Australia Faces Worsening Bushfires Without Climate Change Action: Report

By Rob Verdonck | March 11, 2020

Australia risks worse wildfires than this season’s record-breaking blazes unless it reduces emissions and phases out fossil-fuel exports, climate scientists warned.

In a report titled “Summer of Crisis,” the Climate Council lobby group said Australian governments ignored warnings from scientists for at least a decade about an impending bushfire disaster.

“If we fail to take strong action to rapidly phase out coal, oil and gas as part of a global effort, the impacts of climate change, including worsening extreme weather, will continue to escalate,” the report said. “Further denial and delay in taking action on emissions guarantees a worsening of disasters into the future.”

The wildfires razed an area the size of England, killed more than 30 people and a billion animals and smashed the nation’s tourism industry. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly emphasized the importance of Australia’s vast coal and natural gas resources to the economy, playing down the nation’s role in global emissions.

Rains helped put out the last fire in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, earlier this month, ending more than 240 days of blazes. Yet while the precipitation replenished Sydney’s reservoirs, much of the state is still in drought after the hottest and driest year on record.

For the first time since early July 2019, there is currently no active bush or grass fires in #NSW. That’s more than 240 days of fire activity for the state. #nswfires #nswrfs
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) March 2, 2020

“Worsening extreme weather is clearly driven by a warming climate,” the report said. “Australia urgently needs a plan to cut our domestic greenhouse gas emissions to net zero and to phase out fossil fuel exports, because we are one of the world’s largest polluters.”

Key Details From the Report:

  • It was the worst bushfire season on record in New South Wales
  • An estimated 800 million animals were killed in the state and 1 billion nationally
    — “These figures are likely underestimated, as they only include mammals, reptiles and birds, and do not include animals that would have starved post bushfires in burned habitats.”
  • 14% of the adult population, or 2.9 million people, were directly affected by threat or damage to homes or being forced to evacuate, while 80% were indirectly affected
  • Fires released between 650 million and 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The median estimate of 900 million tons is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions from commercial aircraft worldwide
  • Around 5.8 million hectares of temperate forest burned in New South Wales and Victoria, more than a fifth of the total. Typically less than 2% of forests are burned out annually
    — More than half of the Gondwanan rainforests, which are normally too damp to burn, were affected
  • Major population centers including Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra were affected by dangerous air quality due to bushfire smoke for many weeks
  • Mounting costs make it difficult to estimate the economic impact
    — The tourism sector is estimated to lose at least A$4.5 billion ($2.9 billion) after a drop of 10-20% in international visitors booking holidays to Australia
    — 23,000 insurance claims with a value of A$1.9 billion were filed from Nov. 8 to Feb. 14.

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