‘No doubt’ climate change causing wildfires, experts say as Australia burns

Elias Hubbard
January 14, 2020

Bushfires ravaging Australia have provided a foretaste of the kinds of conditions that could become normal, says Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at Britain's Met Office Hadley Centre.

At least 180 fires continued to burn across Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) states, with about 20 yet to be contained in NSW, Australia's most populous state.

-Thousands of Australians took to the streets on Friday to protest against government inaction on climate change, and were supported by protesters in London. Their study looked at 57 research papers published since the last major review of climate science came out in 2013.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison has found himself wedged between a vocal Queensland party room pushing back against increasing emissions reduction targets, and increasing public pressure to take more action on climate change in the wake of the fires.

This is defined as those periods of time which have a higher risk of fire due to a combination of high temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and high winds. A paper published past year suggests the impact of climate change could be detected outside the range of natural variability in 22% of land that's available for burning.

"Overall, the 57 papers reviewed clearly show human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire", said Dr Matthew Jones, from the University of East Anglia, and the lead author of the review.

Australia has been suffering from drought for years, and 2019 was not only the driest year ever-recorded, but also the hottest.

"This has been seen in many regions, including the western U.S. and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia and Amazonia".

However, the review says that the dramatic fire situation witnessed in Australia in recent months is "challenging to diagnose". While the Indian Ocean dipole weather system - which has brought hotter and drier conditions to Australia - has now passed its peak, weather systems in the eastern Pacific, which have brought hotter temperatures to Australia, are likely to continue and could result in continued hot and dry weather through January and February.

Betts said Australia was particularly vulnerable to fires since its land area had warmed by more than the rise in average global temperature of about 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times.

Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said Mr Morrison had done "everything he possibly, humanly could", but suggested " community expectations had changed.

There is "no doubt" that climate change increases the risk of wild forest fires around the world, researchers said on Tuesday, as the Australian government is facing criticism for denying devastating forest fires that are definitively linked to global warming.

"Temperature conditions in Australia are extreme at the moment but they are what we expect to happen on average in a world of three degrees of global warming", Betts said.

Other experts involved in the review say that people are seeing the signal of global warming "with their own eyes" when it comes to wildfires and heatwaves. Under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, every country on earth is treaty-bound to "avoid unsafe climate change", and find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally in an equitable way.

The UEA will produce a study on carbon cycle feedbacks before the COP26 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow in November, when countries are expected to give stronger commitments on greenhouse gas emissions to fulfil the aims of the 2015 Paris agreement. "This is not a new normal - this is a transition to more impacts".

Follow Matt on Twitter.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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