Australian Bushfire and Climate Change
Australia’s devastating bushfires have highlighted how a changing climate can increase disaster risks exponentially, due to both extreme hot weather events and drying of vegetation due to global warming and decline in cool season rainfall in southeast Australia. This combination has contributed to high fire danger ratings since 2005 – nine out of the ten most dangerous years ever were since then.
This year’s fires have killed more than 180 people, destroyed 5,900 buildings, and claimed millions of lives across 18 million hectares of land – an estimate suggests 104 Million Metric Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide has been released into the atmosphere as a result.
Scientists have long warned of the climate’s warming trend. A new study released this week indicates global warming has increased by at least 30% the likelihood of hot, dry conditions that spark bushfires; and should temperatures increase by 2C further still, risk would only grow even greater.
Researchers used various sources of data to estimate the role of climate change. Temperature records, rainfall maps and FRI ratings helped them pinpoint areas where fire activity has significantly increased over the years. Once identified, this information was combined with droughts, heatwaves and FRI frequencies in order to estimate climate change’s contribution towards increased probabilities of extreme fire weather conditions.
They discovered that extreme fire weather events have increased by 30 per cent or more across much of Australia during the past 30 years, especially in southern and eastern Australia. Furthermore, extreme fire weather days have become more prevalent over time while more intense and prolonged events have become common. These trends are anticipated to persist into the foreseeable future.
Climate change is contributing to an increase in wildfire frequency and severity in Australia, which is home to an abundance of ecosystems with their destruction causing both environmental and economic costs. The research provides further evidence of climate change’s role. But, despite evidence showing the link between climate change and bushfires, and calls to reduce emissions, the government continues to resist calls. They claim their existing policy takes a “balanced approach”, which allows an increase in fossil fuel emissions. However, this has been widely viewed as an attempt to use Kyoto credits to avoid making significant emissions cuts. If a country hopes to slow the progress of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be significantly decreased without cutting too many jobs; an effective way of doing this would be switching away from coal-based power plants toward renewable energy projects and restricting investments in fossil fuel projects.