New South Wales (NSW) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are bracing for another severe bushfire season, as climate change continues to drive extreme conditions, a new Climate Council report has revealed.
The ‘Climate Change and the NSW and ACT Bushfire Threat’ report finds the economic cost of bushfires in the NSW and ACT is approximately $100m this year, with annual bushfire costs projected to more than double by 2050.
Climate Councillor and ecologist Professor Lesley Hughes said fire seasons in NSW and the ACT were beginning earlier and lasting longer, with the bushfire season now extending into spring and autumn.
“NSW in particular has already experienced dangerous bushfires this fire season as a result of hot weather and dry conditions,” she said.
“With forecast hotter and drier than average conditions predicted this summer, along with high levels of grass growth during spring from record rainfall in September, we can expect to see increased fire danger in both NSW and the ACT.
“This is all occurring within the context of a changing climate. The concept of a ‘normal’ bushfire season is rapidly changing as fires continue to increase in number, burn for longer and affect larger areas of land than ever before.”
The report also found:
- Extreme fire weather and the length of the fire season has increased in NSW and the ACT since the 1970s.
- NSW and the ACT are very likely to experience an increase in the number of extreme fire danger days as a result of climate change.
- The annual economic cost of NSW and ACT bushfires in 2016 is approximately $100 million, but is expected to more than double by 2050.
- Communities, health services and emergency services must prepare for worsening bushfire conditions.
- As climate change continues to worsen bushfire conditions, firefighting services will be less able to rely on help from interstate and across the world as fires occur simultaneously.
“As bushfire conditions continue to worsen due to climate change, we will be less able to rely on help from interstate and across the world as fires occur simultaneously. For example, in NSW in August 2014, volunteer firefighters were fighting 90 fires at the same time,” Professor Hughes said.
“Preparing communities, emergency services and the health sector, is an absolute priority to protect residents in NSW and the ACT from worsening fire danger conditions.”
Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said the report highlighted that more action was required to protect NSW and ACT residents from worsening bushfires.
“One of the major challenges of climate change is that it reduces the ability of fire services to minimize the escalating risks,” she said.
“That’s because the window of opportunity for safe hazard reduction burning are diminishing due to lengthening fire seasons, leaving NSW and the ACT communities vulnerable.
“The real test of climate change action is pollution going down. In Australia our carbon pollution is going up. That is a clear indication that current policies are deeply inadequate. Tackling climate change is critical to reducing the risk of worsening extreme weather events and bushfires here in NSW and the ACT into the future.”
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The full report can be accessed here.