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Australia wildfires will be ‘normal’ if world warms 3C, warns Met Office

'Conditions that are happening now, they won’t go away,' said scientists

Kate Ng
Tuesday 14 January 2020 11:19 GMT
Australia PM Scott Morrison says he could have handled meeting public 'better' on wildfire visits

Scientists have warned the bushfires razing large swathes of Australia could become “normal” around the world as global temperatures are projected to increase by 3-5C this century.

A review of 57 scientific papers published since 2013 suggested clear links between climate change and an increase in the frequency and severity of “fire weather”.

Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, who co-authored the review, said: “We’re not going to reverse climate change on any conceivable timescale. So the conditions that are happening now, they won’t go away.

The studies included in the review were analysed to determine the impact climate change had on wildfire risks all over the world.

The findings comes as the Australian government and some local media continue to downplay the role of climate change on recent wildfires that have destroyed nearly 3,000 homes and killed at least 28 people and an estimated one billion animals.

The increased risk of “fire weather” seasons – periods with a high fire risk due to the combination of higher temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and strong winds – have become 20 per cent longer globally.

Western United States and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia, the Amazon and Siberia are also affected by the increased fire risks.

Australia was particularly vulnerable to fires as its land area has warmed more than the rise in average global temperatures of about 1C since pre-industrial times, said Betts.

“Temperature conditions in Australia are extreme at the moment but they are what we expect to happen on average in a world of three degrees of global warming,” he added.

“It brings it home to you what climate change means.”

Ian Colin Prentice, director of the Levelhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society at Imperial College London and co-author of the review, added: “Wildfires can’t be prevented and the risks are increasing because of climate change.

“This makes it urgent to consider ways of reducing the risks to people. Land planning should take the increasing risk in fire weather into account.”

The World Meteorological Organisation said if no action is taken to stop rising emissions, the global temperature could increase by 3-5C this century, more than three times limits agreed in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced strong criticism for not doing more to combat climate change even as the country struggles to get its worst wildfire season on record under control.

He has admitted to handling some parts of the crisis poorly but has been defiant in rejecting any links between his administration's climate policies and the bushfires, and has defended the country's reliance on its coal industry.

During an interview with ABC News: "We want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better at it.

"I want to do that with a balanced policy which recognises Australia's broader national economic interests and social interest."

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