Climate change clearly fuelled Australia's deadly 2019-2020 bush fires: Govt inquiry

SYDNEY • Australia's devastating 2019-2020 bush fires were "clearly" fuelled by climate change, a government inquiry reported yesterday, following some of the largest forest fires recorded worldwide.

With this year's fire season already under way, the authorities recommended urgent action to limit the impact of extreme blazes, expected "to become more frequent" in future.

The deadly bush fires raged for nine months till March and were most severe in New South Wales state, where 11,000 fires burned more than 5.5 million ha - the size of many countries.

After months of consultation and expert testimony, the New South Wales government yesterday published a 436-page report on the blazes that destroyed more than 2,400 homes in the state and left 26 people dead.

The text included dozens of recommendations and featured a blunt rebuke of those who insisted the fires had nothing to do with climate change.

"Climate change as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions clearly played a role in the conditions that led up to the fires and in the unrelenting conditions that supported the fires to spread," it read.

The report noted it was impossible to say what precise role climate change had played in producing the complex range of climatic conditions that helped fuel the fires.

Those conditions included a years-long drought, high winds, thunderstorms and low humidity.

While cautioning that "climate change does not explain everything that happened", the authors noted that the catastrophic conditions were "consistent with what climate change projections have been saying will happen".

"Extreme fires and fire seasons are likely to become more frequent," they warned.

The report also rubbished suggestions by those opposing action on climate change - including some inside Australia's conservative government - that arson and insufficient forest clearance were to blame.

Only 11 of the blazes in New South Wales were found to have been the work of an arsonist deliberately trying to start a bush fire.

Many of the largest fires were caused by lightning strikes in remote areas, the document said.

The report's recommendations largely focused on disaster response and mitigation, including the use of technology to detect remote fires more quickly, and increased aerial water-bombing to stop them growing beyond control.

New South Wales said yesterday it will compel owners to clear their land of flammable material as it endorsed all 76 recommendations from the inquiry.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2020, with the headline 'Climate change clearly fuelled Australia's deadly 2019-2020 bush fires: Govt inquiry'. Subscribe