A paleontologist by trade, he said the white ring-tailed possum has been around for at least five million years but exposure to temperatures above 34 degrees for more than four hours results in its untimely death.
The last of the species are located atop a few mountains in northeast Queensland.
‘And to see it now vanishing from its last refuge in a world heritage area tells me that our climate is changing in ways that we haven’t seen now probably for millions of years,’ Prof Flannery said.
Forty-seven degree temperatures, winds up to 100km/h and 12 years of drought fuelled bushfires that levelled bush communities outside of Melbourne on February 7.
Prof Flannery said climate change and such extreme events can act independently, but Black Saturday was an utter surprise.
‘The veracity of those fires and the veracity of the heatwaves killing off that little possum weren’t ever really on the radar for me as key near-term events,’ he told the conference.
Warmer climate zones are expanding all over the globe, he said, and the southern, cooler zones are retracting even further south.
He said that if carbon emissions were significantly reduced tomorrow, it would be up to 30 years before rising global temperatures would begin to ease.
Prof Flannery hopes COP 15, the United Nations climate change conference later this year in Copenhagen, will set the stage for the next global greenhouse emissions treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Whatever action is taken at the conference bushfires like Black Saturday may be in Australia’s future, he told the bushfires conference.
‘If we are successful at Copenhagen this year and if we can see the brokering of a globally-effective treaty, then what is true (is) that you might have to fight ever-more severe bushfires for the rest of your careers, it may be that your children may face a different future,’ Prof Flannery said.
He recently attended the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen and noted that the climate change debate in Australia takes on a very limited form.
‘It’s very easy in Australia to be dismayed by the nature of the climate debate and see it become very partisan and very small-minded,’ Prof Flannery said.
‘If I could just say that globally that isn’t the case at all.
‘Very major companies, companies from China, companies from the USA, big polluting companies were all represented in this meeting and came together in goodwill.
‘With the recognition, of course, that this is going to be hard and this is going to cost, but it’s going to have to be fair – but with the recognition that change was inevitable.’