Institute: Bushfire seasons worse due to climate change

SOUTHERN parts of Australia are becoming hotter and dryer, and that our bushfire seasons are becoming longer and more extreme thanks to climate change, The Climate Institute said.

The Institute said this evidence from ongoing scientific research further highlighted the urgent environmental, social and economic need to take action on climate, CEO John Connor said.

"Global and Australian commitments made at the Paris conference in December, as well as a process to strengthen them, would significantly reduce projected levels of bushfire risk," Mr Connor said.

"It points to the need for a two pronged strategy - to be working hard to cut carbon pollution while, at the same time, building greater resilience to bushfires caused by the global warming already locked in.

"We have brought together the most recent research undertaken by various bodies and scientists about factors influencing the bushfire season in Australia.

"It is showing that bushfire risk is increasing in bushfire-prone parts of Australia - generally, the south-east and south-west - and that climate change caused by human activity is a significant factor in the environmental changes that are creating these conditions."

It also showed that the economic costs of bushfire and other climate change-related weather disasters continue to mount with each passing season, he said..

"Even without factoring in the potential impact of climate change, the total economic cost of natural disasters, including bushfires, is expected to go from $6 billion a year in 2012 to over $23 billion a year in 2050," he said.

"Add in the effects of climate change and it becomes truly alarming."

The CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology have found a statistically significant increase in the occurrence and severity of bushfire weather in over 42% of the parts of southern Australia measured since 1973, he said.

"Findings by researchers in each of the southern states are all showing that fire weather officially categorized as 'very high', 'extreme' and 'catastrophic' is on the increase and will become more and more frequent as we move into the future," he said.

"For example, with high levels of global warming, Tasmania is expected to see a 120 per cent increase in the number of fire days categorized above 'very high' by 2100.

"Western Australia can expect the number of annual severe fire danger weather days to double by 2090 if the planet does not manage to limit climate change.

"Likewise, in this scenario, research has also predicted Victoria could go from a 'Black Saturday' level bushfire event once every 30 years to once every three."

Mr Connor also pointed out that scientific findings support the contention that climate change is playing a significant causative role in the frequency, duration and intensity of Australian heatwaves, the warming and drying of much of southern Australia, the reduction in cool season rainfall, the lengthening of the bushfire seasons and the concurrent increase in their severity.

"Scientists from the MET Office and the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit in the UK recently announced 2015 was the hottest year on record, while our own Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO reported that eight out of the hottest ten years in Australia have taken place since 2002, with 2013 being the hottest and 2015 the fifth hottest," Mr Connor said.

"Additionally, the University of Melbourne has found that natural climate variation cannot explain our record summer temperatures.

"The evidence from the scientific community and from our bushfires is clear - if we and other nations don't take stronger action to reduce carbon pollution, extreme and extending bushfire seasons will be just one of the growing adverse outcomes for Australia's environment, economy and community in the future."

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