James Grubel | Reuters
Australia’s deadliest wildfires increased pressure on the national government to take firm action on climate change on Monday as scientists said global warming likely contributed to conditions that fuelled the disaster.
At least 130 people were killed in wildfires, set off by a record heatwave in southern Victoria state over the past week days, while large areas of Queensland state remain flooded by tropical downpours.
Scientists said Australia needed to prepare for more extreme weather events due to global warming, while the Greens and environmentalists said the fires and floods proved the government needed to toughen its targets to curb Greenhouse emissions.
“It’s very clear, both globally and in Australia, there has been a warming trend since about 1950,” leading Australian climate scientist Kevin Hennessy told Reuters.
“In a nutshell we can say the heatwaves and the fires we’ve seen in Victoria recently maybe partly due to climate change through the contribution of increased temperature.
“Going forward, we anticipate there will be continued increases in greenhouse gases and that locks in a certain amount of warming, and in the case of southern Australia further drying, and this will increase the fire weather risk.”
Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change because of its hot, dry climate, with the nation’s south in prolonged drought and temperatures tipped to rise by 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 across the tropical north and desert interiors.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has set a target to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent by 2020, and will only cut further, to about 15 percent, if there is widespread international agreement on tougher action.
But Green groups want Australia, which creates about 1.5 percent of global emissions, to cut emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 as an example to the developing world, particularly India and China, about the need to take firm action.
Greens climate spokeswoman Christine Milne said all Australians had been deeply touched by the fire tragedy and the increased risk of fires from global warming.