Groups Want To Know If Climate Change Caused Tasmania’s Wildfires

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Tasmania has for the past two weeks experienced multiple wildfires that have threatened even UNESCO World Heritage protected forests.

With massive wildfires ravaging Tasmania’s ancient forests for more than two weeks, groups are now calling for official inquiries on whether climate change is partly to blame.

As of Thursday, 70 fires remain active across this island state south of Australia, with 46 of them still out of control, according to Tasmania Fire Service. No lives have been lost, but what has been called the worst wildfire in the country’s history has burned more than 100,000 hectares (386 square miles), including up to 115 square miles in a World Heritage area that has some of the world’s tallest and oldest trees, as well as endangered wildlife.

And while local media reported this week that the crisis has improved somewhat since the lightning-ignited fire began in mid-January, environmentalists and academics say the influence of man-made climate change into the more than 80 brush fires that ultimately developed needs to be understood.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has called for an official inquiry into how to prevent similar fires as global warming continues.

“We need to ask whether or not Parks and Wildlife have adequate resources to implement a policy of actively fighting … remote area fires, especially in sensitive alpine areas,” said Jess Abrahams, an ACF campaigner, to Guardian Australia.

David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, wrote last week that the loss of vegetation that takes thousands of years to recover “is a warning shot” of what climate change can do. He agreed with organizations’ call for an inquiry.

Tasmania, like the United States, has been increasingly experiencing extreme weather events like forest fires that most scientists say are associated with man-made climate change. Risks of wildfires are high globally, too, because of climate change, according to recent studies. For Tasmania, prolonged hot and dry weather has led into these wildfires. In fact, in 2015 Tasmania went through its hottest and driest spring on record.

Conditions haven’t improved this year, according to published reports. Moreover, scientists like Bowman point out that there has been an uptick of lightning storms in the last decade that have ignited massive fires. In 2013 lightning sparked the Giblin River fire, one of the largest in the country’s history.

Yet with some 45,000 hectares (about 173 square miles) burned, the Giblin River fire is just half the size of the recently burnt area. The sheer size of the ongoing fires is a problem not just for Tasmania, but for the world, as Tasmania’s large forest reservations play a key role in removing harmful CO2 from the atmosphere.

Fire officials have told local media they are confident that fires will be extinguished in the next two weeks. However, there are indications that Tasmania will remain at risk for devastating fires in the coming years. Tasmania may see temperature increase of at least 1.6°C, and that’s in a low worldwide greenhouse gas emissions scenario, according to a study funded by Tasmanian government.