Image Credit: Sascha Grant

A new report released today by the Climate Council warns that Victoria is likely to experience an “above normal” bushfire season over the 2016/17 summer as higher temperatures and lower rainfalls create fire prone conditions across the state.

The Climate Council emphasised the link between the increased risk from bushfires and the impacts of climate change, as global warming contributes to increases in the severity and frequency of bushfires occurring across Australia.  

“Climate change is making hot days hotter and heatwaves more intense, which then leads to dry conditions and drives up the odds of high fire danger weather,” The Climate Council’s Professor Lesley Hughes said.

“Seven out of ten of the hottest years in Victoria on record have occurred since 2000 and recent severe fires in Victoria were driven by record hot dry conditions driven by climate change.” Professor Hughes added.

The Climate Council cited the need for the greater resourcing of fire and emergency services as the frequency and intensity of bushfires grows. Without additional funding, as well as staff and volunteer firefighters, emergency services will become increasingly constrained, limiting the ability for resources and assistance to be shared between states.

The report follows similar analysis conducted for the Climate Council on the NSW/ACT bushfire season. In that report, the Climate Council observed that bushfire seasons in the region were starting earlier and lasting longer.

The lengthening fire season presents new challenges for management of fire risks. The report found that as the need for proactive management of the bushfire risks increases, opportunities undertake mitigation activities, such as hazard reduction burning, will be reduced.

The Climate Council estimated that the economic cost of bushfires in Australia is growing, currently estimated at $375 million per year, and expected to increase to an annual cost of $800 million by 2050.

Today’s report suggests that Victoria will continue to be disproportionately impacted by bushfires, having experienced more than half of all known fatalities due to bushfires, as well as around half of all economic costs. Victoria contains just three per cent of Australia’s landmass and approximately one-quarter of Australia’s population.

The Climate Council called on Governments to take proactive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid scenarios of worsening bushfire seasons driven by global warming. It called Australia’s emission reduction targets of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030 weak and will not be met with current levels of action.

“One of the major challenges of climate change is that in addition to increasing the bushfire threat, it also reduces the ability of fire services to minimize that risk,” Climate Councillor and Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, Will Steffen said.

“Australia must cut its emissions rapidly and join global efforts to stabilize the world’s climate to reduce the risk of worsening extreme weather events and bushfires here in Victoria” he added.

The report was authored by Climate Councillor Professor Lesley Hughes of Macquarie University, a Lead Author in the IPCC’s 4th and 5th Assessment Reports and Dr David Alexander, a researcher with the Climate Council.

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