October 14, 2014, by Kieran Cooke
Hot spot: a bushfire rages in the hills close to Lithgow, New South Wales, last year
Image: Lithgowlights via Wikimedia Commons
Summer has come early across much of Australia – and as temperatures soar to record seasonal levels in many areas, the bushfire season has started well ahead of schedule. LONDON, 14 October, 2014 − It’s the time of year when many Australians start to think about eating outdoors or heading for the beach after work. Early spring, and the temperatures are rising – particularly this year. The Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says maximum temperatures in September across much of the country were higher than average, with central and south-western areas experiencing their warmest September on record. Australia is considered to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of a climate change, and 2013 was the country’s hottest year since records began, with average temperatures 1.2˚C above the long-term average. In one seven-day period in early January last year, record national average temperatures exceeded 39˚C.
September started off cool in Sydney, Australia’s most populated city, but then heated up to unprecedented levels for this time of year. For the first time, temperatures climbed to more than 32˚C for two consecutive days in the month. Meanwhile, overall September rainfall was 27% below the monthly average − and the dry conditions mean the bushfire season has come early. The south of the island of Tasmania has fared particularly badly, with fires fuelled by dry conditions and high winds. Areas round Sydney and throughout New South Wales – the country’s most populous state − have also been hit by bushfires, with fire warnings going out to more than a million homeowners. Despite growing evidence that human-induced climate change is a major reason for Australia heating up, the Liberal-National coalition government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott has taken little action on the issue. It has abolished a carbon tax introduced by the previous Labour government, abolished a Climate Commission that gave advice on the impact of warming, and is seeking to downgrade modest renewable energy targets.
Australia is one of the world’s leading producers of coal – the most polluting fuel, which is responsible for a significant portion of climate changing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The country’s per capita GHG emissions are among the highest in the world. A recent report on Australia’s climate, produced by BOM and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the national science agency, predicts temperatures rising across the country by between 0.6˚C and 1.5C by 2030, compared with the rise of 0.6˚C between 1910 and 1990. The report says: “Data and analysis from BOM and CSIRO show further warming of the atmosphere and oceans in the Australian region. . . this warming has seen Australia experiencing warm weather and extreme heat, and fewer cool extremes. “There has been an increase in extreme fire weather, and a longer fire season, across large parts of Australia.” – Climate News Network
Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues