Victoria is on the brink of an extreme bushfire season as climate change continues to intensify bushfire risk, a new Climate Council report reveals.
The economic toll of Victoria’s bushfires is projected to more than double by 2050, with the state bearing the brunt of Australia’s economic losses from bushfires, the report finds.
The Climate Council’s Professor Lesley Hughes said the increasing severity, frequency and the lengthening fire season will strain Victoria’s existing resources for fighting and managing fires.
“Victoria, as the state worst-affected by bushfires in Australia, is on the frontline of increasing bushfire risk due to climate change,” she said.
“Climate change action, in addition to preparing communities, emergency services and the health sector, is an absolute priority if we are to protect Victorians from worsening fire danger conditions.”
The report also found:
- Extreme fire weather has increased over the last 30 years in Victoria, extending into October and March.
- Fire severity and intensity is expected to increase substantially in coming decades in Victoria. The fire season will continue to lengthen, further reducing the opportunities for safe hazard reduction burning.
- The 2016–17 bushfire season in Victoria is expected to be “above normal” for the majority of the state as a result of projected above average temperatures and severe rainfall deficits, leading to strong late spring dry conditions.
- Victoria has sustained around half of the economic losses from bushfires despite comprising only 3% of Australia land mass and more than two-thirds of known civilian bushfire fatalities have occurred in Victoria.
- The total annual economic cost of bushfires in Victoria are projected to more than double to $378 million by 2050. These projections do not incorporate increased bushfire incident rates due to climate change and so could potentially be much higher.
Professor Hughes said the link between climate change and increased bushfire risk was well established.
“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,” she 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.”
Climate change expert and Climate Councillor Will Steffen said the report highlighted that more action was required to protect Victorians from worsening bushfires.
“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,” he said.
“That’s because the window of opportunity for safe hazard reduction burning are diminishing due to lengthening fire seasons, leaving Victoria extremely vulnerable.
“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.”
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You can download the report here.