Australia bushfires rage on; warning of more heatwaves


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 - Page 6

Firefighters were battling scores of wildfires raging in Australia yesterday, as a government commission warned that climate change had raised the risk of scorching heat waves becoming more frequent.

In the eastern state of New South Wales, some 1,000 firefighters were attempting to douse about 94 wildfires, about dozen uncontained, while fires were also burning in neighboring Victoria and Queensland states.

No deaths have been reported from the bushfires, which have flared during extreme summer temperatures, but the unprecedented heatwave has prompted the government’s Climate Commission to issue a new report on the weather event.

It says that climate change has contributed to making the extreme heat conditions — in which record-breaking temperatures in parts of the country have topped 45ºC — and bushfires worse.

“The length, extent and severity of the current heatwave are unprecedented in the measurement record,” the report Off the Charts: Extreme Australian summer heat said. “Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and longer heatwaves and more extreme hot days, as well as exacerbating bushfire conditions”

It says while many factors influence the potential for bushfires, so called “fire weather” is highly sensitive to changes in climatic conditions. Hotter temperatures, longer heatwaves, high winds and drier soils and grasses can all dramatically exacerbate fire conditions.

One of the report’s authors, David Karoly, said there was clear evidence of an increasing trend in hot extremes in Australia, where the current heatwave has affected more than 70 percent of the vast continent nation.

Karoly said the heatwave, which began last month, saw the average maximum daily temperature across the whole of Australia hit 40.3ºC on Monday, breaking a record of 40.17ºC which had stood since 1972.

“That’s an amazing temperature,” he told reporters. “No cool areas offsetting the record heat.”

Karoly said there was likely to be an increased frequency of hot extremes, more hot days, more heat waves and more extreme bush fire days during Australian summers in the future.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann launched a broadside on Friday at British Prime Minister David Cameron, accusing him of sending mixed messages when it comes to the EU.

What Cameron said depended on whether he was addressing the British people or a meeting in Brussels, Faymann told yesterday’s edition of Austria’s daily newspaper Standard.

Such an attitude undermined his trust in the British leader, said Faymann, a Social Democrat.

Cameron, under pressure from the euroskeptic wing of his Conservative party and from opinion polls suggesting growing hostility to the EU in Britain, has stepped up his criticism of the bloc.

He is due to give a long-awaited speech later this month, in which he is expected to offer a referendum after general elections in 2015 on taking back powers from the 27-member bloc.

Cameron got a generally positive reception from the British press after taking a tough stance during budget talks at November last year’s EU summit.

Last month, EU President Herman Van Rompuy warned that Cameron’s bid to win back powers from the EU threatened to undermine the single market.

This week, a US official expressed concern about Britain’s plans. US Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Philip Gordon warned that every hour spent arguing over the EU’s structures, was “one hour less spent on how to deal with the common issues of jobs, growth and international peace around the world.”