Black Summer bushfires could be yearly event due to climate change: report

Black Summer bushfire seasons could occur every year if temperatures continue to rise at current levels. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Black Summer bushfire seasons could occur every year if temperatures continue to rise at current levels. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Bushfire seasons as severe as Black Summer could happen as often as every year if global temperatures continue to rise at their current levels, according to a new report.

A landmark report, released on Wednesday by the Australian Academy of Science, found Australia's ecological systems would be "unrecognisable" if temperatures remained on track to increase to 3 degrees above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

A 3-degree increase in temperatures would lead to as much as a 300 per cent increase in the number of extreme fire days each year.

The report said the increased temperatures would also cause severe heatwaves to take place at least seven times per year, lasting an average of 16 days each.

An increase of 1.5 degrees would lead to severe heatwaves happening three times per year, averaging 7.5 days each.

As many as 250,000 additional properties would be at risk of coastal flooding due to climate change impacts.

Even with an increase of 2 degrees, the report found 99 per cent of the coral along the Great Barrier Reef would be wiped out.

By 2030, it's estimated one in 19 property owners in the country would have unaffordable insurance premiums due to the climate risk, with that number expected to soar with a 3-degree increase. Report co-author Lesley Hughes said Australia had already experienced extreme climate change following just a 1 degree increase in temperatures.

"The frequency and severity of these threats will continue to increase over the next few decades, regardless of emissions reductions, because they are already baked into the system," Professor Hughes said. "Emissions reduction over the next decade is the critical time period because they determine what happens in the second half of the century and determine the nature of climate change as an existential threat."

Alarmingly, the report said it was "virtually impossible" to limit climate change to under 1.5 degrees, even if Australia met all of its current commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Paris Agreement, which was signed in 2015, called for countries to reduce temperatures to under 2 degrees.

"The total emissions reductions currently pledged by the Australian and international governments ... even if implemented on time, will translate as average global surface temperatures of 3 degrees or more above the pre-industrial period by 2100," the report said.

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"The planet is well on the path to devastating climate change."

The report said Australia would need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Among the 10 recommendations made by the academy were to scale up the development of low to zero-emissions technology and continue to build adaptation strategies to deal with the effects of change already in the climate system.

"Australia is well-positioned to meet this challenge .. .Australia has the potential to be a clean industrial powerhouse," the report said.

This story Black Summer fires could be yearly if current trends continue: report first appeared on The Canberra Times.