Australia — Climate change could more than triple the risk of catastrophic wildfires in parts of Australia, a top environmental group warned Thursday, almost a year since savage firestorms that killed 173 people.
Greenpeace warned that, without a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the frequency of severe fire danger in drought-parched southeastern Australia would grow threefold by 2050.
“Catastrophic” conditions similar to those ahead of February’s so-called “Black Saturday” wildfires which killed 173 people in towns around Melbourne would occur once every three years, instead of once in every 33.
“The frequency of catastrophic fire danger could increase more than tenfold in Melbourne, and the number of total fire ban days could triple in Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra by 2050,” according to a Greenpeace report entitled “Future Risk.”
If targets for emission cuts proposed by world leaders at December’s Copenhagen summit were adopted in a new global treaty, southeastern Australia would still face at least a doubling of severe fire risk, Greenpeace said.
“If we do nothing to address climate change we are knowingly placing more lives and property at risk,” said Greenpeace CEO Linda Selvey.
According to the report temperatures in Australia had warmed an average 0.9 degrees Celsius (33.6 F) since 1950, with the greatest intensification of heat in the country’s east, which was accompanied by markedly declining rainfall.
“Hotter, drier weather is a recipe for bushfire disaster in regions of Australia home to the majority of the population,” it said, adding that the changing climate had “noticeably” prolonged the annual fire season.
The February 7 Black Saturday fires were the worst natural disaster in Australia’s modern history, with one expert likening their intensity to the energy produced by 1,500 Hiroshima atomic bombs.
More than 2,000 homes were destroyed, killing 173 people and injuring more than 400.
Australia this week reiterated its Copenhagen goal for emissions cuts of between five and 25 percent of 2000 levels by 2020, depending on commitments by other nations, and said they would be formally submitted to the UN.