Smoke from a bushfire billows over hills near Forcett, east of Hobart, Australia, 8 January 2013. Photo: Reuters

By Matt Johnston
9 December 2013

(Herald Sun) – Victorians should prepare for more intense bushfires to flare up more often, a report on climate change warns. 

The Climate Council, which was the government funded Climate Commission before Prime Minister Tony Abbott removed it from the public purse, will release its report into bushfire risks today.

Chief councillor Professor Tim Flannery said Australia had always experienced bushfires and there was a growing likelihood there would be more of them in the future.

"Climate change is driving up the risk of fire danger weather," he said.

"People lose their lives in Australia due to fires, and property and infrastructure is also damaged.

"We must understand the risks of a changing climate to protect ourselves into the future."

The report says climate change is contributing to hotter and drier conditions in the southeast and southwest of Australia.

The report also predicts sustained and more frequent heatwaves, extending into October and March. [more]

Climate Council warns on big and frequent bushfires


Cover of 'Be Prepared: Climate Change and the Australian Bushfire Threat' report by the Climate Council, 2013. Graphic: Climate Council

Climate change is already increasing the risk of bushfires.

  • Extreme fire weather has increased over the last 30 years in southeast Australia.
  • Hot, dry conditions have a major influence on bushfires. Climate change is making hot days hotter, and heatwaves longer and more frequent. Some parts of Australia are becoming drier. These conditions are driving up the likelihood of very high fire danger weather, especially in the southwest and southeast.
  • Australia is a fire prone country and has always experienced bushfires. All extreme weather events are now being influenced by climate change because they are occurring in a climate system that is hotter and moister than it was 50 years ago.

2. In southeast Australia the fire season is becoming longer, reducing the opportunities for hazard reduction burning.

  • These changes have been most marked in spring, with fire weather extending into October and March.
  • The fire season will continue to lengthen into the future, further reducing the opportunities for safe hazard reduction burning.
  • One analysis indicated that under a relatively modest warming scenario, the area of prescribed burning in the Sydney region would need to increase two- to three-fold to counteract the increased fire activity. Under a more realistic scenario, the amount of hazard reduction will need to increase five-fold.

3. Recent severe fires have been influenced by record hot, dry conditions.

  • Australia had just experienced its hottest 12 months on record. NSW had experienced the hottest September on record, days well above average in October and exceptionally dry conditions. These conditions mean that fire risk has been extremely high and we have already seen severe bushfires in NSW in the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains.
  • The Black Saturday fires in Victoria were preceded by a decade-long drought with a string of record hot years, coupled with a severe heatwave in the preceding week. The previous record for the Forest Fire Danger Index was broken by such an extent that it was revised and the category “Catastrophic” or “Code Red” was added.
  • Since 2009 there have been a number of subsequent declarations of Catastrophic conditions around southern Australia in step with the hotter and drier climate.

4. In the future, Australia is very likely to experience an increased number of days with extreme fire danger.

  • Fire frequency and intensity is expected to increase substantially in coming decades in many regions, especially in those regions currently most affected by bushfires, and where a substantial proportion of the Australian population lives.

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

  • As fire risk increases, disaster risk reduction and adaptation policies will play a critical role in reducing risks to people and human assets. Increased resources for our emergency services and fire management agencies will be required.
  • One estimate of the future economic costs of bushfires indicates that with no adaptive change, increased damage to the agricultural industry in Victoria by 2050 could add $1.4 billion to existing costs.
  • By 2030, it has been estimated that the number of professional firefighters will need to approximately double (compared to 2010) to keep pace with increased population, asset value, and fire danger weather.

6. This is the critical decade

  • Australia must strive to cut emissions rapidly and deeply to join global efforts to stabilize the world’s climate and to reduce the risk of even more extreme events, including bushfires.

Be Prepared: Climate Change and the Australian Bushfire Threat

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