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Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

14 February 2006

Will climate change increase bushfires?


A new study funded by the Australian Government and some State and Territory governments will provide important new information to help communities across south-east Australia prepare for possible increased bushfire risk which may follow from climate change in coming decades.

Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, today released the report Climate change impacts on fire weather in south-east Australia, produced for the governments by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

"Bushfire is a natural and devastating part of the Australian summer landscape, with communities across our country regularly struggling with the loss of lives, loss of property and huge financial costs of bushfires," Senator Campbell said.

"Victoria's devastating fires of 1983, for example, cost the community $138 million while the 2003 Canberra bushfires cost $342 million. The human impact of such disasters simply cannot be calculated.

"The south-east region of Australia is particularly vulnerable to bushfire - along with southern California and southern France it is identified as one of the three most fire-prone areas in the world. It is therefore critical that we prepare for the potential of increased fire risk associated with the hotter and drier years we may experience in the future."

The report found that should the average summer temperature increase, there will also be an increase in the frequency of very high and extreme fire danger days, especially in inland areas. At most places an increase in fire danger in spring, summer and autumn is also likely, which will move the periods suitable for prescribed burning towards winter.

"I am pleased that the Victorian, New South Wales and Tasmanian Governments have joined with the Australian Government to begin the early planning needed to identify and prepare for the potential of increased fire risks associated with changes in rainfall patterns, temperature, relative humidity and wind speed," Senator Campbell said.

"This report is an important first step in better informing governments, fire management agencies and researchers about those risks."

Funding was provided by the Australian Government's Greenhouse Office, the New South Wales Greenhouse Office, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment and the ACT Rural Fire Service.

The Australian Government provided funding through its $1.9 billion climate change strategy which aims to enhance scientific understanding of climate change, build an effective global response to climate change, reduce national greenhouse gas emissions, and prepare governments and communities for the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

The report is available at www.greenhouse.gov.au

Media Contacts:
Renae Stoikos (Senator Campbell's office) 02 6277 7640 or 0418 568 434

Commonwealth of Australia