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Is climate change to blame for Australia's bushfires?

jacki Pocock, NOV 11.2019

Australia is enduring a bushfire crisis that has left three people dead, razed more than 150 homes, and prompted warnings of "catastrophic" danger.

Bushfires are a regular feature in the Australian calendar, but the blazes in New South Wales and Queensland have not previously occurred on such a scale and so early in the fire season, officials say.

This has led many Australians to ask how closely the fires can be linked to climate change.

The science around climate change is complex - it's not the cause of bushfires but scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate would contribute to Australia's fires becoming more frequent and more intense.

But the nation's political leaders are facing a backlash for batting away questions on the subject.

So are these bushfires due to climate change?

"We find it very difficult in general to attribute climate change impacts to a specific event, particularly while the event is running," said Dr Richard Thornton, chief executive of the Bushfires & Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre.

"But what we do know is that the average temperature in Australia now is running about 1C above the long-term average." He added fire seasons were starting earlier and "the cumulative fire danger" in many areas was growing.

Prof Wardle said the government was "passing the buck" on climate change and not doing enough to help stem the rise in global temperatures.

The Bureau of Meteorology's State of the Climate 2018 report said climate change had led to an increase in extreme heat events and increased the severity of other natural disasters, such as drought.

In April, 23 former fire chiefs and emergency leaders issued a letter, warning the government about "increasingly catastrophic extreme weather events". It requested a meeting which was declined by the government.

 

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