Facts and Myths About Bushfires and Climate Change Media Brief

Feb 10, 2014 - 5:00am

Bushfire risk is rising. 

  • Between 1973 and 2010, the Forest Fire Danger Index rose at 16 out of 38 weather stations around the country. No station recorded a fall.  
  • Most of the most severe fire seasons have occurred from the 1990s.  
  • By 2050, with global warming of ‘only’ 3ºC, days of ‘very extreme’ fire weather are projected to occur four to five times as often in the southeast.  
  • The number of days of very high to extreme fire danger in New South Wales could more than double from an average of 17 days per year (at present) to 38 by 2050.
  • Instead of a catastrophic blaze every 30 years or so, on average, Victorians could face the prospect of a ‘Black Saturday’ every two or three years.
Download infographic here.

Fuel is always the main factor in fire risk. 

Fuel loading and human activity are clearly important factors in the risk of fire. However, weather conditions including drought, high winds and extreme temperatures are often a major influence on the number, size, and intensity of bushfires in southern Australia.

Download infographic here.

Climate change isn’t influencing bushfires. 

  • Climate change doesn’t light fires, but by rendering southern Australia drier and hotter, it’s creating favourable conditions for more dangerous, more frequent bushfires. 
  • Observations by the Bureau of Meteorology show that since the 1970s, fire danger has been rising in many parts of the country.  
  • The average temperature of the continent has risen by almost a degree since Federation, while rainfall in the south has fallen. The mix of warmer and drier weather is raising the risk of severe, extreme and catastrophic fire weather conditions in southeastern Australia. 
  • The fire season itself is spreading further into spring and autumn, with fewer and fewer opportunities for authorities to conduct hazard-reduction burns.
  • Fire authorities added 2 new danger ratings – severe and catastrophic – after Black Saturday. “Off the scale” fire danger (above an index of 100 for Catastrophic) has become more common. 
Download infographic here.


Australia’s climate is changing. 

  • Australia is becoming hotter. The continent’s average temperature is now nearly a full degree higher than it was in 1900.  2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record.  
  • Each decade from the 1970s has been, on average, hotter than the last. In the decade to 2011, the number of record-high temperatures exceeded record lows by up to five to one. 
  • Droughts and heat waves are more frequent and more intense. Rainfall is declining in southern Australia, particularly in winter. When the rains do come they come heavier. 
  • The changes cannot be explained by natural causes alone. The main cause is the buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Download infographic here.

The recent hot weather is within normal bounds. 

  • 2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record, with many places smashing local records.
  • Recent work by climatologists at the University of Melbourne shows that there is a 1 in 100 chance that the recent very hot weather is due only to natural causes. In other words, scientists can now say with a high degree of certainty that carbon pollution has made the weather hotter than it would otherwise have been.   
  • The latest unusually hot weather is made even more so given that the Southern Oscillation Index currently sits in a weak La Niña to neutral state—one normally associated with cooler conditions. 

Download infographic here.

The costs of bushfires and other weather-related disasters are mounting. 

  • The Insurance Council of Australia suggests that, from 1966, the insured loss from bushfires alone has totalled $5.6 billion in today’s money. 
  • Victoria’s ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires of February 2009 cost the community more than $4 billion, according to the subsequent Royal Commission.  This doesn’t include health and social costs, and flow-on costs to business.
  • Global reinsurer, Munich Re, recently predicted that the cost of all extreme weather events in Australia is set to soar from $6.3 billion a year today to about $23 billion a year in 2050—as the frequency and intensity of severe events like bushfires rises, together with rising population. 
  • Aside from the physical injury from heat, flames, and smoke, the mental and social tolls impose substantial additional costs on communities.  The cost in the treatment and lost productivity associated with mental disorders is already estimated at nearly $8 billion annually.  

Download infographic here.

Download full infographic with all six myths and facts here .

For more information
Kristina Stefanova | Communications Director, The Climate Institute | 02 8239 6299
Erwin Jackson | Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute | 02 8239 6299

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