Climate change is the dominant factor causing the increased size of bushfires in Australia’s forests, according to a landmark study that found the average annual area burned had grown by 800 per cent in the past 32 years.
The peer-reviewed research by the national science agency, CSIRO — published in the prestigious science journal, Nature — reveals evidence showing changes in weather due to global warming were the driving force behind the boom in Australia’s bushfires.
Lead author and CSIRO chief climate research scientist Pep Canadell said the study established the correlation between the Forest Fire Danger Index – which measures weather-related vegetation dryness, air temperature, wind speed and humidity – and the rise in area of forest burned since the 1930s.
“It’s so tight, it’s so strong that clearly when we have these big fire events, they’re run by the climate and the weather,” Dr Canadell said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison went to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow to commit Australia to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and to upgrade his expectations for Australia’s 2030 carbon cuts, but he defied a global push to commit to phasing out fossil-fuel use. Instead, the Coalition government is backing a significant expansion of the gas industry, which it predicts will be 13 per cent larger in 2050 than it is now.
Under the federal government’s gas industry strategy, taxpayers will support the private sector to develop viable new gas fields and develop an extensive network of new pipelines and related infrastructure.
The bushfire royal commission identified climate change as a key risk to ongoing bushfire catastrophe but did not make recommendations about reducing greenhouse emissions to curb the threat.
The CSIRO report found other factors have an impact on the extent and intensity of bushfires such as the amount of vegetation or fuel load in a forest, the time elapsed since the last fire, and hazard reduction burning. But Dr Canadell said the study showed the link between weather and climate conditions and the size of bushfires was so tight, it was clear these factors far outweighed all other fire drivers.
“Almost regardless of what we do the overall extent of the fire, really, is dictated by those climate conditions,” he said.