Climate change overwhelming factor in fuelling Australian bush fires: Report

Three out of the four Australian "megafires" since 1930 have occurred after 2000, the CSIRO said in a report on Nov 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

CANBERRA (XINHUA) - Climate change has been found to be an overwhelming factor in the increase of Australian bush fires in both frequency and intensity, according to a landmark report from the country's national science agency.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) on Friday published an analysis of bush fire activity in 324,000 sq km of forest over the past 32 years.

According to the report, the average area of forest burned annually was 800 per cent higher between 2002 and 2019 than from 1988 to 2001.

Since 1988 the average burned area has increased fivefold in winter, threefold in autumn and tenfold in spring and summer.

The report found that factors such as the amount of vegetation, time elapsed since the last fire in an area and hazard burning reduction all impact the intensity of fires but that climate change was the overwhelming factor in the increase in frequency and intensity since 1988.

Of the four Australian "megafires" (defined as a bush fire that burns more than one million hectares) since 1930, three have occurred since 2000.

CSIRO scientist Pep Canadell said it was one of the most extensive studies of its kind ever undertaken.

"In Australia, fire frequency has increased rapidly in some areas and there are now regions in the south-east and south with fire intervals shorter than 20 years. This is significant because it means some types of vegetation won't reach maturity and this could put ecosystems at risk," he said in a media release.

"The results also suggest the frequency of forest megafires are likely to continue under future projected climate change."

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, which was called in the wake of the 2019 Black Summer bush fires, found that fuel-load management through hazard reduction burning may have no appreciable effect under extreme condition caused by climate change.

The CSIRO report corroborated that finding, questioning the viability of native forest logging as a fire management technique.

"This is happening regardless of anything that we might or might not do to try to stop the fires," Dr Canadell told Nine Entertainment newspapers.

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