The Age has an article on Australia's warming climate (with Sydney experiencing an early spring that is warmer than any summer here I can remember), noting the increased risk of fire - Sydney heatwave: Is it hot enough for you ? (as does the recent PCC report - Australia vulnerable in a warming planet, leaked IPCC report finds). It didn't take long for the fires to appear, with the city covered in a pall of smoke this afternoon - Bushfires in NSW 'worst in more than a decade'.
One of the great oddities of recent times in Australia is that during our increasingly frequent and intense fire seasons – when we're losing houses and, unfortunately, lives – it is seen by many as rude or in poor taste to talk about climate change.
It is quite a bizarre response considering an ever-growing body of research highlights that increases in heat waves, fire danger and extreme temperatures are intimately linked to global warming. More importantly, these three areas are considered to be the earliest, most responsive and well-defined impacts of climate change.
In Australia, we have seen the Bureau of Meteorology add a new temperature colour to its maps, the creation of a catastrophic fire danger category, the hottest 12 months on record and heat records falling at increasing rates over the past 50 years. Worldwide research has shown that the number of new heat records being set has increased by 40 per cent while the number of extreme cold records being set has declined by 40 per cent.
We are seeing a shift in the climate towards warmer conditions that will unequivocally have an impact on the timing and intensity of fires. In Sydney, our fire season started this year in September. On Thursday we have had forecasts for a 39-degree day in Sydney and the declaration of catastrophic fire conditions in other parts of NSW.
Unfortunately, for me, this fire season shift comes as no surprise – it is exactly what is expected under climate change. We are no longer talking about projections, but observations made over the past 50 years and longer that reveal the change.