GP Insights

GP Insights # 211, 4 January 2020

The Fires in Australia highlights the perils of ignoring Climate Change
Rashmi Ramesh

What happened?
Australian government declared a state of emergency in the south-eastern parts, due to the massive wildfires this week. 

Tasmania, Brisbane, Victoria, and New South Wales (including Sydney), are the worst affected areas of Australia. More than 28 have been killed and has forced a mass evacuation of citizens and tourists in most affected places like Mallacoota, East Gippsland, Nowra and Cobargo. Firefighting operations and rescue operations are being conducted jointly by Australia, Canada, US and New Zealand. 

What is the background?
Australian fires have occurred in the wake of similar incidents in Brazil and Indonesia in 2019. 

Australia is witnessing one of the deadliest wildfires since mid-2019, and it has been ascending since the beginning of summer. As the summer set in, the temperature soared to shatter records, thus leading to intense fires. The fire has burnt approximately 14.5 million acres. Scientists estimate the death of 500 million native animals and loss of large forest areas. They have also noted that some species of flora and fauna have been completely wiped out off the Australian map.

Fires are not uncommon in Australia. Black Thursday (1851), Red Tuesday (1898), Black Friday (1938), 1974-75 NT bushfires, 2002 NT bushfires, Eastern Victorian Alpine bushfires (2003), Central Coast bushfires (2006), The Great Divides bushfires (2006), Carnarvorn bushfire (2011) are amongst the most intense occurrences. 
Recent bushfires also can be linked with climate change. It has dictated that the fires rise the intensity ladder and this is seen in 2019-2020 incidents. 

What does it mean?
First, Australia is in the midst of a climate crisis – the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, record-breaking summer temperatures, raging fires and unpardoning droughts that have affected the farmers severely. 

Second, the state is in a denial mode. Australians voted the Conservatives to power, the coalition which has long rejected coal reduction and climate-friendly policies. With this, Australia is set to face more issues on the environmental front, in the coming days. The rise of Conservatives is a concern in other parts of the world as well. Brazilian President toes the same line and rejects the existence of climate change. Certainly, climate-denial leaders/states pose a threat. 

Third, the fires in Australia have affected neighbouring New Zealand, where the smoke and dust has engulfed mostly the western parts. The glaciers in New Zealand have also been adversely affected due to the smoke and other contaminants. On a similar fashion, the Indonesian fires had affected its neighbours Malaysia and Singapore, leading to a diplomatic row. 

Fourth, 2019 witnessed raging flames that devastated the Brazilian Amazon, the sub-Arctic forests, the Indonesian Borneo and southeast coast of Australia. In the absence of any fruitful action on climate change, such occurrences are set to become more frequent and severe. 

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