The Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales (NSW) have declared states of emergency because of the threat of bushfires, which are burning out of control. There are more than 120 bushfires burning across the two states. Nine homes have been destroyed in Queensland, whilst 150 have been razed to the ground in NSW.
Temperatures are expected to reach 37C tomorrow, and with strong winds blowing, there are fears that the fires will continue to spread. A long running drought in NSW, which was not relieved by the rain that has drenched the state last week, has caused the very dry conditions ideal for bushfires to spread.
2018 was Australia's third hottest year on record, whilst 2017 was the fourth hottest. The summer of 2018 was the country's hottest ever. Average annual temperatures in Australia are now 1C higher than they were in 1910.
So how is climate change affecting the intensity of the bushfires? Well, in some conditions, higher levels of carbon dioxide encourage more plant growth, meaning there is actually more fuel available for the fires. Higher temperatures increase the rate of evaporation from the soil. But perhaps more importantly, higher temperatures extend the growing season for plants, meaning that more water is lost from the soil from transpiration, whereby water is drawn up by plants and evaporated through their leaves.
So far, Australia's government has refused to comment on whether climate change could be contributing to the intensity of this year's bushfires. Australia currently plans under the Paris agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030. Australia is currently the world's second largest exporter of thermal coal. When coal is burned, it releases roughly twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy as natural gas does. Carbon dioxide is one of the main 'greenhouse gases'.
An online survey, conducted by Australia's longest established market research company Roy Morgan in mid September 2019 found that 50% of Australians aged 18-64 agreed with the suggestion that if we don't act on climate change now, it will be too late. 28% thought that it's already too late to tackle climate change, whilst 18% felt that concerns over climate change were exaggerated.