A range of climate change factors combined to create the tinderbox conditions that led to devastating fires destroying ancient forests in Tasmania, a new briefing paper by the Climate Council has found.
More than 72,000 hectares of western Tasmania have been burned by a cluster of bushfires ignited by lightning strikes on January 13. Experts say much of the burnt areas of alpine flora is unlikely to ever fully recover.
The report, issued by the Climate Council today in response to many media and public enquiries about the effect of climate change on the fires, found that a long-term drying trend, record-breaking dry spring and a dry, hot summer, driven in large part by climate change, played a significant role in increasing the susceptibility of the forests to fire.
The Climate Council’s Professor Will Steffen said the last quarter of 2015 was marked by record-setting heat, with October the warmest on record for Australia for both minimum and maximum temperatures.
“Several records were broken in Tasmania for daily maximum temperatures in December and extreme fire danger was declared over much of Tasmania during the unseasonably early October heatwaves,” he said.
“The Forest Fire Danger Index values at a number of sites were near record highs for so early in the season.”
Prof Steffen said extreme fire weather risk in Tasmania had increased over the last 30 years due to the influence of climate change.
“We are watching centuries-old ancient forests being destroyed because we failed to act early enough on climate change,” he said.
“Another natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef, is under threat from coral bleaching driven by record-high sea temperatures caused by climate change. The Reef has been repeatedly bleached since the late 1970s when global temperatures began their sharp rise.
“We must quickly transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy and rapidly and deeply cut our emissions if we are to stop this decimation of our natural heritage and protect our people from worsening extreme weather events.”
For media enquiries, please contact Head of Communications Jessica Craven on 0400 424 559. The briefing paper can also be found at www.climatecouncil.org.au.