Climate change means more fires: academic

Climate change means more fires: academic

23 January 2014

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USA — THE area burnt by bushfires in some parts of Australia could double by 2070 due to higher temperatures caused by climate change, a leading environmental academic says.

Australian National University’s Geoff Cary said a projected lift in temperatures of more than 2C would probably mean much more bushfire activity across the country.

“There’s an 80 per cent consensus indicating that increased fire activity into the future is highly likely,” he told reporters in an online Australian Science Media Centre briefing.

Associate Professor Cary said in areas with wet climates, like Tasmania, bushfire risk could double over the same period.

“In the Tasmanian climate, the future scenario for 2070 which is warmer and drier suggested a … 70 to 100 per cent increase in area burnt,” he said.

However, he predicted bushfires would burn far less area in central Australia by 2070 as hotter, drier, weather reduced the amount of fuel blazes had to feed on.

“We predict a significant decrease in the area burnt,” he said.

“(On) the question of the effects of climate change on potential fire activity, the answer depends very much on location.”

He said a key way to reduce the risk of blazes would be to move power lines underground in high fire danger areas.

But he said the cost involved in such a task would run into the billions.

“It becomes a benefit-cost situation,” he said.

La Trobe University’s Jim McLennan said many residents in bushfire prone areas remained unengaged with bushfire risks warnings.

“Typically these folk are not really mentally engaged with bushfire risk, they’ve got the world view that bushfires happen on television to other people, not to them,” Professor McLennan said.

However, he ruled out forced evacuations as a way to solve the problem.

“That would present us here with … problems in some areas where access roads are limited, and might be congested, and we could in fact put together a nightmare scenario.”

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