Fire Report: Act now on climate to avoid dangerous fire risk Media Release

Sep 26, 2007 - 4:19am

The Climate Institute says that Australian fire-fighters face a future of extended and more extreme bushfire weather seasons if Australian and world leaders fail to act urgently to cut greenhouse pollution.

A report by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO released by the Institute today indicates the last few years, particularly the 2006-07 fire season, provide a sneak preview of the fire weather seasons of the future.

The report is the most comprehensive and up-to-date report undertaken in Australia on fire weather risk. It shows that recent fire weather seasons in the south and east have been the worst in the available records, with fire weather season intensity jumping by 10-40% above the levels in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Unless rising greenhouse pollution levels are reversed, Australian and world leaders build on the Kyoto framework and make the switch to clean energy, the fire weather in Australia is set to spiral dangerously upwards.” said Climate Institute Chief Executive John Connor. “Climate policies that aim to limit global warming to around 2oC above pre industrial levels can help avoid the worst impacts of fire weather in Australia.”

With this year’s fire season set to begin and world leaders meeting on climate change in the United States, the report estimates that the overall intensity of fire weather seasons may increase by up to 30% with high levels of global warming (over 3oC by 2050). The number of days of extreme fire danger experienced each year in Australia could increase by 65% by 2020 and up to 300% by 2050.

“Recent bushfires have forced tens of thousands of fire-fighters into the field to protect the homes and lives of Australians and caused over a billion dollars in damage. This is not a future legacy that we should be leaving our children by failing to get climate change under control.”

The Forest Danger Rating used by fire services lists “extreme” as the highest possible level of fire weather risk. This report points to two more unofficial fire danger levels – “very extreme” and “catastrophic” –  becoming much more common.”

With high global warming, “very extreme” days may occur twice as often by 2020, with a four or five fold increase predicted across much of southern and eastern Australia by 2050. “Catastrophic” risk levels like that which occurred during the tragic 2003 Canberra fires are currently very rare but may occur across nearly all parts of south east Australia by 2050.

“More frequent, intense and longer fire seasons suggests more resources will be needed to support fire fighting agencies. Climate change does not respect state borders and this highlights a strong need for a national emergency services response to lower levels of climate change,” said Mr Connor.

“No political party has a plan for Australia’s future unless it has clear plans to reverse our rising greenhouse pollution, ensure all new electricity comes from clean energy and join the rest of the world to building on the Kyoto framework to reduce greenhouse pollution. With urgent action our children will not have to face potentially the worst bushfire weather seasons ever seen.”

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