Australia's Black Summer of 2019-20 was characterised by catastrophic bushfires. The bushfire season started in winter and was the worst on record for New South Wales in terms of its intensity, the area burned, and the number of properties lost. It was also the worst season on record for properties lost in Queensland.
This report focuses on New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, because the effects of the bushfires were most severe in these areas, but we acknowledge that the bushfires affected Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Climate change fuelled Australia’s devastating Black Summer
- Extremely hot, dry conditions, underpinned by years of reduced rainfall and a severe drought, set the scene for this summer’s unprecedented fires.
- Cool season rainfall has declined in southeast Australia over the last two to three decades, while temperature records have been broken over and over. 2019 was Australia’s hottest, driest year on record. 2018-2019 was southeast Australia’s driest two-year period on record.
- The Australian fire season has lengthened in NSW, decreasing the ability of land managers to conduct hazard reduction burns and increasing the number of fire danger days.
Australia’s Black Summer was unprecedented in scale and harm. The bushfire season was the worst on record for New South Wales in terms of the scale of the bushfires, the number of properties lost and the amount of area burned.
The bushfires are estimated to have spewed between 650 million and 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That is equivalent to the annual emissions from commercial aircraft worldwide and is far higher than Australia’s annual emissions of around 531 million tonnes.
- Climate change events are becoming increasingly economically devastating.
- The tourism sector alone is set to lose at least $4.5 billion because of the bushfires. It is estimated that there was a 10-20 percent drop in international visitors booking holidays to Australia.
- The bushfire smoke that blanketed Sydney is estimated to have cost the city $12-50 million per day.
- More than 23,000 bushfire related insurance claims were lodged across New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria between November and February, totalling an estimated value of $1.9 billion.
The summer of 2019-20 saw unprecedented climate impacts fuelled by the burning of coal, oil and gas.
- The hot, dry conditions that fuelled these fires will continue to worsen without substantial, concerted action to rapidly phase out coal, oil and gas.
- Australia urgently needs a plan to cut our domestic greenhouse gas emissions to net zero and to phase out fossil fuel exports because we are one of the world’s largest polluters.
- Taking action now will provide a chance to stabilise, then eventually reduce disaster risks for future generations.
- Clearly, what Australia does matters and the longer we delay, the harder the problem will be to solve. We simply cannot leave this mess for our children to try to fix.