Briefing paper

‘This is not normal’: climate change and escalating bushfire risk

12 Nov 2019
Description

The nature of bushfires in Australia has changed. Bushfire conditions are now more dangerous than in the past, and the risk to people and property has increased. For well over 20 years scientists have warned that climate change would increase the risk of extreme bushfires in Australia. This warning was accurate. Scientists expect extreme fire weather will continue to become more frequent and severe without substantial and rapid action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The burning of coal, oil and gas is driving up global temperatures, leading to hotter Australian conditions. Since the mid-1990s, southeast Australia has experienced a 15% decline in late autumn and early winter rainfall and a 25% decline in average rainfall in April and May. Across Australia average temperature has increased leading to more record-breaking hot weather. Extreme fire danger days have increased.

Key findings:

  • The catastrophic, unprecedented fire conditions currently affecting NSW and Queensland have been aggravated by climate change. Bushfire risk was exacerbated by record breaking drought, very dry fuels and soils, and record-breaking heat.
  • Bushfire conditions are now more dangerous than in the past. The risks to people and property have increased and fire seasons have lengthened. It is becoming more dangerous to fight fires in Australia.
  • The fire season has lengthened so substantially that it has already reduced opportunities for fuel reduction burning. This means it is harder to prepare for worsening conditions.
  • The costs of fighting fires are increasing. Australia relies on resource sharing arrangements between countries and states and territories within Australia. As seasons overlap and fires become more destructive, governments will be increasingly constrained in their ability to share resources and the costs of tackling fires will increase.
  • The government must develop an urgent plan to (1) prepare Australian communities, health and emergency services for escalating fire danger; and (2) rapidly phase out the burning of coal oil and gas which is driving more dangerous fires.
Publication Details
Language: 
English
License Type: 
CC BY
Published year only: 
2019
222
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