Global heating has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather – the conditions in which wildfires are likely to start – around the world, a review of 57 recent scientific papers has shown.
The bushfires ravaging Australia are a clear sign of what is to come around the world if temperatures are allowed to rise to dangerous levels, according to scientists.
“This is what you can expect to happen … at an average of 3C above pre-industrial levels,” said Richard Betts, professor of geography at Exeter University. “We are seeing a sign of what would be normal conditions in a 3C world. It tells us what the future world might look like. This really brings home what climate change means.”
Average temperature rises in Australia were about 1.4C above pre-industrial levels before this season’s fires, showing a more rapid rate of heating than the global average of 1.1C.
Scientists warn that beyond a rise of 2C, the impacts of climate breakdown are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible, yet current global commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris agreement are estimated to put the world on track for 3C of heating.
“These are the impacts we are seeing at 1C [of heating] so these impacts will get more [severe] as long as we do not do what it takes to stabilise the world climate,” warned Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science and policy at the University of East Anglia (UEA). “This is not a new normal – this is a transition to more impacts.”
Betts said the extreme bushfires in Australia showed what climate change would mean in reality, which many people found hard to imagine. The influence of human-induced climate change was clear in the Australian fires, he said, though more studies were likely to confirm this in the coming months.