Residents of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have experienced the serious consequences of bushfires. in 2003 large and uncontrollable fires devastated several suburbs in Canberra, claiming five lives and destroying over 500 properties.
Australians have always lived with fire and its consequences, but climate change is increasing fire danger weather and thus the risk of fires. It is time to think very seriously about the risks that future fires will pose.
SIX KEY FINDINGS
1. Climate change is already increasing the risk of bushfires in the ACT.
- Extreme fire weather has increased over the last 30 years in southeast Australia, including the ACT and surrounding region.
- Hot, dry conditions have a major influence on bushfires. Climate change is making hot days hotter, and heatwaves longer and more frequent, with increasing drought conditions in Australia’s southeast. 2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record and in the summer of 2013/14 Canberra experienced 20 days of at least 35°C. These conditions are driving up the likelihood of very high fire danger weather in the Territory.
- Australia is a fire prone country and the ACT has always experienced bushfires. Today hotter and drier conditions are increasing the risk of high fire danger weather.
2. In the ACT the fire season is starting earlier and lasting longer.
- During spring in the southeast of Australia, fire weather has been extending into October, and in the Autumn, into March. The fire season will continue to lengthen into the future, further reducing the opportunities for safe hazard reduction burning. This has significant implications for fire services and complicates the management of bushfires in Australia.
3. Severe fires in the ACT have already been influenced by record hot, dry conditions with significant consequences for life and property.
- Record breaking heat and a continued warming trend in the ACT has worsened fire weather and contributed to an increase in the frequency and severity of bushfires in the Territory and surrounding regions.
- In 2003 abnormally high temperatures and below-average rainfall in and around the ACT preceded bushfires that devastated several suburbs, destroyed over 500 properties and claimed five lives. This also had serious economic implications for the Territory with insured losses of $660 million ($2011).
4. In the future, the ACT is very likely to experience an increased number of days with extreme fire danger.
- Fire severity across southern Australia has been persistently higher than the long-term average, and the concept of a ‘normal’ bushfire season is rapidly changing as bushfires continue to increase in number, burn for longer, and affect larger areas.
- Fire frequency and intensity is expected to increase substantially in coming decades.
- This will have far reaching implications for ACT properties, agriculture, emergency services and lives.
5. It is crucial that ACT communities, emergency services, and health services prepare for the increasing severity and frequency of extreme fire conditions.
- As fire risk increases, disaster risk reduction will play a critical role in reducing risks to people and their assets. increased resources for our emergency services and fire management agencies will be required.
- By 2030, it has been estimated that the number of professional firefighters in Australia will need to approximately double (compared to 2010) to keep pace with increased population, asset value, and fire danger weather.
6. This is the critical decade
- To reduce the risk of even more extreme events, including bushfires, in the future, Australia must cut greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and deeply to join global efforts to stabilise the world’s climate.