of the Giants Stadium (East Rutherford, New Jersey) – an analogy to the economic and social blow of the global financial crisis. In a Paris press conference last month, at the Théâtre Marigny, Springsteen claims that “previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no push back at all”, saying this was outrageous: “a basic theft that struck at the heart of what America was about, a complete disregard for the American sense of history and community.”

However, the decampment and exodus of Occupy LSX (London) from St Paul’s Cathedral earlier this week is not a sign of a movement gone or forgotten. As former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral  Dr. Giles Fraser, who resigned in protest at plans to forcibly evict Occupy protesters, states: “You cannot evict an idea.” There is an element of truth to this assertion. Indeed on the day of Occupy LSX’s eviction from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral by legal mandate, more than 60 Occupy groups and 30 environmental, food and corporate accountability organisations united in more than 100 events across the globe on February 27, 2012 in Occupy Our Food Supply – a global day of action to end corporate exploitation of food supply systems. Among the many Occupy groups and participating organisations were Occupy LSX and Reclaim the Fields UK.

‘Occupy’ has created a space for dialogue. It has been populated by individuals, organisations and movements including the Transition (Town) Network – a transnational grassroots social movement that seeks to deal with climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy (‘peak oil’) through individual behavioural change and collective action. The Transition Movement has its origins in a small English town (Totnes, Devon) six years prior to Occupy Wall Street (Zuccotti Park, NYC) on September 17, 2011. After his visit to the Occupy LSX camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Movement, found that “what Occupy is doing that matters so much is that it is holding a space. It is holding a space where the discussions can take place on their own terms about what is broken and what needs fixing”.  Is it is an angle from which local Transition groups can take forward their efforts to make communities more resilient?

Erik Curren, for the Post Carbon Institute, acutely questions: “How should people in the Transition Movement wear the mask of Occupy?”  The debate on how to engage the Occupy movement is clear: Occupy and the Transition Movement are two faces of the same coin of socio-economic and environmental ‘spatial justice’. Peak oil and climate change are a threat to just forms of economic development, and economic reforms alone are partial at best without a transition from fossil fuels to more resilient, lower carbon systems. But Occupy reminds Transitioners that peak oil and climate change cannot be addressed adequately without democracy and fairness within economic systems.

To what extent and under which conditions can the Transition Movement contribute to the mitigation of high unemployment and hunger in cities of the global north and south alongside its efforts to address climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy? Answers to this question raise a number of concerns regarding the ‘scale-up’ of community-based social innovation and enterprise for gradual radical transformation. All things considered, the Janus faces of Occupy Transition are underpinned by the energy of mutual defiance and hope, and creativity as in Occupy Our Food Supply – embodied in community initiatives such as Transition Heathrow. From ‘Transition Town’ to ‘Hometown’ the Ballerina is to the Bull (in the iconic image of Occupy) as Bruce Springsteen is to the Wrecking Ball. “Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got….Bring on your wrecking ball”.

For introductory notes on new pilot research on Community Planning and Transition go to: http://www.reading.ac.uk/rep/transitionresearchreading

Justice, security and secrecy

Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know (LTRK) is an ESRC and AHRC funded project led by Dr Lawrence McNamara in the School of Law. The project explores democratic traditions of open justice, media freedom and the contemporary demands of security. In January 2012, Lawrence and research assistant Sam McIntosh submitted a response to a Government consultation and to a Parliamentary Human Rights Committee inquiry into the Justice and Security Green Paper.

When seven former Guantanamo Bay detainees took legal action against the British Security Services, alleging complicity in their detention and mistreatment abroad, their claim for damages would inevitably involve a very public examination of UK security policy and practices. Relevant material would be disclosed to the claimants and considered in open court.

 The Government asked the court to use special procedures which would allow sensitive evidence to be considered in the absence of the claimants and the public. Disclosure, it was said, would damage national security. Conceding the case would avoid disclosure but would unjustifiably tarnish the security services. When the Court of Appeal held the law did not allow for secret evidence in civil proceedings, the Government settled the actions with payments to the claimants. However, wanting to ensure that it would in future be able use special procedures, the Government took two major steps.

First, it appealed the legal issue to the Supreme Court. In Al Rawi v The Security Service the Court held that the common law did not permit the use of special procedures in ordinary civil claims. Legislation would be required to open up that option.

As such, the second and now more significant path has been to set about legislating. To that end, in late 2011 the Government published a Green Paper on Justice and Security as part of a public consultation on how best to protect sensitive evidence.

The Green Paper proposes the introduction of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) in all civil proceedings and inquests where sensitive information might arise. CMPs are already well established in some areas. They have been used for a decade in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) which hears matters such as appeals against deportations ordered on security grounds.

Under CMPs, judges and government representatives are security cleared. When sensitive evidence arises, the court goes into ‘closed session’ with the public, press and non-government parties (and their lawyers) excluded from the court. Security-cleared ‘Special Advocates’ are appointed to represent the non-government party’s interests during closed hearings. However, once the Special Advocates have seen the sensitive evidence, they cannot consult with or obtain instructions from those whose interests they represent.

The advantage of CMP is that, in theory, all relevant evidence can be considered by the judge. But there are also significant disadvantages to CMPs. A frequent criticism is that non-government parties are severely disadvantaged because they are unable to see, and therefore properly challenge, closed evidence which goes against their case. That is, while CMPs may mean that more evidence is considered, that evidence is less rigorously tested. Among the fiercest critics of CMPs are the Special Advocates who work within them. However, CMPs also have further very negative implications for the general public’s interest in judicial proceedings being conducted in open court and in accordance with the principles of open justice.

The LTRK response to the Green Paper takes issue with the Green Paper’s failure to adequately explore two key questions. First, the Green Paper seems to simply accept that CMPs are an essentially satisfactory way of ensuring justice between the parties, despite this being at odds with criticisms from Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and Special Advocates. Secondly, the Green Paper fails to seriously consider the implications that CMPs will have for open justice and ignores the real damage that their introduction could do to what Lord Brown in the Supreme Court has described as “the integrity of the judicial process and the reputation of English justice”.

Recognising that the Government appears determined to make CMP available in civil proceedings, the LTRK response goes on to suggest certain safeguards that may limit its impact on open justice. These focus on procedural checks to ensure that such proceedings are only used in truly exceptional circumstances and counter any trend towards their normalisation. Our response suggests that the criteria for engaging CMP should explicitly include the need to consider the benefits of justice being carried out openly and the harm done to the public interest of closed proceedings. It also suggests, for example, that media interests should be represented when courts consider the use of CMP.

The LTRK project will continue to examine the move towards legislation and the implications of proposals as they develop. Our website has regular updates.

www.reading.ac.uk/LTRK/

A Road to Salvation or Fiscal Authoritarianism?

Dr Ioannis Glinavos is a lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Reading. His interest lies in examining the market-state relationship and offering a critical view on the orthodoxies that surround us.

We are all aware of the troubles of the Eurozone, but as with all systemic economic events we are not always able to critically evaluate the proposed solutions. Eurozone’s problems stem from the fact that an economic project (European Monetary Union or EMU) was used as a carrier for a political project (European federalisation). At the time of the creation of the monetary union it was obvious that countries with significantly different economic capacities and at different stages of the economic cycle were bunched together.Euro coin

The Maastricht rules were meant to deal with this problem by encouraging convergence within strict criteria. This did not happen, and in addition there is a lot of evidence suggesting it was not even tried in earnest. Europe ended up therefore with a fair-weather monetary arrangement, lacking fiscal co-ordination. The consequence was every incentive to use the newly low interest rates to borrow for both states (Italy, Greece) and private actors (Spain, Ireland) and no incentive to be fiscally responsible. What happened next we all know, the problem is what to do about it now.

The situation points to Germany proposing the solution. The German government has two choices. One is to bite the bullet and accept that the Eurozone cannot survive without transfers of wealth from the rich to the poor. This can only be achieved effectively by allowing the European Central Bank (ECB) to act as a lender of last resort (akin to the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve). Another solution is to reduce Eurozone membership to countries on convergent fiscal and macroeconomic paths. This second option means that Greece, and perhaps not only Greece, will exit the Eurozone. The current situation of ineffective transfers from the ECB to national central banks via purchases of bonds in the secondary market is unsustainable and does not address the underlying problems.

However, Germany making its choice is not the end of the matter. A smaller Eurozone can be achieved with less legal and political problems within Germany, but with potentially destabilising consequences for the markets and the entire European banking system. A Eurozone with the full faith of the ECB behind the debts of all its member states however is a totally different proposition. Accepting ECB support will come with the price of fiscal supervision by Brussels and by extension Germany. The introduction of legally binding fiscal restraints supervised by Eurozone authorities (or EU authorities as the UK allows it) perhaps in the form of constitutionally embedded ‘debt-breaks’ means surrender of economic policy to something equivalent to a federal government. This is a crucial political issue for every citizen in a euro-member state.

When the choice is between poverty or domination, voters may opt for domination. It is possible to envisage the Greeks electing to have foreign functionaries peering behind the backs of local decision makers and approving each decision, considering the utter failure of the national political class. Is it as easy to imagine the Italians and the Spanish doing the same? Even if people accept the argument that economic meltdown is at the door, and that help comes with the price of outsourcing policy to external actors, one cannot accurately predict what citizens will choose if asked.

Should the choice be taken away from them? Is the survival of the market more important than the survival of democratic political process? We live in an era where economic orthodoxy time and time again trumps democratic choice. This is rationalised in a number of ways and so far the public (even in this country when faced with austerity) has acquiesced. The point however is that there is a level beyond which economic policy determined outside the political process is perceived to be illegitimate. When a significant portion of the population feels ignored, then there is real danger of civil unrest. What do we choose therefore? To do what appears economically prudent (if the Germans propose it) or to do what is politically legitimate? Does the political class in Europe dare ask the people?

http://www.reading.ac.uk/law/

 

Understanding Young People’s Aspirations

Authors Professor Paul Croll and Dr Carol Fuller are at the University’s Institute of Education, which has recently moved onto its new campus in London Road, Reading. Professor Croll’s interests are, among others, the sociology of education, inclusion and special educational needs. Dr Fuller’s research focuses on educational engagement, gender and ethnicity in education, attainment and aspirations.

The aspirations young people have for their futures are an important influence on the directions their lives actually take. In order to succeed in terms of education and employment, young people need to have aims which will guide them into appropriate choices about educational participation, obtaining qualifications and taking educational and career routes which are right for them.

Teenagers
Young people know what they would like to do, if not always how to succeed

Ideally we would like young people to have aspirations which make the fullest use of their capabilities and which are matched to the opportunities available to them. It is widely accepted that a lack of suitable aspirations is an important factor in the under-representation of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education and in desirable and well-rewarded occupations.

Over the past five or so years we have carried out a number of research studies, both together and individually, into aspects of school-age young people’s educational and occupational aspirations. We conducted a national survey of pupils as they were starting secondary school and have recently talked to some of these young people again as they were coming up to their GCSEs. For her PhD, Carol Fuller studied the differing levels of aspirations of young women in a secondary school serving an area of social deprivation. And we have also conducted secondary analyses of large data sets such as the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England.

We found that, even at the age of 11 and 12, most children could express educational and occupational aspirations. Typically these aspirations were ambitious in that well over half were sure that they wanted to go to university and the majority of those expressing occupational ambitions wanted professional and managerial jobs.

There were differences between pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds but, nevertheless, many children from relatively disadvantaged homes were hoping to go into higher education and the desire for a ‘good’ job was almost universal. Where children differed considerably was in the extent of alignment between different aspects of their hopes and plans for the future. Some children were clear about a trajectory that involved, for example, staying on post-16, taking a degree course in an appropriate subject and moving into a professional career. But others had little sense of the routes they would need to take to fulfil their ambitions; planning, for example, to leave school at 16 but also wanting a professional occupation or seeing higher education as an alternative to the sixth form.

The degree of alignment was closely related to the extent to which they reported discussing these issues with their parents. It was also very clear that, although most young people said that their parents had not influenced their choices, ambitious and well-aligned plans were almost always matched to the ambitions their parents had for them.

An important theme to emerge from Carol’s work was that of trust. The young women who were aiming for university (and who, in nearly all cases, achieved this ambition) differed from other students in that they explicitly believed that effort and commitment would pay off for them. They thought that if they achieved at school then opportunities would be open to them and that the school and teachers would support them.

Linked to the idea of trust is that of personal efficacy. Young people need to believe that the educational system is fair but also that they have the personal capability to achieve in it. Some of our large scale statistical analyses have shown that this sense of efficacy and the capacity for personal attainment differs across children from different backgrounds. At similar levels of ability young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely than others to believe that they can be successful educationally and in the world of work.

Our research suggests possible ways in which schools can intervene to both raise and equalise aspirations and achievement. Guidance on available educational routes and their consequences for future careers needs to start at the very beginning of the secondary school so that all children can align different aspects of their ambitions. And schools need to be very alert to the possibility that children from disadvantaged backgrounds may under-estimate their capabilities and the possibilities open to them. Additionally of course, all of us in education need to ensure that the trust in the fairness of the educational system, which is so important for young people, is well placed.

Some of the research discussed here is reported in:
Croll, P., Attwood, G. and Fuller, C. (2010) Children’s Lives, Children’s Futures. London: Continuum.
Fuller, C. (2009 Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations. London: Continuum.

http://www.reading.ac.uk/education/

What causes Queensland’s variable rainfall?

Dr Nicholas Klingaman from the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at the University of Reading is an expert in Queensland’s weather and climate. He is funded by the state’s government to investigate the causes of floods and droughts and the impacts of climate change on rainfall.

The state of Queensland, in northeast Australia, experiences considerable year-to-year and decade-to-decade variations in its rainfall. During 2000-2005, Queensland received only 84% of its long-term average rain. All of the last six years (2006-2011) have seen above-normal precipitation, however, at 133% of the average rainfall. 2011 was the second-wettest year since 1900 – only 1974 was wetter – with severe flooding in southeast and central Queensland, including in Brisbane. Oscillating periods of flood or drought are common: all years but one in 1947-1955 were wetter than normal, while all but two years in 1956-1969 had below-average rain. These variations in rainfall have dangerous consequences for the state’s agriculture, water resources and infrastructure.

Graph of Queensland rainfall
For each year, the red bars show the percentage difference between the Queensland rainfall for that year and the long-term (1900-2011) average. Values larger than zero indicate wetter-than-normal seasons; negative values are drier-than-normal seasons. The black line shows an 11-year running average of the red bars, to indicate decade-to-decade variations in rainfall.

Understanding the climate phenomena that drive variations in rainfall would improve scientists’ ability to predict swings between drought and flood. A three-year project between the Walker Institute for Climate System Research and the Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence has investigated these climate drivers of rainfall, including the possible impacts of climate change.Our research has found that in summer (December-February), winter (June-August) and spring (September-November), El Nino and La Nina cause state-wide variations in rainfall. ‘El Nino’ refers to abnormally warm tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures; during ‘La Nina’ these waters are colder than normal. Events typically last for 10-12 months.

Heating or cooling the Pacific redistributes tropical precipitation: Queensland receives less rainfall during El Nino and more in La Nina. We have found that while stronger La Nina events lead to heavier rainfall, the drying during El Nino has no relationship to the El Nino’s magnitude.

The intense La Nina event of 2010-2011 brought severe rains to the entire state. While the strength of the connection between Queensland’s rainfall and El Nino and La Nina has varied since 1900, there is no long-term trend and hence no evidence that climate change is influencing this relationship.

Within Queensland, our analysis found that the heavily populated southeast corner – including Brisbane – and the tropical Cape York peninsula are regions of high rainfall variability. Southeast Queensland rainfall is influenced by the prevailing winds: east-to-west winds bring moist air from the ocean, promoting intense rainfall; west-to-east winds pull in hot, dry air from the continent. Rainfall in Cape York is concentrated in summer; the peninsula is dry the rest of the year. Summer rainfall is closely linked to the number of tropical cyclones that pass through or near the area.

The climate models used for the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show little consensus on how Queensland’s rainfall will change in a warmer world. A survey of 22 models showed that by 2100, Queensland may be up to 40% wetter or 40% drier than 1961-1990. This information is of little use to those devising adaption policies.

Our research has used a model with much finer resolution than those used for the IPCC report, which provides more detail on how regional climates (eg Queensland’s) may change as the world warms. We first verified that this model, called HiGEM, could simulate the key climate phenomena that drive variations in Queensland’s rainfall. This increases our confidence in HiGEM’s projections for Queensland’s climate in a warmer world.

When HiGEM is run with twice the current carbon dioxide concentrations – equivalent to 2100 under our current emissions trajectory – Queensland summer rainfall increases by 20%. Autumn rainfall, however, declines by 25%, such that the annual-total rainfall does not change. The seasonal changes combine to compress the Queensland wet season, however. Currently, this runs from late November through early April; in the double-CO2 world, the wet season lasts only until early March. This would make Queensland much more reliant upon the heavier mid-summer rains in January and February. If the mid-summer rains were to fail, the shorter wet season would mean that the entire year would likely be dry.

Although the annual-total rainfall changes little, the number of wet days declines while the average amount of rain on each wet day increases by nearly 20%. This effect is most apparent for extreme rainfalls: the number of days with more than 100 millimetres of rain increases by 50%. These changes would have considerable impacts on agriculture and water management, as well as increasing the risk of flooding.

A clear disadvantage of our work is that we have examined only one model. Our detailed investigation of the climate drivers of rainfall, however, combined with our verification of HiGEM’s ability to simulate them, argues for giving greater weight to these results.

http://www.walker-institute.ac.uk/

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