Friday 25 October 2013

A climate change debate in Australia

The new Minister for the Environment relied on Wikipedia to answer the question of the relationship between bushfires and climate change!

Australia: Climate change raising fire risk

Climate change is increasing the probability of extreme bushfire conditions, a report by the nation's leading climate change advisory body has found.

24 October, 2013

The landmark study by the Climate Council - the independent organisation established after the Abbott government abolished the Climate Commission in September - warns of increasing days of extreme fire danger in future across south-eastern Australia.

A summary of the report, obtained by Fairfax Media, will put further pressure on Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who are resisting international criticism and insisting the ferocious bushfires threatening lives and homes have no link to climate change.

''While Australia has always experienced bushfires, climate change is increasing the probability of extreme fire weather days,'' the report found.

''Climate change is making hot days hotter, and heatwaves more frequent and severe. Last summer, Australia experienced the hottest summer on record, and now has just had the hottest September on record.

''South-eastern Australia is experiencing a long-term drying trend. In NSW, soil moisture levels have been at record low levels now for a number of months. More intense and frequent hot weather, as well as dry conditions, increases the likelihood of extreme fire weather days.''

The 25-page report, which will be released in full in November, is being written by Professor Lesley Hughes of Macquarie University and Professor Will Steffen of the Australian National University.

They have researched 60 pieces of peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change and fire.

Both are former commissioners of the Climate Commission, chaired by Tim Flannery, which was disbanded by Mr Hunt a day after he was sworn in as minister.

The commission was set up by the Gillard government to provide public information on global warming. The decision to abolish it will save the government $1.6 million a year.

The full report will examine the bushfire crisis in NSW, with lethal fire conditions influenced by the hottest 12 months on record and the hottest September on record.

''The severity and scale of the fires may be unprecedented although until the data is assessed we can't say for sure,'' said Professor Hughes.

She said it was an ''enormous shame'' that climate change had become such a political hot potato. ''It's too important an issue to be politicised,'' she said.

But the political storm over the bushfire-climate link shows no sign of abating, with international experts continuing to weigh in to domestic politics and Mr Hunt facing ridicule over using Wikipedia for bushfire facts. The head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, insisted a link existed between rising temperatures and bushfires.

The Fire Services Commissioner of Victoria, Craig Lapsley, agreed climate conditions increased fire risk.

''The facts are on the table that in Central Australia it was hotter than normal, hotter than any time on record,'' he said.

Launching an app for vegetable growers and farmers in Somerville on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, on Friday, Mr Hunt stuck to the government line that the Coalition has always accepted the science.

He criticised what he saw as attempts to use the NSW bushfires as an example of climate change.

''The debate this week has been an attempt by some to misuse tragedy and suffering and hardship and nobody should do that,'' he told reporters after the launch.

He pointed in agreement to the chief scientist Ian Chubb, who on Thursday said individual events could not be attributed to climate change.

However, when pressed to talk more broadly about the impacts of climate change and the scientific consensus that climate change will mean an increase in the intensity and frequency of bushfires in Australia, he declined.

''This is not a debate about the science, this is a debate about the carbon tax. In terms of NSW, nobody should try and misuse that suffering.''

He repeated that Australia has always had bushfires.

He defended his interview this week with the BBC World Service, in which he said he cited Wikipedia as a source.

''Whether you cite CSIRO or any other form, is there anybody who doubts that bushfire has been an annual experience for the Australian population of the last 150 years?'' he asked.

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