By Sophie Turner
The ongoing fires in Australia have caused devastation of epic proportions. And with the end of the fire season still months away, it will be a long time before the full extent of the damage will become known. Most recently, it seems that some Australian journalists and politicians are looking to find someone to blame for the fires, with false information circulating online about arson or green policies being responsible – anything except climate change.
Despite the conspiracy theories, emerging science continues to find links between global warming and worsening wildfires. A new study published last week shows that climate change has already increased the frequency and severity of fire weather* globally, increasing the risks of wildfire. The review also reports that more extreme conditions and longer fire seasons are as a result of climate change, rather than fluctuations due to natural variation.
The study was conducted through a rapid analysis of 57 peer-reviewed articles by scientists from the University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter, Imperial College London, the Met Office Hadley Centre and Australia’s CSIRO. The researchers used a new online platform to gather and evaluate papers that examine the link between climate change and fire risk. The study focused on papers published since the last major review of climate science came out in 2013. Though some of the papers noted anomalies in isolated regions, none of the papers showed a widespread decrease in fire risk.
Observational data (from 1979 to 2013) revealed that fire weather seasons had lengthened across approximately 25 percent of the Earth’s vegetated surface, resulting in a 20 percent increase in the average length of the fire weather season. With rises in global temperatures, these figures are only going to increase.
The research highlighted that the area with a detectable impact of anthropogenic climate change on fire weather will be twice as large at 3°C than at 2°C. However, the research concluded that there was significant potential to reduce future fire risks if we limit climate change to well below 2°C. It remains to be seen whether the Australian government will realise that stronger action is required to cut greenhouse gas emissions and help to meet these reduction targets.
*Fire weather is described as periods with a high likelihood of fire due to high temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and often high winds.