Australian Experts Link Climate Change to Wildfires

October 30, 2013 in Green, Top News

New South Wales bushfire

A bushfire burns in New South Wales, Australia. Source: The Warringah Council.

An independent climate science research group in Australia reports extreme climate change leading to hot, dry conditions is directly linked to the outbreak of bushfires in New South Wales. These findings fly in the face of the coalition government of Australian prime minister Tony Abbott who has denied any relationship between climate change and the fire epidemic.

Abbot’s government abolished its own Climate Commission in September in an apparent disagreement with the scientific findings emerging from the organization. Climate Council, the group responsible for the report “The Critical Decade: Extreme Weather” consists of independent scientists and business persons previously associated with the commission. These experts have reached the conclusion there is a clear link between climate change and the increased incidence of bushfires.

Council research finds climate change trends are impacting the frequency and intensity of extremely hot days and the prolongation of low rainfall periods. Hot day temperatures are becoming hotter. Southeast Australia is experiencing increasingly dry conditions. Areas particularly affected by extreme fire conditions include NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

Although bush fires in NSW are not unusual during September and October, both the severity and scale of fires may be “unprecedented” according to the Council.

They state, “It is crucial that communities, emergency services, health services and other authorities prepare for the increasing severity and frequency of extreme fire conditions.”

Council findings forecast that future trends make southeast Australia very likely to experience an increased number of days with extreme fire danger:

“The projected increases in hot days across the country, and in consecutive dry days and droughts in the southeast, will very likely lead to increased frequencies of days with extreme fire danger in that region. … As the fire seasons in southeast Australia become longer, the opportunity for fuel reduction burning is also decreased.”

Recently quoted by The Guardian, Professor Will Steffen, a member of the Climate Council and once executive director of the AustralianNationalUniversity’s Climate Change Institute states:

“In Australia, climate change is influencing both the frequency and intensity of extreme heat, and may also be playing a role in the long-term drying trend in the south-east. This increases the risk of bushfires by increasing extreme fire weather.”

Steffen along with Professors Lesley Hughes and David Karoly signed off on the full report of findings. Steffen and Hughes both signed as climate commissioners. Karoly signed as science advisory panelist and as leader of the Extremes Research Program of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

Steffen, Hughes and Karoly present their findings as a substantial case for causality between climate change and extreme weather consequences of heat, bushfire weather, rainfall irregularity, drought conditions and sea level rise.

Both the report and summary materials are available online from the Climate Council .