Australian summers a month longer and winters shorter as climate crisis hits, study finds

Hottest season extended by half, study finds, as country recovers from catastrophic fires

Jane Dalton
Sunday 01 March 2020 17:27
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Rescuers use cherry picker to reach koala in tree in fire-ravaged area in Australia

Australia’s summers have been extended by half due to climate change pushing up temperatures in recent decades, scientists have found.

As the country struggles to recover from the catastrophic wildfires that ripped through swathes of the southeast, a study highlighted a telling effect of the climate emergency.

The hottest season is now on average a month longer than half a century ago, and effectively twice as long as winter, which has contracted by three weeks, the research found.

“Our findings are not a projection of what we may see in the future – it’s happening right now,” said Richie Merzian, climate and energy expert at the Australia Institute, a think tank that compiled the report.

The unprecedented fires that began in October killed 34 people and around a billion native animals, while destroying more than 2,500 homes as they tore through towns, leaving people living in tents. Prime minister Scott Morrison dubbed it a “black summer”.

The devastation increased pressure on his government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, which is the world’s third-largest fossil fuel exporter.

Although the biggest fires have been contained or extinguished, more than a dozen were still burning at the end of February, which traditionally marks the end of summer in Australia.

The institute compared temperatures from the past two decades with mid-20th century data at the start of seasons in temperate and sub-tropical parts of the country.

Over the past five years, Australian summers have been on average 50 per cent longer, the analysis showed.

Experts have warned that higher temperatures and more heatwaves will in turn lead to more dangerous fire seasons and extreme weather, while shorter winters will reduce the window for mitigating the effects of fires.

The report found that areas such as Port Macquarie on the New South Wales coast experienced seven extra weeks of summer. The region, known for its koala population, was one of the hardest hit by wildfires in recent months, and it’s feared up to ears 85 per cent of the animals were killed by the flames and smoke.

“Extreme heat events are the most fatal of all natural hazards and have been responsible for more deaths in Australia than all other natural hazards put together,” Mr Merzian said.

Meanwhile, international forestry and climate experts have called for an immediate halt to all native forest logging in Australia to help slow the “climate, fire, drought and biodiversity loss crises”.

The country produces about 28.7 million cubic metres of wood from forest plantations a year.

Logging reduces carbon storage, threatens native species and increases fire risks, the experts say.

Additional reporting by agencies

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