Earlier, more frequent, more dangerous: bushfires in NSW

Climate change New South Wales
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On the back of Australia’s record-breaking warm and dry winter, particularly in the north and east of the country, dangerous bushfire weather has already been experienced across much of New South Wales. As a result, fire bans have been in place on many occasions, particularly during the extreme heat in September where more than 90 bushfires broke out on the 23rd, including one that blocked the Hume Highway between Canberra and Sydney.

Residents of New South Wales have often experienced the serious consequences of bushfires. In 2013, bushfires in January and October burnt 768,000 hectares of land and destroyed 279 homes. Tragically, two people lost their lives and damages were conservatively estimated to be more than $180 million.

The New South Wales population has always lived with fire and its consequences, but climate change – driven by the burning of coal, oil and gas – is worsening dangerous fire weather across the state. Long-term global warming, now about 1°C above pre-industrial levels, is increasing temperatures across the Australian continent. At the same time, a decline in cool season rainfall is contributing to an increased likelihood of more dangerous bushfire conditions by drying fuel. Bushfire weather is becoming harsher.

We must think seriously about how to prepare for, and cope with, increasing bushfire risk under a hotter climate. This report begins by describing the bushfire risk this coming spring and summer in New South Wales, before outlining the link between bushfires and climate change. We consider how bushfire weather is intensifying in the state, and what this means for the immediate future. We explore the impacts of fire on people, property, water supply, biodiversity and the economy, before identifying the future implications of bushfires for New South Wales fire managers, planners and emergency services.

This report provides an update to the previous Climate Council report on bushfire risk in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

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