Australia — Australia is sitting on a time bomb when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions: bushfires.
Researchers said bushfires can release as much carbon pollution as the whole of industry combined.
While bushfires are not officially counted towards Australia’s emissions, researchers said they will be in the future and it could cost billions.
The Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre says the problem will snowball because climate change will cause more bushfires, which will release more carbon pollution, which makes climate change worse.
“Bushfires pose an enormous threat to Australia’s carbon balance,” said Mark Adams, a centre researcher who is based at the University of Sydney.
“In a bad fire year … the scale of emissions from forest fires in southern Australia was of the same order as industrial emissions.”
A bad fire could release 30 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.
“That is far far more than we’re ever going to be able to sequester from planting trees or promoting carbon capture,” he said, in reference to burying emissions from coal-fired power stations underground.
Authorities should actively manage forests into the future to minimise the threat of bushfires, Prof Adams said.
Burn-offs had to be used to reduce fuel loads and the intensity of fires.
He predicted the international community would include emissions from forests in a post-Kyoto climate pact, which could be signed as early as this year.
“Not to do so is to ignore one of the biggest threats to the global atmospheric pool of CO2,” he said.
The centre also has warned that many householders and communities are not ready for a bushfire, and current management practices won’t work into the future.
More people are moving to fire-prone areas on urban fringes but don’t realise the risks, the centre said.
And more fires are on the way as southern Australia becomes hotter and drier because of climate change.