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Bushfires ravage Australia, with climate change partly to blame

Wildfires have been ravaging Australia for several months, with fires beginning in September and continuing to spread today (January 7).

Although wildfires are part of the Australian eco-system and are an important process for regenerating land, these fires are the worst since records began, with climate change being partly to blame. 

According to reports, an estimated 4.9 million hectares of land has been destroyed so far, this is an area of land that is equal to a 1/3 of the UK.

The fires have taken with them over 2,000 homes which as a result has forced thousands of people to seek shelter elsewhere. The current death toll has reached 25 people, which includes three firefighters, and it is estimated that over 1 billion animals have been affected.

Wildfires can start for a number of reasons, from natural causes such as dry vegetation or a lightning strike to human arson such as abandoned cigarette butts or irresponsible fireworks.

In a report published by the Climate Council, it is described that due to climate change, since the mid-1990s, southeast Australia has experienced a 15% decline in late autumn and early winter rainfall and a 25% decline in average rainfall between April and May.

This decreased rainfall has led to drought which means the vegetation is more flammable and susceptible to extreme fires.

Across Australia, the average temperature has also increased, with temperatures reaching a record-breaking 48.9 degrees last month (December).

These higher temperatures exacerbate the dry conditions, enabling the fires to take hold and spread quickly.

Extreme fires such as these can release huge amounts of CO2 in a very short period of time. According to climate scientist Pieter Tans, head of the Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, a forest fire destroying 500,000 acres of land will emit the same amount of CO2 that six large coal-fired power plants would release in one year.

With 12.35 acres of land burned in Australia, the amount of CO2 released in just a few months equals that released by 144 coal-fired fossil plants in one year.

The bushland, trees and forest that have been destroyed by the rivers would play an important role in absorbing this added CO2. Therefore, the amount of CO2 released has significantly increased and the amount of CO2 that can be absorbed has dramatically declined.

In response to this increasing crisis, Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia announced on Saturday (January 4) that he will dispatch 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists to help battle the fires. This is the first time in Australia’s history that this has been necessary.

Mr Morrison has also committed $20m (£10.6m) to lease fire-fighting aircraft from overseas and has promised an extra $1.4bn (£7.2bn) to help rebuild damaged towns and infrastructure once the fires are over.

In a statement yesterday (January 6) Mr Morrison said: ‘While the immediate focus for our emergency services and the Australian Defence Force is keeping people safe and defending against the fires hitting so many areas, we also need to be ready to hit the ground in communities where the fire-front has passed to help them rebuild.’

However, the PM has faced widespread criticism for failing to make the connection between the forest fires and climate change.

Australia is currently one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, with Market Forces estimating that tax-based fossil fuel subsidies cost Australia almost $12bn (£6.3bn)a year, and in a speech, last month (December) Mr Morrison has indicated that there will be no changes in his pro-fossil fuel policies.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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