From: Herald Tribune
Published February 17, 2009 09:43 AM

Fires and climate change prompt soul-searching in Australia

Scientists say that Australia can expect more of the scorching conditions that fanned the firestorms that killed at least 181 people this month, prompting a nationwide debate about how to prepare for a hotter, more fire-prone future.

As investigators pick through the tangled wreckage left by Australia's deadliest wildfires, which flattened townships and destroyed more than 1,000 homes starting Feb. 7, a wide-ranging discussion has begun about the way the country handles wildfires - from greenhouse-gas emissions standards to planning codes to an emergency protocol that encourages people to stay and defend their properties.


Wildfires have been a feature of the Australian landscape for centuries; thousands of fires burn across the continent each year. But scientists warn that the "Black Saturday" disaster is a sign of things to come as climate change brings hotter weather and less rain.

The governmental Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization concluded in 2007 that average temperatures in Australia would increase by as much as 2 degrees Celsius by 2030 and 6 degrees Celsius by 2070 unless greenhouse emissions are drastically cut. That would be a difference of 3.6 degrees and 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Days of high or extreme fire danger are forecast to increase by 5 percent to 25 percent if the effects of climate change are low and by 15 percent to 65 percent if they are high, the report said.

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